Gigapixel Imagery. An introductory guide to the photography, the
creation of panoramas and interactive virtual tours.
Comisiwn Brenhinol Henebion Cymru
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales
Louise Barker & Fleur James
A Gigapixel image is a digital image composed of one billion (109
) pixels (picture
elements) (1000 times the information captured by a 1 megapixel digital camera).
Current technology for creating such very high-resolution images usually involves
making mosaics of a large number of high-resolution digital photographs to create
A panoramic view of Aberystwyth: comprising a mosaic
of over 400 images. The creation of one high resolution
image enables you to zoom in to view information in
Robotic Camera Mounts: Available for a range of
cameras. The Gigapan (www.gigapan.com) products
include the EPIC series and cover compact digital
cameras, point and shoot and DSLR. These range in
price from £200 - £700
Manual Camera Mounts: These can be
cheaper but the mount needs to enable
the camera to be rotated horizontally
and vertically around the camera/lens
nodal point. The mount also needs to
have markers/increments so images are
captured at equally spaced intervals.
GIGAPIXEL PHOTOGRAPHY : THE HARDWARE
Simply attach your camera (up to 4.5kgs) and the EPIC directs you through the steps to capture
a Gigapixel image. You’ll need to set the focal length and then the upper left and lower right
corners of your panorama (anything up to 360° horizontal and 180° vertical), after which the
EPIC will calculate the number of photographs to be taken and time it will take. Once started the
process is automated, the robotic arms turns on a set path and triggers the camera at each stop.
GIGAPIXEL PHOTOGRAPHY : THE EASY BIT
The EPIC does have a number of different on-board
options to change settings. Including
•Picture overlap: anything from 25% to 75%.
•Stationary time between movement (up to 1 minute).
This depends on your chosen camera settings and the
•Pre-trigger delay (up to 3 seconds). Allows camera to
settle before the shutter is triggered
•Multiple triggering option - allows it to take up to 20
pictures at each image location for exposure
bracketing or multiple image enhancement.
•Picture order: columns or rows; down or up; left or
•Aspect Ratio. Generally 3:2 but this can be changed
to suite your equipment.
Things you need to consider before you start,
that will have an impact on the photography:
•the subject of your photography
•the requirement of your finished product
•the time you have
•the processing power of your computer
GIGAPIXEL PHOTOGRAPHY : THE NOT SO EASY BIT
We trialled a number of different camera settings
for the ‘Digital Dissent’ project which involved
interior and exterior photography of chapels.
After trial and error we stuck with the following:
•28-35mm focal length
•Manual fixed focus (on a few occasions it was
possible to use autofocus)
•Aperture Priority setting : F11-F18 at ISO 800-
1600 with variable shutter on auto exposure
For 360° panoramas this resulted in a time of
roughly 1 hour to take and capture around 400
Autofocus is not reliable in areas where there is little or no differential of density for the
cameras focus sensor e.g. blue skies or plain interior walls. The camera will spend all its
time trying to focus and the shutter will not be triggered before movement takes place.
This will result in gaps in your panorama and a headache during processing.
To avoid this focus the camera manually and use the Aperture priority setting, using the
smallest aperture possible to maximise the depth of field.
Interior photography would normally require complex lighting to achieve a natural look
and a bank of lights would be needed from outside the panorama. Moving lighting around
would result in cross shadows and lighting within the panorama can cause an obstruction.
To avoid this use natural lighting from windows and interior lights. Set the camera on auto
exposure (aperture priority) to capture the maximum information available . Before you
then start the panorama, if using a robotic head make sure the time/exposure setting as
on the Gigapan EPIC is set for a longer period of time than the longest exposure required.
GIGAPIXEL PHOTOGRAPHY : some handy tips
Camera Settings: Auto exposure, aperture priority F16; 35mm focal length; fixed focus.
Gigapan EPIC settings: 30% overlap of frames; with an estimated maximum shutter speed of 3.5
seconds on the camera, a 6 second time/exposure setting.
Product: 400 images, taking 1 hour and 6 minutes to collect.
Peniel Chapel, a 360° panorama of the ground floor.
This will depend on the distance between the camera and the subject and the amount of detail.
A longer focal length (i.e 75mm compared to 35mm) = more photographs = more time =
more processing = a larger file.
Wide angle and fish eye lenses can be used = less photographs = less time = less processing = a
smaller file, but the quality and detail will not as good and there will always be a certain amount
The Gigapan has a pause function that can be used when dealing with moving objects, such as
cars or people entering the panorama. Due to the nature of overlapping photographs, one
photograph of a moving object is unlikely to result in a solid form but more of a ghost effect.
It can also be used to wait for the sun to go behind the cloud when in shot to prevent flare and
an unusable photograph.
There are a number of different software options available and some free downloads:
Photoshop, GigaPan stitch, Panoweaver, PhotoStitcher or Kolor Autopano Giga (€199)
Kolor Autopano Giga has the following useful features:
•advanced stitching engine, no need to specify the order of images, instead it launches
detection and finds relationships through software
•auto correction of moving objects (anti-ghost), allows you to keep and discard objects
•enables the user to take over manual editing of control points that forces software to add links
•automatic colour and exposure correction and anti-haze filter
•range of projections e.g. if 360° cylindrical or spherical projection, (maintain rectilinear for
•export – render out panoramas: JPG, PNG, PSD, PSB, TIFF;
•batch rendering of multiple panoramas
•the creation of panoramas using images not taken from same perspective e.g. aerial
CREATING THE PANORAMAS: stitching your images
Select your images and then allow the software to carry out detection to create an initial
panorama. You can either use the pre-set detection parameters or specify your own. This
process is quite short (it takes about 2 minutes for 182 images) and at this point lens distortion
and colour equalisation is also undertaken.
The edit screen provides information on the stitching quality and allows you to make changes
to the image such as rotation and cropping.
You can also look closely at the detection and the relationships the software has chosen
In CP editor you can look closely at the relationships and add and delete control points
It can still go wrong…..but the software has enough options for you to be able to put it right
Once you’re happy with the image, it needs to be rendered to create the final version. File
formats include: JPG, PNG, PSD, PSB, TIFF.
Be warned! This is both a time and processor consuming process.
THE END PRODUCT
The final rendered image will be a large file. The above panorama, comprising 426 images, was
rendered as a .psb file (Photoshop big file) and was 4,681,469KB in size. A PSD/PSB file is larger
than other file formats (jpeg/tiff) as it contains more information. This was important for us
when producing the virtual tours. But you might want to consider a different format that
creates a smaller file but don’t forget your file format and size will also has archive implications.
CREATING INTERACTIVE VIRTUAL TOURS
One product that can be created from gigapixel imagery are Interactive Virtual Tours. We
created 4 for the ‘Digital Dissent’ project and they are available to view here
We used Kolor Panotour Pro (€300) to create the virtual tours. The software allows you to:
•create and customise 360° views.
•add hotspots and embeds sounds and videos, PDF files, pictures, websites.
•allows you to share your virtual tours on all devices (computers, tablets, smartphones).
and is compatible with Mac, Windows, Linux
The final task is to ‘build’ your tour. Another time and processor consuming process
The end product is a .html file that works with a folders of tiles. Tiles are jpegs created from the
Gigapixel panoramic images, that have been chopped into a series of smaller files, used and
loaded as you zoom in and out of the tour.
Be careful not to make your final tour too big. For each of the four chapels we aimed to create
a product less than 800MB.