Beginners Guide to 360 Photography

how-to-take-a-360-photo

Beginners Guide to 360 Photography

These days, it can be difficult to determine which trends are worth buying into. Some new forms of technology skyrocket, leaving the others that have quickly crash landed behind in the dust. It’s tough to catch up if you’ve been left behind on an important curve, but investing too much into a short-lived idea can be just as detrimental.

One new movement that seems to be promising to stick around for a substantial amount of time is 360 Photography. 360 Photography is a style and photographic technique in which the photographer’s entire surrounding environment is captured within an image, instead of just the angle in front. Also known as VR photography (which stands for virtual reality photography), 360 virtual tours, 360 spherical photography, photosphere, and panoramic photography, this style of photography is becoming integral to a wide variety of operations, and is being used in an array of fields to achieve many different purposes.

 

What is 360 Photography?

 

Example of a raw 360 photo below. Experiencing it without a proper viewer is not very impressive.

 

But with the correct plugin it looks like this.


Photo by Kereplaz

 

An image captured using 360 photography is actually a combination of many different, relative images. Stitching software is used to bring the images into harmony and balance for one united 360 photograph. Although the idea is sophisticated, this technique can be performed by many common pieces of technology.

The smart-phone/mobile device, a normal digital camera or DSLR, or a 360 camera are all usable devices for capturing 360 photos, and each brings its own, unique methods to the table.

If you’re interested in buying a 360 camera, I’d highly recommend you read my extensive guide to the best 360 cameras. I believe that the techniques behind creating effective, awesome 360 images can be learned by just about anybody who has access to one of these devices.

As you can see, the difference is huge, and it does not seem like very long ago that many would have considered this type of innovation to be impossible. But now, not only is this possible, but it is becoming a fixed feature, embedded in many industries as a “must.”

How to Take a 360 Photo

There are a few major methods for taking 360 photographs. As I mentioned previously, the three common methods are:

  1. Your smartphone or mobile device.
  2. A DSLR camera.
  3. A 360 Camera

I’ll begin with the most accessible, and the one that most people are likely to have immediate access to.

If you plan on shooting 360 shots on your smartphone, the first step is to get yourself a proper application to do such a thing. Right now, the most common app for engaging in VR photography on both the iOS and Android devices is “Streetview.” I think that this is the best app for the job, but there are other options. For example, Samsung phones will generally have a “Surround Shot” mode, and the stock Android camera comes with a “photo sphere” mode.

The Street View app is not very different than the tools and methods offered by the stock Android camera. The app is very accessible and easy to use, clearly communicating with you as you make your way through the process.

The procedure, for the most part, is centred around standing in one particular spot, following the when and the where of what the orange circles tell you to do. Each time you align with the orange circles, the photo will be taken automatically, so you do not even need to press the button to save the image. After this, the app will use its stitching software to join the image into a cohesive whole. If you have an entry-level amount of digital literacy, is a simple, easy, and intuitive process.

Recommended apps for viewing your 360 photography in all of its detail and potential include Google photos, Facebook, and Street View itself. If you simply “Save” the photo into a standard camera roll from Street View, it will not be saved or processed as a 360 image.

Once the image has been processed, tap and drag your way around the image on your smartphone screen, or load it onto a computer and use your mouse to click and explore the photo.

At the moment, Android is ahead of the curve in the realm of implementing 360 photography as a core feature, and Apple is just behind them. I don’t expect this to stick around for long, and iOS products are still very 360-compatible with the right apps, and I think that they will catch up sooner rather than later.

 

360 photo taken with a smartphone (Moto X)

Photo by Mark Doliner

The DSLR, specifically, can be an incredible way to go about your 360 photography. It just is not quite as simple as using your smartphone. For an ideal, impressive panoramic shot from a DSLR, you may need to purchase a few extra pieces of equipment to make your VR experience an optimal one.

The first piece of equipment that is essential is a fisheye lens. There are a wide available of fisheyes available on the market,  and they are vital to creating a panoramic shot because they allow you to make a unique, fully spherical 360 shot in an efficient and effective manner. The price range for fisheye lenses is wide, but you do not necessarily need to spend through the roof– it is widely agreed that, to a reasonable extent, lesser gear can often be compensated for with slick post-processing skills. However, some people settle for using a typical wide-angle lens, and I would not necessarily recommend this… This method is not as naturally compatible or suited for 360 photography, and generally requires a lot more shots and stitching. By investing in and using high quality lenses with higher resolution, you are contributing to the amount of detail the viewer will experience within your VR shots; especially in regardings to zooming in. Your average fisheye will require about six shots to complete a solid, panoramic 360 image.

The other major tool that this requires is a panoramic head for your tripod. These heads can be extremely lightweight, and offer unique advantages for this method of 360 photography. By using a panoramic head, the point where the light enters the lens will easily remain consistent between shots. Without a panoramic head, this can be a real headache… The smooth, precise, and consistent alignment makes it unbelievably easier and simpler to stitch your panorama shot into something flawless and whole. It is possible to shoot a handheld 360, but it will be nearly impossible to match the efficiency and consistency of a panoramic head.
The final step to this method is processing, which is quite an elaborate procedure, and is another step that makes taking 360’s on a DSLR more complex and complicated than taking them on a smartphone. You will need to download software for stitching the .TIFF files together to create each panoramic image. For post-processing, PTGui and Autopane Pro are both highly recommended software programs, but they are not free. Hugin and Microsoft ICE are free programs that serve the same purpose.

 

360 photo taken with multiple DSLR photos stitched together with PTGui

Photo by Kereplaz

Considering the fact that they are designed specifically for the task of 360 photography, 360 cameras obviously bring a lot of unique benefits to the table… If you are considering making 360 photography a major part of your skillset or repertoire, either as a hobby or at a professional level, a 360 Camera might be the right choice for you.

Just as these VR devices range in quality, they also range in price. Currently, it is not too difficult to find a “good” 360 photographic device on sale for under $1000. There are even a few nice VR cameras available for under $500… However, an “exceptionally great” 360 camera, on the cutting edge of the technology, is priced at just under $60,000…. Quite a range, indeed.

The modern 360-degree camera offers the photographer a full 360 degree view from just one lens, and allows the freedom to pan, zoom, and tilt; both after the fact and while recording live… Although the 360-degree camera shots have grown more popular among adventurers, hobbyists, and landscape photographers, they have also grown to be integral to the operations of many companies in industries like Security. Due to their detailed view which is without blind spots, their prominence as surveillance cameras in parks, casinos, parking lots, warehouses and other big, dark areas is rising rapidly.

The 360 camera is an investment, but it is a standalone product that will simply and effectively do an amazing job of VR photography. This simplicity also manifests in the device’s lack of extraneous features, which means that there are no moving parts to create lag. Again, if you are serious about 360 photography, there are many reasons to believe that purchasing a 360 camera is a wise decision.

 

360 photo taken with a 360 camera (Ricoh Theta S)

Photo by John Fowler

Conclusion

 

Again, I believe that 360 cameras will continue to rise as a popular and important piece of cultural technology, rather than fade away. Digital users demand high quality, interactive experiences.

The amount of innovation that has occurred in allowing VR photography and technology to be accessible to the public, as both creators and users of content, has been a stunning shift, and I do not expect consumers to begin demanding less of their digital image quality experience.

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