Home > Projects, Works in Progress > Christmas ball photography hack WORKING!

Christmas ball photography hack WORKING!

A $20 360 degree panorama solution.

Let me first say NO that pink coat is not mine. This was done at my parents’ house.

I’m very very pleased to day that today I was finally able to accomplish my dream of providing a cheap way for the average person to do special 3D 360 degree panorama. I found that if one simply shoots a spherical object from above, they can capture a whole 360 degrees worth of image data. I used this cheap ( and admittedly crappy Christmas tree ball). To do this I disabled the camera’s flash, set a timer for 10 seconds, and moved my tripod so the ball was in full view. I then stepped back and allowed the ball and camera to do their magic. This is the result, look at all that image data tucked away inside there! The FINAL 360 degree product is at the very bottom if you don’t like to read.

A top down shot of a common Christmas ball.

Now I used GIMP to convert the image from a polar map to a normal rectangle. The result will look squished but we’ll fix that.

Be SURE to crop your image first so the sphere is in the center and the image is square not rectangular.

Now we are ready to begin the magic.


Filters -> Distorts -> Polar Coordinates

Uncheck “To Polar” Your image should unfold into a square.

This is the result.

You can see that we are getting there. Now I went to Image -> Scale Image and scailed the width by a factor of 314 % (This is PI times the height!).

I’m not sure that that is the correct width, readers please correct me if my math is incorrect.

Here is the final result, please keep in mind this is a proof of concept. The Christmas ball had many imperfections in the surface. You can probably get amazing results with one of those half dome safety mirrors like retail stores use and a professional camera. I’m just a simple inventor, this is probably a 15 dollar project if you have the camera already. According to one commenter, my final picture might be out of proportion please read the comments.

Please readers, feel free to correct, comment, and improve on my methods.

  1. tomhoward
    June 16, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    That’s really cool 🙂

  2. Bavi_H
    June 16, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    See http://wiki.panotools.org/Panorama_formats

    The panorama format I’m most familiar with is equirectangular. The 360 degrees along the horizon is mapped to the horizontal axis, and the 90 degrees up to 90 degrees down (180 degrees total) is mapped to the vertical axis. So the image aspect ratio is 2:1.

    However, your ball doesn’t capture image data all the way to 90 degrees down, so you’ll have to estimate the angle it covers, add appropriate padding to the bottom of the image, then resize the result to a 2:1 ratio.

    When you view your panorama in a panorama viewer, straight lines from the real world should appear straight. I played around with your panorama until the lines looked straight and got this:


    • June 17, 2011 at 12:20 am

      This is a great demonstration.
      Thank you.
      I was just taking a shot in the dark with my width and such.

  3. Bob
    June 16, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    I got the best optical results using a chrome Baby Moon hubcap as a “wide angle”. For a whole sky camera, an 8mm movie camera was mounted on a tripod looking at hubcap on the ground, setup so the hubcap filled the frame. A clock motor pushed the camera single frame release every 30 seconds. An AC clock was placed in one corner of the frame, and a card with the date in another, and an arrow pointing North in the third. Viola! A time stamped, time lapse movie of the whole sky for the whole day. Amazing how much a Hack it was to quantify the yield of the first Chinese nuclear weapons above ground tests.

  4. June 17, 2011 at 11:54 am

    I think the scaling according to pi is right because the height of the image is clearly what used to be the diameter since p=(pi)*d. Do you mind if I use this as a classroom activity? I am a high school teacher from Mexico, if you would like to know how the students did while using it, you could contact me: aarongarza@gmail.com

    Genius idea!

    • June 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm

      By all means use and feel free to improve this idea!
      I’m all about free software, ideas, and open source hardware.
      I’d be interested to know how your project turns out.

  5. June 17, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    This is really bugging me LOL. I am looking at the leg of the tripod and on the sphere it occupies the space of the radius, then on the square the height is the radius, not the diameter as i had tought so the width should be 2*pi*r but the proportion with 2*pi doesn’t look right!

    • Bavi_H
      June 17, 2011 at 10:27 pm

      If you just want to look at the panorama itself, I don’t think there’s a mathematically “correct” aspect ratio. Just use whatever looks pleasing. Since you’re mapping a sphere of view onto a flat surface, there’s going to be some kind of distortion no matter what projection you use.

      However, if you want to view the panorama in a panorama viewer you’ll have to use a panorama format the viewer understands. (A panorama viewer reads the panorama image and gives you a rotatable camera view, like Google Street View.) See my comment #2 above.

  6. S. Lovepeace
    June 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    How about this with a 3D camera – :O ?? The .jpg could be split into left and right for processing and stiched back together for the 3D image display software… What would THAT look like? How about video??

    Rig one to the top of a helmet and view the processed video on vid glasses and you’ve got eyes in the back of your head. Add augmented reality apps and you’re a cyborg lol 🙂

  7. Todd H
    June 20, 2011 at 8:27 am

    I used the gizmo from 0-360.com a couple years back and had some interesting results. This flips the whole thing upside down, and the little supporting post ends up being on the top of your image, and easily cropped out. Might be a good plan B for the next step of development. May need to wait until Christmas to find good glass silver balls.


  8. June 22, 2011 at 11:46 am


    convert cropped.png +distort DePolar 0 test.png

    Also works pretty well without worrying about math or scale =)

  9. August 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Hey! Do you know if they make any plugins to help with SEO?
    I’m trying to get my blog to rank for some targeted keywords but I’m not seeing very good
    gains. If you know of any please share. Thanks!

  1. June 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm
  2. June 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm
  3. June 17, 2011 at 4:05 am
  4. June 20, 2011 at 9:26 am
  5. June 20, 2011 at 4:19 pm
  6. September 2, 2011 at 8:11 pm

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