Monday, April 18, 2011

Using Photosynth to create 360-degree images of news scenes

Photosynth is a free online tool available which "synths" several photos together, allowing you to create 360-degree views of any scene you'd like without very much effort.

While you can view the completed "synths" online using both a Windows PC and a Mac once you've downloaded the Silverlight plug-in, you need to use a Windows computer to create each project. This makes sense since Photosynth is a Microsoft-run project.

The first thing you need to do when you're ready to start trying this website/software out is a group of photos which will be stitched together.

I've found that it will take around 20 photos to make a smooth 360-degree image in your final product. I recommend that you use the following steps to guide you through the process and make sure you have enough images to complete your scene before you get back to your office - especially if you are trying to use this tool for coverage of a breaking news scene.

1) Pick a fairly central location at the scene you're trying to capture if at all possible and pull out your camera or camera phone (I used my iPhone 4 to take the images used in the synth above and it worked great).

2) I'm assuming most of you won't be carrying a tripod around with you for these unless you have a special scene that you've planned ahead for and want to capture just right. However, if you have a tripod with you, arrange your camera so that it's as level as possible and align the tripod so that you'll be able to rotate the camera in a complete circle without change the vertical position of the lens.

3) Once you're ready to go, start snapping your images and rotating slightly in one direction to the side, taking another image, and continuing in this manner until you've gone past your starting point.

*The key is to make sure you get at least 50 percent of the area you photographed last in your next photo*

For example, don't take a photo of three buildings and then rotate and take a photo of the next three buildings to the right or left. Instead, include two of the same buildings in the next shot.

I learned this after a few tries. If you don't show enough of the previous image in the next shot, the software won't pull all of the images together and may in fact leave a whole section of your 360-degree view out of your finished product.

4) When you have all of your photos, download them into a folder on your computer and head to Once there, you can make a free account and download the Windows software you'll need to assemble your synth.

5) Once you've installed the software, launch the program and login with the account information you created on the website. When that's done, click on "Start a New Synth".

6) On the next screen, select "Add Photos" and navigate to the folder where you placed all of the photos you want to use. Highlight them all or use the keyboard shortcut CRTL+A and click "Open".

7) You can now use the available fields on the left to name your Synth, add descriptive tags, and write out a description that will be posted to the Photosynth website with your finished product. You can also choose whether to make your project public or private, and add information about copyright as well.

8) When you're satisfied with all of your entries, hit "Synth" at the bottom of the window.

9) Now you have to wait for the program to finish the stitching process and upload your project to the Photosynth website. On my Windows 7 netbook, this generally took about 20-30 minutes each time, but would probably go faster on a more powerful machine.

10) When the upload is finished, click "View Synth" to be taken to your online product, where you can make any final changes to the appearance before saving your finished image.

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