Part of a series of resources to help you make your own VFEs
The term Gigapan refers to both a piece of camera equipment for taking very high resolution photographs — with gigapixel resolution — and the very high resolution photos themselves. This page provides an introduction to how to use the equipment to create these pictures. It’s not exactly a tutorial, but rather something to give you a sense of what the process looks like. To learn how to create Gigapan images, the best way to learn is to get your hands on the equipment and try.
Kettleman Hills – Patinopecten area C: This Gigapan is part of the Kettleman Hills Virtual Fieldwork Experience. Please Note: All fossil localities in the Kettleman Hills are no longer accessible to amateur fossil collectors. A number of sedimentary structures as visible in this frame. Channeling, cross-bedding, and graduations in the beds are common. Along the plane of the channel (just below the ‘U’ shape at the brown and gray colored sand contact) fragments or rip-up clasts of older materials are also evident. Shells are rare in this part of the section but shell fragments are concentrated along certain horizons.
What you need to create Gigapan images
- A Gigapan unit. “Gigapan provides a complete solution to create immersive, high-resolution panoramic images.” The unit is a robotic tripod head that holds your camera, moves the camera and operates the camera shutter. This process creates a set of images in a mosaic that the software included with the unit stitches together into high resolution images.
- A camera appropriate to the particular Gigapan unit. There are different models of Gigapan units to accommodate different kinds of cameras, ranging from point-and-shoot cameras to high-end professional DSLR cameras.
- Gigapan Stitching Software The software is included in the price of the Gigapan unit.
- Time You can learn to create pleasing Gigapan panoramas in the course of a few hours, but mastery takes some time. It you are able to use it routinely, you’ll get better quickly. A good point-and-shoot camera will produce good results. Learning the technical skills required for a high-end camera at the same time as learning the technical skills of creating Gigapan images will take considerably longer.
Note that the Gigapan brand is not the only source for tools to create high resolution mosaic images.
Push your technical skills, but…
Gaining new skills requires trying to do things you don’t know how to do. Meeting just surmountable difficulties is one of the most invigorating ways to learn. Taking on challenges of the right size is, in itself, a challenge. It’s easy to choose things that are too simple to teach you very much and just as easy to choose things that are too difficult and leave you frustrated more than skilled. But there are strategies to help choose an effective level of challenge.
If you combine challenges, they may multiply. In the specific case, learning to make Gigapan panoramas, learning the technical skills related to a higher-end camera than you are familiar with at the same time you are learning to use the Gigapan multiplies the challenge. You are better off using a camera you are familiar with, or that is easy for you to use than learning about both the Gigapan unit and a new camera at the same time.
If you are familiar with your camera, you can create a pleasing Gigapan on your first attempt, with 60 to 90 minutes of your time. That’s a good rule of thumb, too. If you are trying to learn or teach a new skill, try to find a skill or the subset of a skill that you or your students can be successful at – and make or do something to be proud of – in 60 or 90 minutes. See Kathy Sierra’s excellent 2015 book, Badass: Making Users Awesome for more strategies for learning and teaching skills.
What the process looks like
These videos show using the Gigapan unit along with a camera to take the images for creating a Gigapan panorama. The videos step through the process of programming the Gigapan to sweep out a panorama of a few hundred images that the software will stitch into a single large image.
Shooting a Gigapan Segment 1: Setting up the Gigapan and letting it run. 18:03 to 27:26 This video shows setting up the Gigapan unit at California’s Halfmoon Bay. Precautions related to protecting the camera and unit are included as are some basics of adjusting the settings on the Gigapan. The Gigapan unit itself has a display screen that steps the user through selecting settings and checking those settings. The nine and a half minute video is a real-time look at how long it takes to set up a Gigapan unit and begin taking a panorama. It does not include the few minutes it takes to mount the camera in the unit, nor does it watch the unit capture all 450 pictures for the panorama. That takes another roughly 20 minutes. On a windy day, like the one shown in the video, the user should stand by the camera to make sure it doesn’t blow over.
Shooting a Gigapan Segment 2: Gigapan Close Ups. 27:27 to 40:37 This video takes a closer look at the Gigapan unit as Don steps through settings and precautions. Settings shown include how to set the field of view for each frame (determined by the amount of zoom the camera is set to) and how to set the corners of your panorama. Tips included here include allowing about a millimeter between the unit’s robot arm that clicks the camera’s shutter button and the button itself, that batteries can be replaced mid-Gigapan, and taking a picture of the Gigapan set up with a smartphone to help with georeferencing.