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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.
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.
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:
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.