A one-car garage is turned into an art and music studio in this 360 HDR panorama. The artist worked in this studio for over 10 years. I made the pano shortly before he moved to another space. Use your mouse to navigate the interactive version below, and go full screen with the button on the bottom right.
HDR 360 Panorama Technique
This 360 degree panorama presented a difficult shooting and stitching challenge. The difference between the bright outdoor light and dark interior required shooting bracketed exposures for HDR. Instead of a standard 3 shot bracket at 2 stops apart, I shot a 5 shot bracket at 2.5 stops apart. Having 5 stops brighter and 5 stops darker than an average exposure was more than enough to cover the very wide range of lighting.
I’ve been using Exposure Fusion in PTGui Pro to handle blending 360 HDR panoramas. The controls are simple, but I usually get realistic, photographic results. For this image, I wasn’t happy with how PTGui was handling the blending on the carpet light/shadow transitions on the ceiling.
I ended up creating the HDR images in Photomatix. While I’m not a fan of the clown puke that some people create with this software, it’s actually very easy to use for creating realistic HDR images. The ghost removal and batch processing are excellent, too. In a future post, I’ll talk about how Photomatix came to the rescue on a commercial HDR 360 assignment.
I also have to mention that Christian Bloch’s The HDRI Handbook 2.0: High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers and CG Artists was indispensable in achieving great HDR results. The raw processing settings for Lightroom or Camera Raw will help you create an optimal TIFF for HDR processing. There’s even a whole chapter on HDR panoramas, and the Kindle version is only $11.
After getting a look that I was happy with in Photomatix, I stitched the 8 resulting TIFF files in PTGui. The pano stitched nicely, but I wasn’t happy with how the images were blending in PTGui. I was able to output both the blended panorama and the individual layers from PTGui, and bring them all into Photoshop for cleanup using masks. The masking required quite a bit of work, but did improve the image. I still wasn’t quite happy with the results, and set the image aside.
Recently, a thread on the Panoramic Photographers Facebook group mentioned that some people were using Photoshop’s blending engine for panoramas instead of PTGui. I’d seen some related techniques in Martin Evening and Jeff Schewe’s Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: The Ultimate Workshop, but felt that the Photoshop workflow was too labor intensive. There had to be a better way to blend HDR 360s.
Pano expert Erik Krause linked to an excellent HDR 360 workflow video by Florian Knorn. About 12 minutes into the video, Florian discusses a 360 HDR technique he learned from photographer Stephen Tyler. This involves stitching in PTGui, outputting a 32-bit TIFF, and tonemapping in Lightroom. Using Lightroom or Photoshop to work on 360 panos is usually problematic, because the software is not aware that the left edge of the image and right edge need to blend together. This results in unsightly seams in your interactive pano.
Florian’s 360 HDR workflow involves creating a second version of the image in PTGui that is literally turned inside out. A numerical transform is used with a Yaw setting of 180 and a Roll setting of 90. You then output this second inside-out 360, and then tone map both versions of the 360 with the same settings. The problem areas that cause seams are in different areas on the 2 versions, and with a quick little bit of masking, you have a nice looking HDR pano with no seams. A very clever technique! However, this method relies on PTGui’s blending. So I’ve adapted the technique to use Photoshop to blend the HDR images.
HDR 360 Panorama Workflow Using Lightroom, Photomatix, PTGui, and Photoshop
- Optimal processing of the RAW files in Lightroom or Camera Raw for HDR blending (See the HDRI Handbook 2.0 above).
- HDR processing in Photomatix.
- Stitch the resulting TIFF files in PTGui.
- Ouput as individual layers from PTGui for blending in Photoshop (make sure to include alpha channels so your layers have masks).
- Open the layers into one file in PS, and select all. Choose Edit – Auto-Blend Layers – Panorama (with Seamless Tones and Colors checked.
- Go to Image – Image Size and note the width. Divide this by 2. Then go to Filter – Other – Offset and shift the image by this amount (with Wrap Around checked). This offsets your image by 180 degrees so you can fix the seams.
- Go back to PTGui and use the Numerical Transform of Yaw 180 Roll 90 on your pano. Follow steps 4 and 5 again to output and blend version 2. Note how the zenith, nadir, and seam area are in the middle of the image on this inside-out version.
- Bring the resulting TIFF file back into PTGui and perform the same numerical transform to bring the image back to normal.
- Perform a second numerical transform with the setting of Yaw 180 and output the TIFF. This offsets the second version to match the first version (you could also do this in Photoshop).
- Bring this version into Photoshop on top of the first version and make sure they’re aligned. Use layer masks to get rid of the areas with seams.
While this seems like a lot of steps, the process is pretty quick once you’ve run through it a few times. Big thanks to all of the talented photographers who shared their techniques. I hope this workflow variation is helpful!