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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HDRI in Photoshop CS5

Jack Howard had some time to play with CS5. Here's what's new:

  • No more need to buy Extended, HDR Layers and Brushes trickled down to CS5 Standard
  • Ghost-Removal
  • Better HDR Merge from RAW files
  • More controls in the Local Adaptation tonemapper

Read more in Jack's article on Adorama's TechTock.
There's another great review from Mike Seymour on FXGuide.

On the flip side, I'm getting a bit concerned that Adobe itself is promoting Pseudo-HDR and Merge-straight-to-Tonemapping techniques (video). Obviously intended to serve the Flickr crowd, they are following a trend just when it is about to reverse itself. Because if you're watching the Hot-On-Flickr gallery, you'll notice that "tasteful" is the new trend in tonemapping, and "catchy/cartooninsh" is actually on the decline.

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GigaPan EPIC is out and we're cracking the 2 Million Mark

First off, a big huge THANK YOU to all my readers!

HDRLabs has officially shot past the 2 Million visitor milestone. It's a bit intimidating to know that I'm speaking to such a large audience here. But also feels good to be heard.

What really pushed traffic over the edge was the Open Camera Controller project.
Since it's launch just about a month ago this project has made huge leaps forward: CircuitBoardsToGo started to feature the OCC board on their front page, volunteers are working on a list of European part suppliers, Achim Berg contributed an improved circuit board layout, and there is even talk about designing a dedicated cartridge housing. Great work guys, I'm really happy to see the community adopt this project so quickly.

GigaPan EPIC: First look by Greg Downing

Photographers that feel more comfortable with ready-made products will be happy to hear that the GigaPan EPIC Pro robot is now available.

The original GigaPan unit has been around for a while. It's very easy to use, and I shot several panos with it (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, Hollywood Hills). Still, it bothered me to that it was limited to point-and-shoot cameras. GigaPan EPIC Pro changes that.

Compared to mine, this new unit seems like a worthy upgrade: Much better battery solution, real remote release cable (instead of that clunky lever pushing the camera's release button), and a U-shaped bracket to hold the weight of a DSLR.

Here's Greg Downing's review:

Gigapan Epic Pro (DSLR version) Review from xRez Studio on Vimeo.

The wobbly construction is easily fixed and seems to be a manufacturing exception. Michael James from reports the unit arrived in sturdy condition.

Read more: Greg Downing's full review on the XRez Blog.

More sIBL sets for you.

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If you missed the March issue of 3DWorld (or got one without DVD), this is your lucky day. Until May 4 you can download all 8 exclusive sIBL sets directly from the 3DWorld blog.

On top of that, I just updated the sIBL-of-the-Month. A little late, but worth the wait...

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Contests, Conferences and a Coupon Code

Catchy headline, eh? We’re dealing with three completely separate news items here, each of them awesome on its own.

Unified Color launches “True Vision HDR Contest”

The maker of HDR Photostudio are launching an HDR photo contest. It will run all year long, with three rounds of winnings, the first one coming up in May.

Now, I know what you’re thinking - “they just want to fill their gallery with my photos”. But hold on - I wouldn’t drop this hint if it wouldn’t be worth it: They have insanely great prizes!!! Literally a pile of great photo gear is waiting for you, topped with a professional workshop from National Geographic Expeditions and a MacBook Pro.

May 12 is your first submission deadline, sign up here.

International Panoramic Photography Conference

On April 14 − 18 the small town of Tucson, Arizona will turn into a buzzing hub of pano fanatics. The winning formula is:

Top Speakers + Scenic Location + Great year for new Hardware/Software = Kick-Ass Conference!

I will be there as well, talking about “HDR and what Hollywood needs your panoramas for”. You'll get to see a good part of my SIGRRAPH presentation (which was always well received), enhanced with some exclusive clips and making-ofs from EdenFX.

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Check out the full schedule to see what the real big stars in the pano scene are talking about: Jook Leung, Greg Downing, Jeffrey Martin, and many more.

April 14 is approaching quickly, and the hotel is filling up, so better sign up now.

Get HDR Darkroom for 15% off

Frequent visitors of this site know that my readers get unmatched discounts on most commercial HDR software. You just need to punch the password from the HDRI Handbook into the sidebar on the Software page.

The great folks at HDR Darkroom, newest member of the HDR utility/tonemapper family, join this tradition now. Your special rate is $67.15 - that is 15% on top of the introductory 20% discount on $99. Pretty cool, eh?

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CS5 and Magic Bullet

Photoshop CS5

Adobe started a countdown page, in search for some big social networking hype. The big selling feature is Content-Aware Fill, and it looks very useful for cleaning up panoramas after stitching.

Here's a less popular, but much more informative sneak peek video:

More feature goodness:
Better Edge Selection and Masking - Sounds simple, but may turn out to be most awesome.
Paint Tools - new brush bristles, and several handy shortcut enhancements.

If it would be for me, I'd be happy with a simple Curves Tool in 32-bit mode. But let's see, maybe there's more in CS5 than they dare to disclose yet...

Magic Bullet PhotoLooks

Magic Bullet used to be one of our secret weapons at Eden FX when it comes to color grading and finding just the right look. And now you can have that same magic in Photoshop as well.

According to the feature list it works in 32-bit. And yes, it includes Curves and all the other tools you're missing in Photoshop (until CS5?). Haven't yet tested it myself, but if it's half as good as the original After Effects plugin it's worth its weight in gold.

Read more about it on Stu Maschwitz' blog.

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Introducing the Open Camera Controller

What if you had a programmable touchscreen remote with an 8 hour battery life, that can be fitted to any DSLR? With free apps for extended HDR shooting, timelapse, controlling an affordable telescope mount, sound triggering, and more. All Open Source, driven by a community of enthusiastic photographers like you.

Then you must have an Open Camera Controller.

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The catch: you have to build it yourself. Out of a Nintendo DS.

It will be a cool garage project, easy to do and very rewarding. We've done everything to document the whole process. The hardware is subject to Open Source rules as well, so if you're a wizard with electronics we highly welcome your improvement ideas.

This project is brought to you by Steve Chapman, HDRLabs' newest collaborator.

Steve is sort of a legend in Hollywood, known as the go-to-guy for scanning actors, props and sets. In fact, in 2001 my very first job duty in the VFX industry was to character-rig Captain Archer of the Enterprise, which I later found out to be scanned by Steve Chapman himself. And Steve's quite a character as well, which you will discover when you're looking at the comments in his source code...

The Open Camera Controller (OCC) was previously known as PanoCamera. It’s just that the project has grown out of bounds, and while the core program is still the ultimate HDR-panorama-bracketing machine, it now also does astrophotography, sound triggering, e-book manuals, the whole nine yards. And who knows what the Open Source community will come up with… That’s why we put the emphasis on “Open” as in “Whatever you want your camera to do”-platform.

OCC fits HDRLabs like a glove, similar in spirit and open accessibility. That's why it is a top-level project now, housed in the main menu right next to Picturenaut. What was previously the PanoCamera forum, is now a category in the HDRLabs Community. It had only 15 active members, but a ton of great discussions and ideas. If you’re one of these 15 early adopters, congratulations and welcome!

Read more on the OCC project page.

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