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Behind the lens: 360-degree panoramas of mudslide

February 12, 2010 |  3:59 pm


Six days ago, a torrent of floodwater and mud crashed down Manistee Drive in La Cañada Flintridge, severely damaging several homes. Tom Curwen’s gripping Column One article in Friday’s paper describes the harrowing escapes by the Laguna family and their neighbor Pat Anderson.

Accompanying the article online are three 360-degree panoramic photos by Bryan Chan, which include audio interviews with Henry Laguna and Anderson. The panoramas -- of the Lagunas’ home, the yard where the family fled, and the overall scene on Manistee Drive -- give the feeling of being there. A viewer is practically standing alongside Henry Laguna in his ruined dining room as Laguna describes how his family fled the wall of mud.

Chan had seen photos of the Laguna home taken by fellow photographer Allen J. Schaben and thought the scene might work well for a panoramic image. When he arrived at the house Wednesday, he found Laguna digging through the mud with the help of his son and friends.

“He was gracious and said to come on in and look around,” Chan said. “Laguna gave me a quick interview where I recorded audio of him describing the night of the mudslide. His account was pretty compelling.”

Then, Chan said, “I found the spot I wanted to shoot from and waited for him to walk by to give a sense of scale to the scene.”

Chan described how he created the 360-degree panoramas:

“Many of the panoramas I do are done with four to five photos shot with a fish-eye lens on a special tripod head. The fish-eye lens was modified to give more than a 180-degree view. I shoot a front, left, right, back and down photo. The images have overlap, and special software is used to merge them. The software looks for common points in adjacent photos and stretches the pixels to match. The resulting image is inserted into a viewing software that allows it to be viewed 360 degrees.

“We are careful to indicate that the panorama is the result of several images combined. So readers know that the panorama does not represent a moment in time, as in traditional photojournalism, but a span of time.”

Curwen’s fine article paints a picture of the night mud slammed into the Laguna and Anderson homes. Chan’s panoramas take the experience a step further.

--Deirdre Edgar

Twitter: @LATreadersrep

Photo: The combined images of the Laguna family home in La Cañada Flintridge. Credit: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times