Well, in the short time span since finding the open source panoramic stitching software, Hugin, I’ve also found that it is possible to do some pretty amazing things with it aside from just making run-of-the-mill panoramas – namely, stereographic photography. I’m sure most of us have seen stereographic photography before – they are strange looking images that kind of look like little planets. But up until yesterday, I had no idea how to actually create these images. In browsing Flickr for images created with Hugin, I noticed that many of the images were stereographic projections. I was flooded with excitement and I couldn’t wait to try my own hand at it. I found myself a good tutorial, and got to work.
Now, a word of warning: this type of photography works remarkably well with wide-angle lenses, which I surprisingly lack. So, I had to make do with my 18mm lens, meaning I had to take a lot more pictures to make this work.
The hard part (unless you have a wide angle lens) is getting a workable equirectangular panorama (360°x180°). I set the camera up on a tripod and rotated it around, taking a total of four rows of pictures, each row covering all 360°. The first row was aimed at the ground, the second a little higher, the third even higher and the fourth row was pointed at the sky. These four rows were sufficient to get all 180° from ground to sky. I took 100 pictures in total. With a wide angle lens, you can apparently get away with only taking 5 pictures.
Once I had all 100 pictures, I stitched them together into a plain panorama in Hugin and saved the image as a high-quality .TIF file. Please do note that it takes Hugin quite a long time to stitch together this many images, for obvious reasons. I have a reasonably fast computer, and it still took roughly 8-10 minutes. Then the magic happened when I then imported the panorama .TIF back into Hugin and followed a few simple steps to produce a stereographic projection.
There is definitely a slight learning curve when figuring out how to manipulate the settings in Hugin to get your projection just right, and I had a couple of interesting failures before I managed to get the projection I was after. It didn’t take long though before I’d figured out what was going on.
One thing to note is that I attempted to take both zenith and nadir photos as part of my original set, but I failed miserably and Hugin could not integrate these images into the panorama. So, as a result, I ended up with blank spots in the zenith and nadir of the final projection, which I just had to carefully conceal with Photoshop – really no big deal.
After I finally got the projection right; the blank spots at both the nadir and zenith are visible
Anyway, I think that final result turned out surprisingly well, given that it was my first attempt at this. Not to mention, I was extremely stoked that both the sun and the moon were visible in the sky at the time I took the photo series. There is definitely a considerable amount of work that goes into generating one of these images if you lack a wide-angle lens, but I thought the process was a lot of fun, and the result is very interesting.
It’s my understanding that a lot of people combine HDR with stereographic photography, adding to the surreal nature of the final image; I did not do this. Because I was taking so many images, I took them in the smallest file format possible to speed the process along, which is generally not conducive to producing a quality HDR. As I get better and more skilled at this, I will definitely begin taking higher quality images, and may attempt to incorporate HDR when I feel it’s warranted.
Anyway, if you’d like to give stereographic photography a try, the tutorial I used can be found here. The tutorial was written several years ago, so Hugin has definitely changed, and I skipped most of the tutorial, all the way to the final step of generating the stereographic projection. Good luck and have fun!