360 Degree Orchid Photography : A Step By Step Guide

360 Degree Object Rotation of Orchid, Paphiopedilum esquirolei Click and drag on the image above to control the rotation and angle of view.

Creating 360 Degree Object Rotations

For several years I enjoyed growing orchids, and during that time one of the biggest attractions of my website was the 3D Gallery. As soon as I published my first project, the page started getting hits from all over the world. It was a great way to display the orchids, and it was a very fun way to increase the traffic on my website. And of course, people always asked me how I did it. This is how.

Taking the Photos

Good photos are absolutely key to the quality of a finished 360 Degree project. For those of you who have not already read it, I would highly recommend reading my B&H Insights article on the subject of orchid photography. All of the same considerations still apply.

There are, however, a few more items to keep in mind:

  • Set your camera to manual exposure, if possible, and use the same exposure for all of the photos. If you allow your camera’s auto-exposure to change as the bloom rotates, you may get flickering or brightness shifts that negatively impact the smoothness of your rotation. If you can’t manually expose, then pull back from the bloom and frame the entire plant. This way, the tonal changes between frames are relatively minimal.
  • Set your aperture to a smaller setting than normal. Since you’re going to be publishing the project at a small size (even full screen of a 1080p HD monitor is only 2 megapixels), the slight sharpness that you’ll lose to diffraction is a non-issue. Try f16 or even f22. The extra depth of field that results makes for a much smoother, more pleasing result.
  • Use a tripod and remember to set your white balance / color balance! This is extremely important when photographing color-critical subjects like orchids. If you have an X-rite Color Checker, this is the time to use it.
  • I also recommend using flash (with a reflector, as described in the previous article). With any closeup photos, its hard to get crisp detail, and when you’re moving the subject constantly, it’s sometimes hard to get the bloom perfectly still, and flash will give you a sharp photo regardless of the motion in the subject. If you’re not using a flash, then be very patient and wait for the bloom to be absolutely still before taking another photo.

There are numerous ways to take the series of photos, so I’ll outline my method with the understanding that there’s plenty of room for variation and improvement.

Step One : Procure some kind of a turn-table. For me, the easiest option was to use a swiveling office chair! I’d remove the back, and place a board, large book or other heavy, flat surface across the top of the seat to even it out a bit. For miniature species, you could easily use a lazy-susan or even an old record player (power off).

Step Two: Locate its center of rotation. Centering the bloom is the most tedious part of the process, and there’s a lot of trial and error involved. My favorite trick is this: once I’d set up the platform on the chair, I’d tape a piece of blank white paper over the general area of the center. Newspaper works well, too. Then, I’d stand over the chair, staring down at the seat, and give it a spin. While the chair is spinning, hold a pencil to the paper in what appears to be the center (a paintbrush works even better if you have one handy). If you’re off-center a little bit, the pencil dragging on the paper as it spins will draw a small circle (or if you guessed badly, a big circle), and marking the center of the small circle is a snap. With a few spins, you’ll have the center of your platform marked on the paper.

Step Three: Center the Camera and Bloom. Attach your camera to your tripod and, if your tripod head has spirit levels,  level it. Now, zoom in as far as possible and align your camera so that the center focusing point is on the center spot on the platform. Lock all of the tripod controls except for the up/down tilt (which is the only control you’ll adjust later). This should keep your frame centered relative to the axis of rotation.

Next, you’ll need to set your plant on the platform. However, don’t make the mistake of centering its pot on the platform; instead center the bloom (or choose your favorite bloom if there are many). This is done in the same way as the previous step: stand over the top of the platform staring straight down at your center mark, and line up the bloom. If the spike was staked and is over the pot (blocking the view of the center spot), then you’ll have to eyeball it.

Finally, tilt your tripod head up so that it’s aiming at your bloom. If the bloom doesn’t look centered though the viewfinder, adjust the bloom, not the camera! Then, rotate the platform 90 degrees, and again, check whether the bloom is centered, and adjust accordingly. I usually do this at 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees, and sometimes it takes multiple tries. The process is a somewhat forgiving, and the bloom doesn’t need to be perfectly centered, but it does need to be centered enough that it won’t move out of your camera’s frame during the 360 degree rotation.

Once I think that I have the bloom centered, I tape the pot down to the platform with masking tape to keep it from shifting during the final rotation.

Step Four: Take the series of photos. You’ll want to take at least 25 photos, but I find that 40-60 gives the best quality without slowing things down too much. My first shot in the series usually starts 90 degrees from the front of the bloom. Frequently, despite all efforts, the bloom moves a little bit during the course of a full rotation, which causes a little bit of a hiccup at the loop point, so I don’t want the loop point to be right in the most important part of the rotation. After taking the first shot, it’s simply a matter of rotating the platform a little bit, taking another shot, and then rotating again. If you’re not sure how many photos to take, always err on the side of too many. It’s easy to throw out an extra shot later. Once you get around to your starting point again, keep going, and take a few overlapping photos, just in case. If the degree of rotation between photos isn’t exact (and you take more photos of the front of the orchid than the back, for example), it’s not a big deal. At worst, it will mean that part of your rotation will seem slower or faster than the rest. I’ve tried a few different methods of using the exact same spacing, but decided in the end that it was more trouble than it was worth. I’ll leave that up to you. Again, if you take more photos than necessary, you can always weed some out later.

Step Five: Process and re-size the photos. Once you’ve taken the photos, crop and process them as you see fit, and then resize them to something reasonable for the web, keeping in mind that the larger they are, the longer it will take people to download and display. I usually do this by creating an action in Photoshop, so that each image receives the same treatment as all of the others, to maintain consistency.

The size is your own choice; I find that with 50 photos, 600 x 800 pixels is about right, but whatever size you choose, make a note of it. Collect all of the photos that you’ll be using in a folder on your computer (excluding all others). If you’re using the EZ Flash tool, also rename your images so that they’re a numerical sequence starting with 01 .

Assembling the Photos

3D rotation of Paphiopedilum ciliolare. This, of course, is the part of the process that most people have been wondering about.

The work can be done in Adobe Flash. However, if you know how to use Flash, you probably wouldn’t be reading this… and if you don’t know how to use Flash, instructions would be completely beyond the scope of an article like this.

Luckily, there are easier options.

Click and drag the image at left to stop or manually control the rotation.

Option One

In the past, my tool of choice had been one of the older applications from Yofla. However, even that tool required use of Adobe Flash, a program to which not everybody has access. However, I’ve recently discovered that Yofla has created a new, free tool that doesn’t require any additional software, and it seems like a good place to start.

To begin, download and install the software Yofla 3DRT Flexi. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

The Yofla Flexi user interface. Pretty simple. Click to enlarge.

The rest is child’s play. When you run the program, you’ll see a button in the center of the preview window on the right that says “Click to Load Images”. Click it, and browse to the folder where your finished, resized photos are. You can then re-size the project using the size fields to the left, if desired. When you’ve finished playing with any other settings, just click “CREATE” in the top left corner, and the program will output files you need in order to publish your project. It’s that simple.

The only major downside to this method is the output format. The program produces a directory of images, a .swf file, an .xml file, a couple of javascript files, and separate directories of images. If you have a website of your own, this is no problem: you just upload all of that stuff to the same directory as your html page, embed the .swf file, and you’re all set. If, however, you want to display it on a forum or blog, this collection of files is not very easy to work with.

Option Two

If you have some basic familiarity with Flash, another option is to use the Yofla 3D Rotate EZ Flash component, which outputs the entire project to a single .swf file. The free version displays a link to Yofla (as seen in this article), but if you get serious with these things, you can pay a relatively small fee for the pro version and it will be removed. Numerous similar tools and templates available for Flash users on the web, such as this one from Flash Components .net, which costs $5.

And that’s it! Hopefully, that will get you started on your own 3D projects… with orchids and otherwise! Let me know if you have any questions, or would like clarification.

Additional orchid examples can be found at the same old 3D Gallery. I would have liked to put more in this article, but the page load time would have become intolerable.

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  • aw :( thats sad! thanks for checking about that. i really was looking forward to making 3d “pics” of my orchids. thanks for the tutorial though! is there a way i can even view the xml. file that was created when i used the flexi? even if i cant post it, or is there a way to convert the file to something postable to favebook or a forum?

  • okay, so i used that one, and i now have an xml file. i dont know how to use it now. how would i post it on a forum, or even view it on my pc? when i click the file, it opens internet explorer and opens to some kind of code


    • OK, I’m very sorry… I was apparently not paying close enough attention last evening; you were right; the proper tool to output a single Flash file is the EZ, not the flexi.

      And, as you’ve already noticed, since I wrote this article last January, Yofla has stopped offering the EZ tool for free :( At least, as far as I can tell. Sorry!

      – Matthew

  • is there a link to the free version on the program used ( not flash, the other one )? i clicked on the link you gave, and this is all i get-http://www.yofla.com/flash/3d-rotate/ez/ i dont see a place to get the free version.

    good tutorial though! i did option 1, but now i want to upload to a forum, but im not sure how to do that. HELP!

    • Hi Marty,

      Yes, it’s the Flexi that you want, not the EZ :) The flexi is here: http://www.yofla.com/flash/3d-rotate/flexi/

      Whether you can post it on a forum depends very much on the forum. Some allow it, some don’t… you’ll have to check with a moderator at the specific forum and see whether it’s allowed, and if so, how to embed flash content. In some cases, you have to post it on your own site and then link to it in the forum post.

      – Matthew

      • thanks! ill try that one, and i’ll talk to a mod over at orchiboard and ask about it. hopefully it will be postable! thanks

  • My mother used to be a professional photographer, for a company producing heavy equipment. Detailing parts shots mostly, retired 18 years ago, but she was into portraits well after as well. As you can imagine, those days they used a different methods, dark room for developing etc., however thankfully to her I was the only kid in town who could hold Hasselblad camera in hands. Now she is painting with water colors. Any way; I am learning meals/dishes photography nowadays I wish to adopt the skill for my work related purposes, and I coming to your site for advices, e.g. what to get the 3000’s Nikon or a Canon, and on lenses. These close up shots of lowers, and the technique are truly fabulous. Because they are closer to the close ups I plan to do I am leaving this note. Thank you.

    • Hi RB,

      My dad was a photography hobbyist, but I started learning my way around the darkroom at the age of 11 as a result. Never used a Hasselblad back then… I used an Argus for a while (might have been a C3). Ugh.

      Anyway, I didn’t use any specialized equipment to take any of my orchid photos. They’re all several years old, now, and many of them were taken with a point-and-shoot Nikon Coolpix 7600. When I was shooting with an SLR (an outdated Nikon D80), I usually used the kit lens, which was an 18-135mm… not a macro or anything special.

      For this type of photography in general, any of the modern dSLRs will more than suffice. If you’re looking to do professional food photography (and have an extra $20,000), then you can consider a digital medium format… Hasselblad makes a nice one, but I prefer the PhaseOne P60+. :)

      Realistically, though, I’d opt for the Canon t2i over the Nikon 3100, if that’s what you were considering. I’ve written articles comparing the two cameras here on the site, if you want a more detailed analysis :) Ideally, you’d want to save for a while and get the Canon 5D Mark II (or III, when it’s released), but it’s hard to justify that kind of money unless you’re about to start cashing in on the work. The lens question is a harder one; there are lots of good options, and they really depend on your budget. For studio work, you might be best off getting a few prime lenses, since they’ll give you the best quality for the price, and you don’t need to worry about quickly changing shooting situations (like wedding photography). I’d think about an 85mm f1.8, a 50mm, and maybe a 35mm f2.8. The 60mm macro is an incredible lens, if you need to do extreme close-up detail work.

      Or perhaps you had some more specific options that you were wondering about? Let me know :)

      – Matthew

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