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VR Photography

Virtual Reality has long been hailed as the future of AV content. This loosely used term refers to any computer generated, immersive experience that is sufficiently realistic to simulate reality. By that definition Star Trek’s Holodeck may be strictly science fiction fare, but when it comes to photos, the future is here- and it is called 360 degree photography.

360 vr photos

The Aesthetics of VR Photos

All VR panoramic photos are made by “wrapping” or “stitching” several individual photos on virtual solid shapes like cubes, cylinders, or spheres. Cylindrical panoramas are the most recognizable to smartphone users and can be made by simply “panning” the smartphone while taking a photo in the “panorama” mode, while spherical shots are more complicated and generally need specialized cameras and stitching software. However, the latter also afford true 360 degree panning in all directions (including up and down) to simulate the perspective of the human eye. Whatever the choice, the panorama needs to make sense. Not everything looks better in 360 degrees. So choose the subjects wisely. VR photos create the most impact when they are carefully chosen to depict scenes where the experience is truly enhanced because of the immersive experience, or when the experience is fundamentally incomplete without an all-round view. Imagine, for example, the difference between a photo and an immersive shot of the Sistine Chapel!

When done right, the result of panoramic shots is a fascinating, immersive experience that can create strong emotional reactions, as viewers find themselves literally in the middle of a scene, such as a view of the world from the top of Mt. Everest . This unique experience finds powerful use in many applications, from virtual tourism and virtual tours to important therapeutic tools.

User driven content is now mushrooming, and new styles emerge everyday. No doubt brands and photographers will evolve unique and signature styles in VR photos, with perhaps product shots combining with use cases in the same shot.

Shooting and displaying great VR photos

Taking good VR photos needs slightly different thinking than conventional photos. Remember that conventional photography is always done from an “outside” perspective, while VR photos are from the point of a view of a person in the middle of the action. With that in mind, here are a few tips to create great VR photos:

  • Start simple- Not so long ago the choices for shooting 360 degree photos (not to mention videos) were limited at best. Some attempts painstakingly took multiple rows of panoramic shots, sometimes by DSLRs in vertical mode. Today, cameras specifically meant to capture VR stills and video are available from sub-100 dollar models to professional rigs. Most entry-level models still feature very decent fisheye lenses, and often feature at least two, and up to four lenses to capture both monoscopic and stereoscopic shots. However, we suggest starting with an even simpler method- use your smartphone. Both Google and Facebook allow this in their 360 and Street View features. Most of all, it’s free! Once you’re sure VR is your kind of photography, take the next step and buy an entry level VR camera. Starter models are available for as little as $100. Experiment with the hardware and the companion stitching software.  You can also use specialized 360 video editors. If you are already a Photoshop user, practice with the Photomerge feature.
  • Use a Tripod- We cannot stress this enough. A tripod is absolutely essential to ensure stability and stillness, both essential attributes for good VR shots. Use the tripod to your advantage by experimenting with different heights. Remember- the photo needs to make sense in the context in which it is going to be used. If the idea is to accurately recreate a hotel room for a virtual tour, set the height to about 6 feet. If on the other hand you are shooting the Bryce Canyon, Tripod height can be anything, but ideally should be at least 5 feet. Finally, even with the best 360 video editing software, it is essential to ensure adjacent shots have at least a 20% overlap, so that the end result can look as realistic as possible. A tripod can really help here.
  • Visualize- As with all photography, think about your light source, your framing, composition and interesting highlights. However, remember to think in 3D. For example, your best view might need you to be against a wall- but how will that look to the viewer? Think about the trade-offs you need to make.
  • It pays to do Post-processing- The best shots are the best both because of what they capture, and how they capture it. The last is a case for applying careful post-processing to the shots. If you have been taking RAW format images, you know how much post-processing the shots need. Good 360 video editors work well with RAW format, allowing a better color balance and feature addition like shadows, the Sun, etc. Remember, photos are pointless if they don’t mean anything and don’t look good [5]. Consider using an expert post-processing vendor like Manipal Technologies, which can help you create photos with create aesthetic appeal while keeping costs low.

As for posting them, Facebook 360 is probably the easiest. Youtube and Google Photos are other good platform. Google’s Street View (probably the first introduction to 360 shots for most people) now allows user generated content. Other specialist websites like Veer, Kuula and Roundme are also worth exploring as are content websites of the camera manufacturers. Unfortunately, the most popular photo sharing apps i.e. Instagram and Flickr do not have native 360 video editors, so you will have to use something like Kuula or converting the panoramas to videos to post them there. This is likely to change in the next few years.


VR Photography is an exciting development. With user generated content now finding traction, we expect VR Photos to carve out their own niche over the next few years. On smartphones and headsets around the world, VR photos will continue to amaze and delight, ultimately drawing more people to explore the wonderful world of the still photo.