I’ve long been fascinated with immersive photography such as 360° panoramas, videos, virtual reality and photo spheres. I backed the Dot project on Kickstarter back in 2011, and they actually created a cool accessory for the iPhone 4 (at the time, the latest-and-greatest) that recorded 360° video.
Now, it’s pretty easy to create immersive photo spheres using an iPhone and the free Google Streetview app. It does a decent job with the camera in your pocket (i.e. your phone), helping you create all the images you’ll need for the app to automagically stitch together a spherical image. The resulting image can be uploaded to the Google Streetview database or shared on Facebook, which should recognize it as a photo sphere and display it accordingly. When it doesn’t work properly, you’ll end up with a funny looking distorted image like the one at the top of this post.
Enter the 360° Cameras
360° cameras used to be really expensive, but I recently picked up an LG 360 camera for $200. This camera has two 13 megapixel spherical cameras on either side, allowing you to take 180° or 360° still photos and video.
Here’s a quick-and-dirty example I shot from our apartment in Seoul. Go ahead…click on it and drag your mouse around to change the view.
The LG 360 connects with my iPhone using wifi, allowing me to preview the shot and transfer photos and videos to my phone. You can use either the Google Streetview app or LG’s 360 CAM app to record.
Sharing 360° Photos and Videos
Sharing the resulting photos and videos can be tricky. You can upload the 360° video to YouTube and it should detect the photosphere and automatically present it with user controls. If a viewer is looking at it on their phone with the YouTube app, it will utilize the gyroscope to allow you to turn left/right/up/down to “look” around the video.
Sharing on Facebook works much the same. Just upload the photo or video like you would a regular photo or video, then cross your fingers. Facebook should detect the spherical image and display it correctly. I found that it doesn’t work 100% of the time.
Displaying it on a WordPress blog is a bit trickier. For videos, the easy button is to share on YouTube, then share the URL. WordPress will automatically convert it to an embedded video with the appropriate controls. For images, the easiest solution I’ve found — and what I’m using for the example above — is the
VR Views Jetpack plug-in. Upload your image to the Media Gallery and use a shortcode to insert the image where you want.
Application of 360° Imagery
I see a lot of potential for immersive photography and videography, particularly for sites where sharing the big picture is really useful. For example, I can see real value on my hiking site to show all angles of a tricky trail junction, or to give someone an inspiring view from the summit. On a travel site, you can help readers find that hole-in-the-wall joint that only locals know about, or give them a better sense of what a place is actually like.
What are your thoughts about 360° imagery? Where would you like to see it used?