Worldwide 360° Panoramas.

These images use an efficient "image pyramid" technique to minimise the amount of data transferred. Nevertheless they may be slow to load if you only have a slow (e.g. dialup) link.

There are lower-resolution versions of some of these views at Panoramic Earth.

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These panoramas illustrate what can be done on a budget of £0 (assuming you already have a digital camera.) There are two basic approaches to panoramic photography. The first is the "precision" one, where you use a levelled tripod and offset camera mount to rotate the camera about its nodal point and take a series of calibrated images, or use a special panoramic lens attachment, then join the images together to make a 360 x 180 degree image showing everything visible from that one spot. Although the results can be stunning, the fixed camera location is often quite limiting. If your viewpoint is on top of a hill or a building, what you are standing on will probably mask the foreground of the view; if (as often seems to be the case) the viewpoint is a gallery running round the outside of a building, half your view will be of a blank wall. In any case, many tourist destinations are simply too crowded to make effective use of a tripod.

The alternative approach is to abandon the stability of a fixed tripod, go with the crowd to get the best view, do the best you can to take a series of images making a simple cylindrical panorama, and rely on free software to fix the deficiencies of your images. Panorama-stitching software has improved enormously in recent years, and even image sets with severe perspective problems can often make a usable panorama, as these examples show. The most obvious problems are jagged top and bottom borders, which can often be photoshopped or cropped to insignificance, perspective problems around close foreground objects, and "ghosting" effects visible near tall objects silhouetted against the sky. Sometimes you may notice areas where the foreground is seamless, but the background refuses to join up, or a piece of background gets repeated. Nevertheless, the results can be surprisingly good.

My aim is not necessarily to present a perfect image, but to give a reasonably realistic impression of what the depicted place actually looks like. There may be parts of the view where things don't quite join up, and you can't look up at the zenith, or down at the photographer's feet, but most people don't do that anyway when they admire a view.

The tools I have mostly used are AutoStitch, hugin and Microsoft ICE to stitch the images into a cylindrical panorama, Photo Overlay Creator to create image pyramids, and Seadragon Ajax or HD View SL to display them interactively. This web site itself is built using SAXON to run some XSLT transformations which process a master index into all the web pages, KML files and sitemap files on the server.


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