Creating panorama photos in crime scenes using your current camera equipment
by Hayden B. Baldwin

 

Panoramas in crime scene work has always been a useful tool in depicting the area near the crime scene or even in the crime scene. In the past the equipment required to create and shoot panoramas was cost prohibitive for most police agencies. Now panoramas can be made with your current camera equipment. Nothing new to buy and the software is available free from various sources. Panoramas are nothing more than a series of photos taken so the image is overlapped from one image to the next. Many of the newer imaging programs have this feature. Microsoft years ago gave away a free stitching program called ICE. Another free stitching program is called Huggin and is probably the most widely used free panorama open source software.  Even my HTC Smartphone has an android app called Photaf for making panorama’s. I personally use a commercial software called PTGui .

Here is a 360 panorama of 10 photographs stitched together.

If you click on the image you should see it as a panoramaVR. (VR meaning Virtual Reality) A panorama that moves!  This panorama movie requires a Flash Player to view.  The movie can be also be made for QuickTime Movie Players and and example of that is here. I have set this movie player to be controlled by the mouse. Click on the image and move around in it by clicking on the image and hold the button down while you move the mouse.

In each of the players, Flash or QuickTime, you can stop the action and use your mouse to move the image side to side or zoom in or out on the image. The viewing screens can be made to any size, including playing at full screen. You will notice however the image is of a lesser resolution then the actual original file. I have posted them here in a lower resolution otherwise the files sizes would be too great to download to play.  The camera used was a Nikon D300 with 18-70 zoom lens and hand held.

All literature on panorama images will state the camera must be pivoted on the nodal point or also called the "no parallax point". What this is referring to is the pivoting point of the camera when rotating it to take the series of photos. The camera should be pivoted on the parallax point of the lens not the center of the camera. However in my experiments it has been possible to pivot the camera by holding it close to your body while you turn to take the series of photos using the camera and lens you normally use in documenting the crime scene. If you were to use a fisheye lens then a pano head and correct position of the lens is critical.

Here is another one but closer to the crime scene and it is about 100 degrees view and not 360. This one is only 3 photos stitched together. Click on the image to see the movie in a Flash Player.

and the QuickTime version is here.

Ideally the camera would be on a tripod, especially in low light or when using electronic flash.

Indoors the same method could be used however I have found it is better if the photographs are taken vertically and then stitched together.  Here is an example of that. The first image is a normal image taken with a wide angle 18mm lens. The second image is 3 vertical images stitched together and cropped. I cropped them purposely so you could see the same picture ratio of 3x2 as the first normal photograph is showing. As you can see, you have a much greater field of view with vertical images in a room.

                           
                                Normal 18mm Wide Angle                                          3 Vertical images Stitched together.

All photographs above were taken from the same position in the room.

There are fisheye lenses that can be used along with a panorama tripod head that will take 360 X 360 mages. I use a Sigma 8mm and a Nodal Ninja head for my Nikon D300 when I want 360 X 360 images. Using this combination I can take 5-6 images and capture the scene in 360 X 360.  This means that not only 360 degrees around the scene the image is also 360 up and down! A few examples of that are at my other web site, 3DBear.net  While they are not crime scene images you will get the idea of what can be done. This additional hardware is in the price range of $600-$900.

There are commercial products that are made to do the same but in better quality. Panoscan is a company who has been in this field for years. Many major law enforcement agencies use this device. It will not only take the 360 X 360 image but also capable of measuring the crime scene and every object in it! Besides Panoscan other companies have similar products such as DeltaSphere.  This is not to be confused with Laser Scanners which use measurements to document the scene. Equipment of this caliber is in the $35K-75K range and more!

The panoramaVRs can be linked so that when you click on a "hot spot" (marker) it will take you to another image or panoramaVR. The panoramas can be taken as you are going through a building. You could start from the primary crime scene, 360 panorama, then every doorway leading to another room would have a marker (hot spot) that when clicked it would take you to that room. This process could continue until you have covered the primary and secondary areas of the crime scene.

There is a company that has software that does just that and is geared to presenting crime scenes with 360 panoramas and measurements, Crime Scene VR.   The presentation software uses the panoramas you would create with fisheye lenses and panorama heads.

This software is from China and sells for about $9,000.00 .  That does not include the camera or hardware required.

 CrimeSceneVR is an offshoot of the parent company EasyPano   The company provides no technical support here in the USA.  While I think the product has great potential the company needs better support here. One of the drawbacks for me was the final image was restricted to a small size of about 800 by 600 and I would rather see it with the ability to go to at least 1600 by 1200.

There is another program available at a lot less, from DeltaSphere with a product called SceneVision-Panorama. This product looks promising for those that cannot afford the full product of DeltaSphere's Focus Laser Scanner. Here is a quick look ........

I think this is a great plus for us in documenting a crime scenes. DeltaSphere has several has several packages with various configurations and prices. The whole package which includes the camera, pano head, tripod and software is on sale now for $1995!

Go to their web site to see more about their products. DeltaSphere.

 Multiple rows of images can be stitched together to create one image. This final image was made from the 16 images stitched together. This can be done manually or with equipment like the Gigapan Epic. Photographing a large room, warehouse or outdoor scene could be easily accomplished by multiple rows of stitched images. There is no limit to the number of images that can be stitched together. On a large scale hundreds of images can be stitched together to create a multiple gigapixel image. A sample of this can be found here.

This concept doesn't just apply to a large outdoor scene, it can also be applied within a crime scene, even indoors or perhaps evidence such a three dimensional shoeprint in mud or snow. The detail would be far greater than any single image of the same subject.

The process of stitching images together applies to more than just crime scene work.  Fingerprints developed on something as small as a spent shell casing creates a problem because of the curved surface.  Taking a series of photographs of the fingerprint wrapped around the casing could produce a fairly flat and sharp image of the entire ridge detail once the images were stitched together.  Other evidence could be stitched together too, such as tire tracks!

                                       

Possibly another use for the panorama in crime scene work is blood spatter patterns. This could be accomplished with the camera on a tripod and using a macro lens. Instead of pivoting to take the panoramic view it would require the camera and tripod to be moved horizontally starting with the left side of the pattern first. This technique is common to do in CS3 and above programs of Photoshop. If you have not seen the book , "Photoshop C3 for Forensic Professionals" by George Reis I strongly recommend it. George speaks of using the merge function of Photoshop to stitch images together.

Additional free information on how to create the panoramas is located on the PanoGuide web site.  This is an excellent web site with a large amount of information about panoramas.

If you have comments or questions you may direct them to me at hbb@icsia.org