Saturday, December 15, 2007

Plug-ins for Flash Panorama Player

For years, panoramas have been presented on the web using QuickTime VR or Java-based players.
Flash Panorama Player ("FPP") has come on the scene recently and is rapidly becoming the presentation tool of choice for VR photographers. Created by Denis Chumakov, FPP is a viewer engine built on Adobe Flash Player.
FPP is a great tool. So is Flash. They're great together, and even better if you are a programmer. I am not.
At its most basic, FPP can be used to publish panos just by copying files. Here's an example of what you get when you simply copy files. It's a basic presentation, but it works well. Note the inertial damping of the motion, and the window resizing. These are just two of the features of FPP.
Fortunately, Patrick Cheatham and Zephyr Renner ARE programmers. They've created, a site dedicated to making available inexpensive FPP plugins and (this is the best part) rewriting the documentation included with FPP. They describe what they're doing this way: "Some of this is taken from existing documentation, some is reworded, some is from experience. The idea isn't to replicate existing FPP documentation, but to rework and expand it."
As an example, they've posted FPP documentation for fullscreen panoramas here. More documentation is in the works.
If you have a colleague who is a Flash programmer, turn them on to this now. Let them help you build an integrated Flash presentation for your panoramas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gigapans at

Where's Waldo?
Kudos to for taking on the Gigapan camera and putting it to work for viewsers. This isn't exactly the photojournalistic use of panorama we've been concentrating on here on The Panoramist, but it has an incredible wow and cool factor.

GigaPan is a combination of hardware and software (Developed by Carnegie Mellon University in collaboration with NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group, with support from Google) that allows multiple images (often hundreds) to be shot precisely and stitched together into a large-scale multiple-row panorama. This allows for remarkable resolution in a single image, reminiscent of the photos taken by early photographers of American landscapes such as William Henry Jackson. Face to face with a contact print of one of Jackson's 18"x22" glass plates, one needs only a magnifying glass to go deep into the image. GigaPan gives us the ability to present this experience to our viewsers.

One could do the same thing with PTGui and a panoramic head, painstakingly shooting several rows of multiple images with a long lens and spending more than a few hours at the computer. GigaPan appears to streamline this process, making it accessible for us regular folks.

Do note, however, (quoting from the GigaPan FAQ): "Because a panorama is assembled from multiple pictures, sometimes you'll see strange things if something moved between the pictures." As photojournalists, we have to take this into consideration when shooting any panorama that requires multiple images.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Two weeks to the next World Wide Panorama event

The World Wide Panorama
Join hundreds of panorama photographers from around the globe for this four-times-a-year event. We make panoramas on a theme during windows of time around the solstices and equinoxes, stitch them, post them, then sit back and marvel at the variety of photographic styles, techniques and most importantly, cultures.
The 2007 winter solstice event is a "Best of the Year" theme, where photographers post their favorite panorama of the year. This year's event also features a tribute to the Wrinkle in Time, a pioneering panorama collaboration on the 1997 Winter Solstice.
This is a great opportunity to get great ideas, and to learn from experienced photographers. There are a lot of newbies that come out from behind the curtain for the first time in the WWP.
The geniuses that make the WWP run have made the uploading process easy, and also make it easy to learn how to use Google Maps and Google Earth to further enhance the sense of place a panorama creates.
There's a bonus - posting on the WWP will boost your rating in Google's search engines.
Need more info? Have questions? Join the WWP Yahoo group, and check out the WWP event page.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

VR Journalism at work in the Phillippines

Fung Yu of the city of Makti shot VR panos of the scene of the lobby of the five-star Peninsula Manila hotel where an attempted coup took place last week. You may have seen the stills from this scene, which were interesting enough but didn't really have enough information to get a sense of the scene.
Check out these panos of the scene to get a real feel of what was happening:
This item was originally posted on the PanoToolsNG Yahoo group.

Friday, November 30, 2007

VRMag relaunch issue online

VRMag issue 28
Marco Trezzini and the crew at VR Way Communications, a Switzerland-based company have published a new issue of VRMag, which is chock-full of panoramas, information and ideas, both commercial and journalistic.
I especially like the navigation options - QTVR fullscreen, Flash leaflet (this is new and VERY cool) and html index.
For those of us working for MSM websites, thinking about navigation is crucial. We can use panoramic images and technology to introduce our viewsers to complex, multi-threaded, non-linear stories.
This of course points out that we need talented, multi-skilled web programmers to help us present panoramas, just as we need strong designers in our print products.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Educating our viewsers

While I've been learning about making and presenting panoramas, I've also observed how our viewsers interact with them. It's been painful to watch first-time panorama viewers struggle with clicking and dragging to navigate, let alone using control and shift keys to zoom. They often give up and leave the page. Ouch.

I include some text on my pages ("Navigating VR panoramas: Click and drag to move around. Shift-click to zoom in, control-click to zoom out."), but there's better ways to get the point across. There's a current thread on the PanotoolsNG Yahoo group about helping readers better understand how to interact with our panoramas.

Eric Leeman at has a nice Viewing Instructions page for his viewsers. It's tightly written, and blurring the background image to make the instruction text clearer is a great touch.

Matthew Rogers at 360precision (makers of the Ferrari of pano heads) posted to the list a link for a reader tutorial he developed some years ago. This one is a little more text-based, and may not be as easy to first use as Leeman's example.

I think it's important to remember that the interactive panorama is new to many of our users. Let's help them have a good experience. These examples are good starting points.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

PTGui 7.4 beta available for download

Joost (rhymes with toast) Nieuwenhuijse has released a public beta of his outstanding cross-platform panorama stitching program PTGui. This is a good a time as any for you, the aspiring panorama photographer to explore this fantastic program.
Joost is constantly adding features and making the program easier to use. He also is very accessible, fielding questions on a daily basis on the PTGui Google group.
The current version, PTGui 7.3 is available for a free 30-day trial. The online support for the program is excellent (and required reading) for new users. Also, check out a home-baked tutorial in the Flying Short Course handouts post of last Friday.
I need to be clear - stitching panoramas is technically challenging! Be patient, read the instructions, experiment and ask questions! The panoramic community is diverse and more than willing to help newcomers who are willing to try. I will post a list of online resources later this week.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Festival of Trees on, North Andover MA
Roger Darrigrand of in North Andover, MA is shooting some panoramas of interiors. He's putting his branding at the top of the image rather than the bottom where the tripod usually is. I've asked him to fill us in on how/why he's doing that.
Thanks to Seth Gitner of for the heads up.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Click to enlarge the screenshot
If you have been using QuickTime for panorama presentation and you're thinking about switching to Flash, you're probabaly also thinking "OMG. I have to re-output all those panos?".
You've also probably looked at and tried to figure out hotspots. My head is still hurting.
Fear not. Under the flag of his software shop Garden Gnome Software, Thomas Rauscher has written a great application called Pano2VR that will quickly convert a number of panoramic file formats to .swf files or QTVR if you like.
Pano2VR allows control over cube face size, quality, preview, initial orientation, metadata and autorotation. It also claims to (and it gives me a little shudder to write this) convert your QTVR hotspot files and/or create new hotspots in Flash. In a brief test, I find that creating Flash hotspots appears to be quick and easy. I'll post a test in the next day or two.
Pano2VR appears poised to replace Cubic Converter and Cubic Connector, which I've been using.

Panoramas at

UNC grad Whitney Shefte at has shot five panoramas with audio of BASE jumpers on the New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, W. Va. This is part six of the Post's "Why We Compete" series.
Earlier I noted I would like to see the camera a little closer to the action in some these images. I asked Whitney about the situation during the shoot, and she's filled in the details. Look in the comments on this post for her explanation.

This is an older posting, but it's good work. Alexandra Garcia at has shot five panoramas in McAllen, Texas and Monterrey, Mexico of the Prepa Tec Borregos, the best high school football team in Mexico. The Borregos pratice in Monterrey, then travel to take on McAllen High School in their 14,000 seat stadium, what the kids from Monterrey call "un gran palacio," a great palace. There's also an audio slideshow.
This is part five of the Post's "Why We Compete" series.

New Nodal Ninja VR head coming soon

The Nodal Ninja 5 (at left in photo) looks like an excellent update, although it's about twice the cost of the NN3.

The rotator is redesigned and is reputed to be much more accurate, and there's a camera mounting plate which will also add to accuracy in shooting geometry and speed in setup.

Check out the discussion with some beta testers on

Anyone want to buy a gently-used NN3?

Flying Short Course handouts

Attendees listen to a speaker.
Last month I was fortunate enough to be invited to the McLean, Va stop of the NPPA Flying Short Course to talk about VR photography and photojournalism. I promised the attendees that I'd post a handout of some things I've written about using PTGui to build panoramas, and the photojournalistic ethics of making panoramas. There's also some other cool links.
Check it out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Recent work on

Van Landhingham Glen at UNC-Charlotte

A vision of fall in the Carolinas. Despite the extreme drought, a pulse of rain in late October allowed the forests and trees to put on a decent fall color show.

Avenue Condominiums

Yeah, it's a virtual tour. But it's really cool real estate in the heart of uptown Charlotte, which is an amazing place. In a three-block stretch of Stonewall Street (across from the Observer) there are NINE construction cranes. It's amazing anyone with a window office is getting any work done.

River Docs at The Light Factory

Photographer Byron Baldwin is photographed during setup of River Docs at The Light Factory in Charlotte. Byron's an icon of the Charlotte photographic scene, having been an educator for many years and a damned fine photographer as well.

Carshow Object Movie

This isn't really a panorama, but an object movie. Consider this another way to present information. In this case, I shot 30 images as the truck rotated on its turntable (aka a really big lazy susan), and created the object movie in VRWorx.

Panos in the Spin Room -

Open panorama on
Here's a news panorama from Zach Wise, who is shooting with a Canon 5D and a Sigma 8mm, as far as I know. That's the rig he was using at the Multimedia Summit in Portland this summer.
With the Sigma 8mm (a full-frame circular fisheye) he's getting a full 180-degree image. I'm guessing this shot was either handheld or on a monopod because it's such a tight space, and he's shooting it in 3 frames since he's got 180 degrees of HFoV in each frame. But the stitching is difficult, as you can see in the ceiling, and I think the moving people may have caused problems as well.
Here's what he had to say about this pano:
"Well, the shoot was extremely difficult, since I was recording audio in multidirections at the same time I was shooting the pano. The proximity to people in the pano became a problem, as you can see from the blur. That corner is near a stitch point and it was hot for traffic, so in the two frames that stitched at that point people were moving to catch a sound bite etc in both frames causing some weirdness. We're looking at the One shot mirror system as a possible solution, as well as a four channel recorder with mics positioned on the bottom. I want to be able to use a system for serious reporting. "
Zach is at the Las Vegas Sun now. He's the multimedia producer for their soon-to-be revamped website. Check out his personal site
Thanks to Ray Jones at for the heads up on Zach's work.

Panoramas at

The Times' New Home

There's some good work being done out there, panoramic is starting to catch on. Ray Jones and the crew at NYT Digital just did a series of views of the Times' new building in NYC. There's a package of multmedia, including four panoramas in the Arts section of

Talk about a high-profile project right out of the box! This is their first published shot at panorama as far as I know. Ray was quizzing me a week or so ago about panoramas, and they obviously have been working hard. An excellent first effort for them.

I had originally posted that they were using Flash Panoramas for their presentation. However, I'm told by multimedia producer Gabriel Dance that it's actually an in-house solution he developed.

Sad to say, but QuickTime VR seems to be on the wane due to lack of support from Apple. It was fun while it lasted.

Stay Tuned

In the meantime

contact me:

gobrien AT charlotteobserver DOT com