Centering your product for 360 photography can be a tricky endeavor if you don’t have a pre-marked center mark on your table.
The challenge can be exasperated if you need to center a very small item such as a ring, jewelry or a very large item.
Here are three methods you can use to accomplish this task and simplify the process every time you need to do so in the future.
This method is so simple that you will kick yourself for not thinking of it.
Typically to draw a circle with a compass your pencil or pen moves around a stationary pivot point.
Here we will use the same principle we use to draw a circle with a drafting compass on our table top. However, in our case it will be the table that spins and our pen will be stationary.
You need a way to hold a dry erase marker stationary over your table top. I suppose you could use a sharpie if you would like your mark to be permanent but in my case I will be using a dry erase marker, making gradually smaller circles until I zero in on the exact center.
If you need a very accurate center mark this is a good way to achieve that result.
You can use a c-stand if you have one, and simply attach your marker with duct tape.
No need to get fancy here, quick and dirty does the job just fine So long as your base and the marker do not move you are in the clear.
You can see the first circle would be sufficient for medium sized objects that don’t need highly precise centering.
I repeat this process of rotating my tabletop and moving the marker closer and closer to the center until the circle rotates around the tip of the marker.
Using the Spinshot Turntable and Turntable Control Software also makes this process easier as I can control the speed of the rotation and the start and stop directly from my computer
If you have some very small items to photograph this is a great starting point from which you can further refine.
That being said I was able to center this relatively small end mill just from the center mark I made using this method.
The second method for centering works very well if you often photograph items that are very similar in size and shape but are not identical. (think shoes, sunglasses, watches or wallets)
This template can be made from a more durable material such as plywood, matte board, or acrylic if you have the means.
I’ll be making a simple but accurate template from cardboard. Taking the time to properly lay out your lines will go a long way into making this template easy and accurate to use.
We can start by taking the measurement of our tabletop to ensure we have a piece of cardboard long enough to span the width of our table.
In my case the tabletop is 36 inches and I have a piece of cardboard slightly longer to start with.
The short side of your template isn’t that important as long as it will be wide enough to be relatively durable and not fall apart on you. This will also depend on the size of the cut out that you will be making in the center.
Once I have the piece trimmed to the length of 36 in I make a centerline so that I can line up my table top to this line.
Once the center mark on my tabletop is lined up with the centerline on my template piece, I trace the contour of the tabletop on the cardboard.
You can use a boxcutter, x-acto knife or just a pair of scissors to cut the curved contour.
Next we need to lay out a square or rectangle cutout in the center. In my case I'll be making a rectangle cut out slightly larger than a shoe, as I will be using this template to center shoes.
To find the center of your template draw diagonal lines from opposite corners.
All three lines should interest at one point in the middle.
Start by making 6in marks (or whatever size you need) from the center point in both directions.
Next I use a carpenter's square to draw a right angle on both sides vertically.
Once you have your vertical lines drawn simply connect the dots on both of the horizontal lines.
It's also a good idea to make some increment marks on both sides of your center line so that you have some visual guides when using this template.
For this step using a nice and sharp knife is crucial unless you like a sloppy ragged cut.
Start with a very slight pass to keep your blade from wandering and finish the cut with subsequently harder passes.
And there you have it, this template is quick and effective if you don't need pinpoint centering but still want your object to rotate and not orbit or your tabletop.
This method can be used in conjunction with the previous two methods to fine tune your centering if you need those SpaceX kind tolerances.
This method works best if your camera is tethered directly to your computer so that you have a real time preview on your screen and can correct in real time.
In theory you could do this if you were shooting to a memory card but I certainly would not recommend it.
I typically use Capture One as my tethering software and the Turntable Control Software that comes with the Spinshot system.
The Turntable Control Software lets me accurately rotate to any angle without any guesswork.
To center our object we will be taking an image at 0º 90º 180º and 270ª degrees and adjusting until our object doesn’t move from side to side and back and forth.
We can use a combination of digital and analog tools depending on what you have available. If your tethering software doesn't have the option of dragging out guides or they are not visible like mine due to the white background we can simply use a piece of tape or a sticky note taped directly to our screen and accomplish the same task.
In all honesty I like this method as it is very easy to use and is effective.
To begin, first rotate your turntable to 90 and take an image. Take a sticky note or a piece of painters tape and mark the left side of the object.
Now rotate your camera to 270º and snap an image. If you see that your object is to the right of your rightmost guide you need to move it to the left half the distance that it is past the guide.
If it is to the left of the rightmost guide you need to move it to the right half the distance it is to that guide.
Rotate your table back to 90º, snap a photo and replace your guide on the edge of your object. Now rotate your table 270º and repeat the process until you are satisfied with your results.
Now we will do the same process again for 0 and 180 degrees. But in order to better see the movement in the object we need to Tare or Reset to 0º while our table is 90º.
Now rotate it to 90º and repeat the process from the previous steps.
You should be seeing it move from side-to-side, marking and adjusting it as needed.
Once the object moves minimally when you rotate 180º, you know it is centered.
If we open up the final 4 images in Photoshop and stack them on top of each other as Layers, putting each one at about 20% opacity, we should see that they are almost perfectly centered.
Use one of these methods or all three to make centering your objects for 360 photography a quicker, more enjoyable and repeatable process.