Notes from the Pano Conference Tucson, Part 1

The International Panoramic Photography Conference 2010 was happening the other week in Tucson. It was a 4-day gathering of the best pano shooters worldwide, along with some exclusive previews from pano gear vendors.

Here are some of the things I picked up, straight from my notepad:

Jook Leung: The Panoramic Narrative

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Opening the conference, star shooter Jook Leung shared some great tips for adding artistic value to your panoramas:

  • Anticipating and visualizing the outcome is the most important skill for selecting just the right spot to shoot a panorama from.
  • Including people (carefully choreographed) is an excellent tool to tell a story, convey scale, and pull the viewer in on an emotional level.
  • HDR Ghosting can be put to artistic use to indicate motion and add some life to your panorama.

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  • You can include yourself in the pano by separately shooting a self-portrait and photoshopping it in later. Even better, when shooting with a horizontal tripod or pole, you can use that self-portrait to cover up the blind spot.

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To see more panoramic excellence download a PDF with Jook's slides.

Greg Downing / Eric Hanson: XRez Studio

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Big ideas are born at XRez. Their mission is to apply techniques from Visual Effects and cutting-edge photography to projects of scientific significance. Many of these techniques they invented themselves:

  • Large environments are best captured from a higher altitude. For a regular panorama you'd put the camera on top of a pole, but that doesn't work so well for Gigapixel images. Because then you need to use a remotely controlled robotic head, and the additional weight introduces severe stability and safety problems. The solution is a tripod of epic proportions, constructed from three flagpoles.

  • Gigapixel images can be printed out in enormous size. Unlike your regular large-scale print, a Gigapixel print reveals more and more detail when you step closer. However, XRez's experience shows that the average trade show visitor is not aware of this, and instinctively keeps the distance to see the image as a whole. Turns out, you'll have to motivate people to have a close-up look. Simple tricks like hanging magnifying glasses from the ceiling or printing footsteps on the floor really help the viewer to appreciate a Gigapixel print in its full glory.

  • Dome projection cinemas are on the rise. Most planetariums are converting to a fully digital projection, and they are hungry for panoramic content. China is sprinting ahead here, with several brand-new dome cinemas opening doors in metropolitan areas. The latest trend is stereoscopic 3D laser projection in 8k resolution. Yay!

Read more on the XRez Blog or watch the recent interview on CGchannel.

Jeffrey Martin: The 360cities Community

What Flickr is for regular photos, is for panoramas. Actually it's better even, because the content is moderated to maintain a quality standard. Jeffrey Martin is the creator of 360cities, and he had some interesting stories to share.

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It started with Jeffrey taking panoramas all over Prague and collecting them on a website called Prague360. The hard part was to convince businesses to pay for getting featured on there, but he kept going guerilla-style nevertheless. And it grew beyond capacity. When his second-generation database system went online, it turned out to be so versatile that it could easily map out the entire world. At this point it blew up completely, and now 360cities is featured in the default installation of Google Earth, has 5 fulltime editors, and hosts about 50.000 panoramas. Still growing.

So, if you want your panoramas to be seen, 360cities is the place to be.

They just added batch submission and a really cool web-based Virtual Tour Builder. Publishing is free, as it's always been, and you get paid for prints sold through the website. Or you can embed their player in your own website, enabling you to have a supercool pano gallery without typing a single line of code. Also, they just recently figured out how to show all panos on the iphone (currently in beta).

Soon 360cities will also introduce Pro Accounts. That one will allow you to build websites for clients using their gallery system. I know from experience how exhausting it is to maintain a good panorama gallery, keeping up with the player software (krpano in this case), and linking hotspots by coding XML files. Considering all this is done for you, a Pro account may actually be worth it's €179,- per year. Well, plus another annual €19,- for each client gallery (which I think just makes things complicated, hope they drop that extra charge when Pro accounts get officially announced...)

UPDATE: Pro Accounts officially announced for June 2010.

There are many more cool things I discovered, stay tuned for part 2.

In the meantime, let me earn some street creds with this pano I shot earlier this month:

Downtown LA at Night

That's a 500 Megapixel HDR pano, taken over the course of 90 minutes. Picturenaut and Photomatix 64-bit (PC version) and were both able to tonemap this giant image. Hurray!

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