Create custom environment maps with Photosynth, SynthExport and Image Composite Editor

It’s time for a quick tutorial! Today I want to show you how to create custom environment maps you can use for your 3d scenes, just using your smartphone and the Photosynth app! Than we will see how to obtain many other hdrs from the Photosynth website just using a couple of free softwares. Let’s get started!

1) First of all you’ll need the Photosynth app (available for Windows Phone and iOS devices). When you launch it (on Windows Phone), you will be presented with the screen below.

Start taking photos with Photosynth

Start taking photos with Photosynth

2) Put yourself in the middle of the space you want to capture and start tacking photos all around you with the app.

3) When you’ve finished taking photos, Photosynth will stitch them together creating the 360 environment, like you can see in the picture below.

Photosynth is stiching the photos

Photosynth is stitching the photos

4) The resulting image will be our 360 degrees panorama. Now you can send it to you by email or you can upload it on OneDrive and than use it for environment lighting on the 3d software of your choice!

Photosynth full 360

Photosynth full 360

With the next steps, using the same image we took earlier, I will show you how you can obtain many other environment maps from the Photosynth website.

5) Even if it’s not necessary for the purpose of this tutorial, you can use your Microsoft account for uploading your panorama to You can choose the thumbnail picture, name your panorama and add a location based tag.

Upload to

Upload to

6) Head to on your PC, login with the same Microsoft account you used in the mobile app and you will find your panorama waiting for you on the web! Even without logging in, you can open the page where you can view the panorama you want to use and than just copy the URL of that page.

7) Now we need another little software that will extract for us the pictures and the data from Click here to download SynthExport. Open it and paste in there the URL of the photosynth page of the previous step. Click the Load button and wait for the process to end. This process works with every panorama uploaded on Photosynth

From Photosynth to SynthExporter

From Photosynth to SynthExporter

8) In the bottom part of the SynthExport window, change the file format to Microsoft ICE project, click Export and choose where to save the output files.

9) Once the process is ended we will have some .png file of our panorama and an .spj file we will use in a second for stitching all those images back together.

Export the Microsoft ICE project files from SynthExporter

Export the Microsoft ICE project files from SynthExporter

10) Now it’s time for our last little software for completing the process. Click here and download the Image Composite Editor directly from Microsoft Research website.

11) Open it and drag the .spj file in the middle of the ICE window. After few seconds you will see your panorama back together, with all its parts in the right position.

Drag the .spj file on the ICE window

Drag the .spj file on the ICE window

12) All you need to do now is to choose the file format (I used TIFF in this case) and click on Export to disk on the right of the window. Now we have our custom picture ready to be used on any 3d software for environment lighting! (Image Composite Editor tends to leave some black pixel between the different part of the panorama, while stitching them back together. For an optimal result you will probably need to repair this on an the image editing software of your choice)

13) Finally I created a quick scene in Blender and I loaded the image obtained has environment light source. Now I can use the same light of my garden to light up any 3d scene!

Custom hdr final result

Custom environment lighting result

That’s all for now! I hope you found this quick tutorial useful for creating your own environment maps. Seach for the environment you want on Photosynth, upload yours and create the environment light you need for your scenes.

Comment and share! See you next time!


 Thanks to thirdeyeghost for the panoramic picture (Big Lagoon, El Nido, Palawan, Philippines) I used on the first image

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