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Full sphere panoramas with a tripod, using semi-automatic stitching

John Strait
January 2006

This multi-step procedure can be used for multi-row, full 360 degree stitching.  Please be aware that this function was not specifically designed into The Panorama Factory V4. It is a pleasant surprise that it can be done at all and that it works so well.

Please note that this procedure requires V4.2 or newer.

This is a fairly lengthy process. It isn't too difficult if you have used a panoramic tripod head (e.g. Panosaurus) and have it properly set up (nodal point, etc).  If you do not own a panoramic tripod head, it is still a good idea to use your tripod to keep the camera orientation constant for all photos.  Multi-row stitching from handheld photographs is much more difficult and is outside the scope of this procedure.

This procedure assumes that the field of view is symmetric above and below the horizon and that the central row has a tilt angle equal to zero.  This means that the number of rows must be odd (3, 5, 7, etc.).

I have personally tested this procedure only for 3 row panoramas.  It may be possible to generalize it to 5 or more rows, but I have not tried this.

It may also be possible to generalize this procedure to an even number of rows, providing that the tilt angles are equal above and below the horizon.  However, again, I have not tried this.

Note that these instructions work only for full 360-degree multi-row stitching. Multi-row stitching of partial panoramas requires a somewhat different procedure.  Please return to Multi-row stitching with The Panorama Factory V4 for references to other multi-row stitching procedures.

For best results with this procedure I recommend:

  1. Use a good panoramic tripod head such as the Panosaurus from Gregwired Digital Images.  If you do not own a panoramic tripod head, you should use an ordinary tripod to keep the camera orientation constant for all photos in each row.
  2. Set it up the panoramic tripod head as perfectly as possible. Nodal point accuracy is important.
  3. Shoot the first row with tilt angle equal to zero.
  4. Without moving the tripod (very important), shoot two more rows with positive and negative pitch angles.  If you move the tripod, even if only bumping one of the legs, this procedure may fail, in which case you'll need to use the instructions for hand held panoramas.
  5. It's best, but not absolutely necessary, to shoot the pictures in the three rows at the same horizontal index positions.
  6. It's probably best to use your camera in manual exposure mode so that all photos have the same exposure settings.

For three rows, you need an equal number of photos in each row to get adequate coverage. For more rows (e.g. 5), you may be able to reduce the number of photos in the upper and lower rows, but I have not personally tried this procedure yet with more than 3 rows.

The multi-row stitching procedure consists of these major steps.  Each step is detailed in its own web page.

  1. Stitch the central row
  2. Stitch the upper row
  3. Stitch the lower row
  4. Re-crop each of the stitched images to slightly more than 360 degrees
  5. Resize all three cropped images to the same width
  6. Rotate the three resized images 90 degrees clockwise
  7. Stitch the rotated rows together
  8. Rotate the fully stitched image 90 degrees counter-clockwise
  9. Crop the rotated image to exactly 360 degrees
  10. Sharpen the image if desired
  11. Assign panoramic properties to the finished image
  12. Export the finished image

After reading these web pages, you may wish to print the instructions to use as you work through the procedure.  The following web page has the complete set of instructions in a printer-friendly format, with the illustrations omitted.

Instructions in printer-friendly format

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Revised: January 31, 2006

 1999-2006 Smoky City Design, LLC and John Strait