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The rise of Virtual Reality has brought about an unexpected innovation in the world of photography, the 360° photo. You may have come across a 360-degree photo or video on Facebook, which began accepting the new type of photo early this year. 360-degree photos allow the viewer to interact with the image and explore the entire environment around the camera that captured it.
Anyone can create 360 photos and share them on social media, but to do so you’ll need to invest in a purpose built 360° camera. These cameras have two or three lenses each facing a differing direction; the 360 photos are created by stitching the images captured by each individual lens to create a full 360° image.
This is what a 360° photo looks like before it is stitched together:
Using automatic software, a 360-degree camera can stitch each side of the image together to create a full 360° image that will look like this:
So what is the point of 360-degree photos? Is it just a fad or is the medium here to stay? 360-degree photos present an opportunity for people to capture entire rooms, landscapes, and scenes in a single shot. Imagine the difference between photographing a beach using a normal camera compared to photographing the same beach with a 360-degree camera. A normal camera is limited to capturing the space where you point viewfinder, roughly 90° or so. The 360 camera will capture the whole scene, allow you to look up at the sky, behind at the sand dunes and forward towards the ocean, all in one seamless image.
You’ve probably used google street view to explore different places around the world, a 360 photo can be viewed exactly the same way. In fact, businesses have used 360 photography to create internal immersive tours of their properties for years. If you want you can even upload your 360 photos to google where other people can view them on street view.
So it seems like 360-degree photos are here to stay, with large companies like Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr all adapting their photo sharing services to accept 360 images. New cameras being released all the time, and this new type of photography is at last accessible to the casual photographer.
You may be wondering if 360 photos require advanced equipment and years of training to produce. A few years ago this may have been the case, but the relentless advance of technology means that taking a 360 photo is just as easy as shooting with a compact camera.
This year has seen the release of several consumer 360 cameras aimed at everyday people who want to take immersive 360 photos. These cameras are user-friendly, priced competitively, and only require a few minutes to learn how to use effectively. Some brand names you might like to note down include the Samsung Gear 360, the LG 360 Cam and the Ricoh Theta S; these are all 360 cameras that have proven popular and they are relatively inexpensive.
In almost all cases you’ll need a smartphone to make the best use of your 360-degree camera, as each one has an accompanying app that allows you to preview the image and control camera settings. The camera and app connect wirelessly and then you simply use your phone screen as you would a normal camera screen.
One of the exciting things about 360-degree photos is that they require a new set of skills to shoot successfully. For a start, you need to remember that the camera will capture everything surrounding it, so if you don’t want to be seen you will need to hide out of view and make use of the timer feature.
When setting up a 360 photo, consider the fact that the viewer will be able to explore the whole image, so try and find a location with plenty of interesting features.
A must have accessory, that should be used with every 360-degree camera is a good tripod. It is essential that the camera is stable and still when shooting in 360 degrees, otherwise, the image may become distorted. I recommend using a tripod that has little in the way of gears and levers at the top, or they may be visible in the 360 image. I have found that a studio light stand is very well designed to be a tripod for a 360 camera.
When shooting a 360 photo try and ensure that there are no objects too close to the lens, this makes it much more difficult for the camera to stitch the images together accurately.
These basic tips will get you started, but the only way to become a proficient 360-degree photographer is to get out and start shooting yourself. The reward is the opportunity to create truly unique images.
Have you tried this kind of photography before? Please your thoughts, questions and images below.