How to Make 360 Degree Interactive, Aerial Panoramas with a Drone

Shooting, Stitching, and Sharing Interactive Panoramas Using Only Photoshop and Free Resources

Drones can capture stunning landscapes from a bird’s eye view, and panoramas are a great way to capture a vast landscape that cannot fit into a single photo. And with interactive 360 degree panoramas, we can make viewers feel as though they are inside of the photo. Because most drones don’t have 360 degree cameras, I’m going to show you how to make a 360 degree image by stitching several photos together. This process can seem tricky at first, but, with practice, can become fairly straightforward. Imagine your drone is in the middle of a sphere, and you shoot images to cover the inside of the sphere. Later, we will be able to step inside the sphere and look around.

There are many different programs and software that you can use that will do a lot of the work for you, but rather than download a bunch of new programs, I’m going to show you how to make and share them using only Photoshop and other free resources.

Things you will need:

Shooting

When shooting, set your camera to manual mode and fly up to the desired height. I find that it works best when shot at about 100-200 feet, but these photos can really be taken at any height.  From here you have two options: you can either shoot them manually or with an automated app such as DronePan or Litchi, depending on personal preference.

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    Tip: Watch the red arrow in the bottom corner of your screen to know which direction your camera is pointed.

    If you are shooting manually, start by taking a regular panorama. To do this, take one photo, then rotate your camera about 45 degrees, and take another photo. Repeat this until you have reached your starting point.  Then tilt the camera down about 30 degrees, and repeat the same process. Do this again at about 60 degrees, then point the camera straight down and take one photo. Make sure that there is about 40-50% overlap in each photo, so that Photoshop has enough information to stitch them together.

  • If you would like to use an automated app, I recommend DronePan (free) or Litchi ($). These apps do this exact same process, but all you have to do is press a button and your drone takes it from there. These apps take a lot of the guesswork out of shooting, and provide really accurate results. In post production, a lot of warping and distortion can happen if your photos aren’t evenly spaced out, and these apps will eliminate a lot of that distortion.

You should have a group of photos that looks something like this:

 

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Stitching

To start stitching these photos together, open up your RAW photos in Camera Raw. Edit one of them however you would like, then select all of the images and use Alt + S to synchronize those settings to the rest of the photos. It is important to make sure you enable profile corrections so that the images stitch together smoothly. Now select all of the images, right click, and select “Merge to Panorama.” It can take a couple of minutes to load the preview because the RAW files are so large. Once the preview loads, make sure to select “Spherical” as the projection type, and then click “Merge” and select where you would like to save the new RAW image. If you shot manually, this is where you will see some distortion if you shot incorrectly. You may have taken more pictures on the first rotation than the second or third, or overlapped some more than others. I found myself when taking the photos manually, I would overlap a little too much. I would rotate all the way around to where I started, and take an extra picture for good measure, but then I had two very similar photos, which is unnecessary. If Photoshop made something like this:

 

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This means that you might have had too many photos looking straight down, or too many photos on either side.  If this happened, try taking out some photos that might be duplicates, and make sure you only have one looking straight down. Try different combinations until your panorama looks something like this:

 

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This looks better, but still not exactly right. Photoshop puts the photos together the way you took them, from the top looking down. This is where the Flexify 2 filter comes in. Click on Filter, Flaming Pear, then Flexify II. This will open up a dialog box with tons of options. The only thing you need to do is drag the Latitude slider until your horizon line is straight. Click “OK,” then your photo is looking more like this:

 

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From here, go in and clean up your photo as necessary. Sometimes there can be continuity errors when stitching, or missing pieces. Use the patch tool, stamp tool, or content aware fill to fix any gaps or errors. Also, the horizon line needs to be in the center of the photo. Because we are shooting these with a drone, it is nearly impossible to capture anything directly above, so we need to fill in the sky a bit. And finally, we need to make the edges blend seamlessly. To do this, select a small rectangle on one side, flip it, and paste it on the opposite side. Then erase the harsh edge until it blends together. This way, the two edges of the photo will connect together seamlessly.  Once your photo is ready to go, save it as a JPEG. It should look something like this:

 

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This is the flat version of your panorama. Next, we are going to bring the photo to life.

Sharing

Kuula.co is a virtual reality sharing site where you can upload and share your interactive panoramas. It is really convenient (and FREE!) and easy to use, and you can use it to share on any social media platform or embed in a website. All you have to do is make an account, and click upload. Drag in your 360 degree panorama, and it automatically makes it 3D. Now you can click and drag to look around. If you are on your cell phone, the image will even move with the movement of your phone. If you look down, it’s as though you are sitting hundreds of feet in the air!

 

 

And that’s how you make a 360 degree interactive panorama!  If you’d like to learn more, please check out some of our other drone photography tutorials, or simply follow dronegenuity on our social media channels and subscribe to our mailing list for regular updates.