Digital Photography Tips and Tutorials · Creating Panoramas 2

What this is about:

So you've seen those cool QuickTime VR movies on the web and you want to learn how it's done. Well, you've come to the right place. Internet Brothers to the rescue again. We'll be talking about creating panorama movies here, the kind you can move from side to side up to 360° as if you're standing on the spot where the panorama was captured, spinning around. There is another type of QTVR image, the object movie, where you can spin an object around to view all sides. We'll leave that discussion for another time. If you're not quite sure what we're talking about, we'll send you to Colorado Bro's site to have a look. Note: the free Apple QuickTime® browser plug-in is required.

The Computer Side

Merrily Stitching QTVR Now that you've captured your 18 images or so, you're ready to head for the computer. First, you'll need some software for stitching the images together and creating the QuickTime movie file. There are a number of software titles to choose from at Apple Computer's QuickTime VR® Authoring Site.

No matter how you get your images into your computer, whether by scanning prints, having your film processed to PictureCD, or using a digital camera, reduce your images to a manageable size. We've found that images larger than 1000 x 750 pixels at 72 dpi take an awfully long time for the software to stitch. So, the first thing we do is reduce the file size of each image with photo editing software. If you've been manipulating photos on your computer for long, you probably already have software to handle the task.

At this point, we get to the stitching process. It will be a little different with each program. The first step is to add the images and be sure they are placed in the preview window in the proper order. In this preview window, it's pretty easy to see if there is an image or two that is significantly lighter or darker than the rest. If that's the case, it may be necessary to adjust the image with your photo editing software. This can be the most time consuming part of the whole process if you've used an auto-exposure camera, as discussed previously. We sometimes spend hours tweaking the brightness of all the images until we're satisfied with the way the photos blend together.

Take It One Step At a Time

Authoring software will give you the option of doing everything at once. It may take an hour or more. You can walk away for a while, come back, and probably be totally unhappy with the results of the finished panorama. Instead, we prefer to take it one step at a time. Do the stitching first. Don't bother to tile or convert the stitched image to movie format until you preview it with an image viewer to look for flaws. Often, when previewing the wide stitched image, several points where the stitching wasn't accurate become apparent. Use the opportunity to go back and manually adjust the stitching, then preview again. Once you have your super-wide image finished to your satisfaction — there are no visible seams and no incorrectly overlapped images — you're ready to create the panorama movie file.

The photography and image stitching are the hard parts. Creating the actual movie file takes only a few minutes, so you can do it over and over.

Now you need to decide where and how the panorama movie will be viewed. If you're putting it on your web site, you're not likely to want to place a very large file, as your guests won't wait for it to load. If you're going to view it on your own computer and have a fast CPU and a big hard disk, heck, make it as large as possible. For the web you will probably want to reduce the size of the stitched image to no wider than a couple thousand pixels.

Apple QuickTime® An important point to remember — the finished panorama window size has no effect on file size. It is the size of the original stitched image that affects the ultimate file size. Make the original image almost as small in height as you plan for the panorama window to be (unless you want the viewer to be able to zoom in without loss of quality). Set the panorama software to compress the image as much as you can, before image quality suffers too much, while it creates the panorama movie. This should result in a finished movie that's around 200-300K in size.

Experiment with this — more compression, poorer looking image; less compression, better image but slower downloading on the web. Create several movie files until you get a suitable file size and image quality. The photography and image stitching are the hard parts. Creating the actual movie file takes only a few minutes, so you can do it over and over.

When you're done with all this (whew), you have a wonderfully interactive panorama. Your viewers can feel like they're actually standing in the spot you were when you started this whole process. They'll enjoy it. Pat yourself on the back, nice job. To view the actual QTVR movies used as examples in this tutorial, go to Colorado Bro's site and have a look. Note: the free Apple QuickTime® browser plug-in is required. Details are provided at his site. If these tips have been useful to you, or you need some further advice, please use the email link at the bottom of this page.

Return to part 1 of the QuickTime Panorama tutorial — The Camera Side.

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