A client recently asked us if we offered interactive panoramas, and while it wasn't something that we were actively advertising, we thought, "we have the gear to do it, why not do it?".
I'm glad we did because some of the initial results were spectacular. I've been experimenting with different camera/lens combinations and hey, it gave me a reason to dust off the ol' Canon T2i and Canon 8-15mm L Series fisheye. I wasn't sure how the APS-C sensor of the T2i would fare with the fisheye, but it did quite well! You can see from the image below that we get a full 180° field of view from top to bottom. On a full frame sensor, you would get 180° top to bottom, and left to right.
The most important piece of gear, of course, is the Panorama head. The key to Panoramas is to make sure that you're rotating around the nodal point of the lens, so there is no parallax shift when you rotate the camera. This ensures a clean stitch in post. I specifically chose the Nodal Ninja due to the rugged build quality, and the ability to fine tune the level. And I mean down to the degree thanks to the EZ Leveler. That gives you the flexibility of not having to make sure your ball head is 100% level. Just get it close, and let the leveler fine tune the rest.
The topic of HDR is highly debated and I am by no means an expert on the subject, but when there are a lot of windows in a frame, I like to see as much detail as possible outside. For the image above, I took 5 bracketed shots and blended them using Photomatix. It worked great for this particular room, but not so good for other rooms. It just depends on the setting I guess.
After testing the number of shots needed to (easily) stitch a panorama in post, I've concluded that on an APS-C sensor, it makes things much easier when you take a photo every 45°. On a full-frame sensor, you could easily get away with one every 90°. I just wanted to MAKE SURE that I had enough overlap in the images to ensure plenty of control points.
Control points you say? Control points Indeed. My stitching software of choice is PTGui Pro. Since this isn't a tutorial on how to use PTGui (maybe i'll get around to that at a later date), I won't detail exactly how this happens, but let's just say that Photoshop is no match for PTGui.
The hardest part of the shoot? The "Nadir" shot, which means "the point on the celestial sphere directly below an observer". If you can pull it off, the viewer can rotate the image down (where the tripod should be) and will only see floor. This ups the production value ten fold. To perfect this, I use a combination of the Nodal Ninja Nadir Adapter, and PTGui Pro. It took a LOT of practice.
Once we're all stitched up, this is the image we're left with; A bracketed HDR Panorama ready for whatever delivery software you desire (we like Pano2VR).
And once we have a perfect stitch it's off to the delivery software of your choice, and here is the final product: