Big Ben's Panorama Tutorials

A History of Big Ben Panoramas 

History is important because we learn from our past.  Many of the methods I have developed are partly based on my early experiences stitching uncorrected images together.  Solving the problems to make something work when it's not supposed to provides invaluable insights into solving problems when something doesn't work when it is supposed to. This 'brief' history of my panoramas will hopefully provide you with an appreciation of the experience behind this tutorial.

My foray into the world of interactive panoramas began around the same time as the introduction of QuickTime VR panoramas. I didn't have the software to create QTVR panoramas but instead I would stitch together a series of images and then slice them up to separate files with some overlap and convert the sequence to a QuickTime movie.  Manually scrolling through the frames would provide a crude panning effect. Apple then released their free MakePanorama Tool and I was in business.

An early panorama

The image above was shot with a 24mm lens on a 35mm SLR and then scanned in using a slide scanner. A normal tripod head was used, with the camera in a portrait orientation. No geometric correction was applied to the images and stitching took between 5 - 7 hours to combine 12 frames. I had tried Panorama Tools but didn't have the patience and gave up.

I then progressed to my Hasselblad SWC which had a similar field of view to the 24mm lens, but being a square format, did not require tilting the camera. To take advantage of the extra quality of a 6cm transparency I had the film professionally scanned prior to stitching, still without any geometric correction.

Medium format panorama

The extra image quality of my medium format panoramas gave me the encouragement I needed to sit down and nut out how to use Panorama Tools. I finally worked a few things out and cut my stitching time down to around 4 - 5 hours. There seemed only one way to get faster... cut down on the number of frames. It was time for a new lens and, in the process, a new camera. Armed with an 18-28mm zoom and a crude "panoramic" tripod head I shot a series of panoramas for the Ararat Project 2. 

18mm lens panorama

A week after stitching them together I decided to buy an 8mm lens and be done with it.  I had to do these spherical panoramas I had seen and the 18mm lens was just not wide enough to do a single row of images and a one image patch. Three months and an "incident" with the importer later and my lens arrived. I promptly went out and shot 10 panoramas that weekend, and another 6 the next. In the meantime I had managed to actually stitch one of them together. Having seen the familiar tri-star join at the top and bottom of other panoramas I had already planned to patch these areas with an additional image before shooting my first panorama.

My first spherical panorama

My first spherical panorama was stitched using a very crude image remapping and manual alignment. It still took 4 hours to complete but it proved to be remarkably successful. I also discovered some of the additional benefits of using a TRUE fisheye lens for image capture. Only one problem remained. I was shooting much faster than I was stitching so it was time to knuckle down and learn how to use Panorama Tools properly. 

The other challenge which seems to strike most people who start shooting spherical panoramas is how far can you push the limits of where you shoot.  What's the point of being able to look down if there's nothing to look at. And so it was off to the Grampians and straight to the edge of the nearest cliff... or even better, the "Jaws of Death", a 1m wide strip of rock jutting out from the top of a mountain. 

The next weekend took me down to Portsea for an AIMBI workshop weekend where I gave a small talk on web design/publishing. This is where I found "The Big Swing" at Portsea Camp. This would surely be a great challenge. Shooting some 15-20m up in the air without a camera strap and hanging from the end of a rope there was no way I was going to rotate the camera around the lens' nodal point... and there was no way to get rid of the rope so I'd have to get myself in the shot as well... but then I'd risk losing a hand as it would be behind the lens pushing the trigger. Seven images later....

Mid air panorama

Cheating was becoming easier as I learnt more about PTools but it had also set me back a little as the techniques I picked up along the way were not entirely correct, even though they worked. Be warned... some methods work some of the time but can go horribly wrong at other times.

Landscapes provided ample opportunity for "cheating" but an architectural interior would not be so forgiving.  I got lucky again with my first interior (the majestic Royal Exhibition Building during the International Flower Show) but then had problems with a second panorama shot only moments later with exactly the same set up. I couldn't get it to work after repeated attempts and it sat unstitched on my computer for a couple of months

Royal Exhibition Building

Thinking of an image as being rectangular and spherical at the same time tends to make my brain hurt but after a few more panoramas I began to find ways of getting consistently accurate stitches and greatly reducing the time factor. Key to this was they way in which control points are selected and armed with this I returned to my stubborn interior and got such an accurate stitch that I used a 100 pixel brush on my eraser for the stiches. And this without aligning the camera over the lens' nodal point!

Even though it didn't seem entirely essential I ended up making my own panorama head for my tripod. It worked pretty well but I must confess to buying a commercial panoramic product to make it a little more practical  ;-)  Once I had my camera properly aligned over the nodal point things got a lot easier and a lot more consistent enabling me to experiment with different optimisation techniques to try and find a fool proof method.  The percentage of panoramas that don't work first time around is now much smaller, but a little bit of experimentation remains, particularly for partial panoramas.

And as you get things working the "right" way, you learn more about how to do things the "wrong" way.  This time a roof top panorama shot through the windows of the Rialto Observation Deck. Roof top panoramas aren't as hard as they may seem once you get the technique working.

Rialto Observation Deck

And finally of course there remains the challenge of shooting panoramas in places where cameras normally don't go...  kayaking.  ;-)  I have a few ideas left to try along this theme, like shooting a panorama while surfing a standing wave in a river. The more you learn, the more possibilities open up.... where it will end I don't know... and if I did I'd probably stop trying.  

Barmah Forest


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This page, its contents and style, are the responsibility of the author and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of The University of Melbourne. All photographs Ben Kreunen 2000

Ben Kreunen <>
Department of Pathology
Last modified: February 24, 2003