When we travel to amazing places, taking pictures allows us to show our friends and family what we saw. Composing the perfect photo is a process of pointing your camera at something interesting, and shooting at the right time. But what if the people viewing your photos could virtually stand where you were standing, and look around, fully immersed in the scene?
360-degree panoramas are a unique and exciting way to let your viewers explore your pictures. If you’ve played with Google Street View, or have seen a real-estate listing with a virtual tour, imagine capturing this type of interactive photography on your next adventure.
Seeing the World in 360
While many phones and point-and-shoot cameras have a panorama mode, 360 spherical panoramas will take your images to even further by including everything in the scene. Visualize your photo being projected on the inside of a large ball. Your viewers will be able to look in any direction, side to side or up and down!
Explore this immersive panorama at this link.
iPhone 360 Panoramas
iPhone apps like Photosynth, 360 Panorama, Pano, and AutoStitch are a really fun and inexpensive way to start experimenting with 360 panoramas. Creating spherical 360s with a phone can be a challenge. Holding your phone over exactly the same spot on the ground when shooting will help everything line up.
Ricoh Theta: The One-Shot Wonder
If you want to shoot 360s without the hassle of apps, the Ricoh Theta is a small, easy-to-use camera that takes 360-degree panoramas in one shot. The Theta has a super-wide fisheye lens on each side, and usually does a nice job of stitching the images together. You can either press the shutter button to make a 360, or fire the camera from an iPhone. I carry this camera with me every day, so I never miss an opportunity to shoot a 360.
Shooting 360 Panoramas with a DSLR
If you’re serious about shooting 360s, you’ll eventually want higher-quality panoramas with more resolution. The next step is to use a mirrorless camera or DSLR with a fisheye lens and panoramic head. Using a fisheye lens allows you to make a fully spherical 360 in a reasonable number of shots. Wide-angle lenses also work well, but require shooting and stitching more images. While handheld 360s are possible, using a panohead on a tripod or monopod makes assembling your panorama a lot easier.
I shoot 360 panoramas with either a Nodal Ninja R1, or a Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2 Panoramic Head. At just over one pound, the R1 is great for travel, and works well on a tripod or monopod. The M2 allows you to use bigger lenses to shoot high-resolution, multi-row panoramas.
I’m currently using a Canon EOS 6D with the Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens to shoot 360s. A lightweight travel tripod like the Sirui N-1204x, or MeFOTO GlobeTrotter, makes a great option for support. Both of these tripods also convert to monopods.
Panoramic heads are available from a wide variety of manufacturers. B&H carries heads by Nodal Ninja, Jobu, Novoflex, and Manfrotto. Good panoramic heads start at around $350. The Nodal Ninja R1 or Nodal Ninja 4 are great beginner models.
Spending some time dialing-in the settings on your panoramic head will ensure that your images stitch together easily. A panohead keeps the point where light enters the lens, called the no-parallax point, consistent between shots. This precise alignment makes it easier for panoramic software to stitch your panorama together. I recommend using the grid method for finding the optimal stitching position of your panoramic head.
Leveling and Rotating
In addition to calibrating your panohead, keeping the camera level is helpful. You can use a leveling base such as the Nodal Ninja EZ II or Acratech, along with a click-stop rotator underneath your panoramic head. For an ultra-light and flexible travel setup, I often use the Arca Swiss P0 ball head on my travel tripod. The inverted design of the P0 allows proper panohead leveling and rotation.
Fisheye Lens Choices and Resolution
The easiest way to shoot a 360 pano with a DSLR is to use an 8mm fisheye lens on a crop sensor, or a 10-12mm fisheye on a full-frame camera. The angle of view of these fisheye lenses is so wide that you can capture a 360-degree sphere in four shots around (that’s one shot every 90 degrees). You can shoot either a fifth shot of the ground where the tripod was, or just patch this area using Photoshop.
For more resolution, use a 10mm fisheye on a crop sensor, or 15mm fisheye on a full-frame camera. You’ll need to shoot six shots around (every 60 degrees), one shot up (called the zenith), and one shot down (called the nadir).
Higher-resolution panoramas allow your viewers to zoom in further. Some panographers use longer lenses to shoot gigapixel panoramas, where you can really explore all of the fine details of a scene. The GigaPan robotic heads are popular for gigapixel panoramas, but aren’t well suited for 360 spherical panoramas.
Keeping your exposures consistent between shots is an important part of shooting 360 panoramas. I recommend shooting RAW images in Manual mode. You’ll want to keep street lamps or other strong light sources away from the blend area of your images. Also look out for tripod shadows, which can be tricky to remove. A cable release is useful for preventing camera shake.
Stitching and Displaying 360 Panoramas
"Panoramic software is continuing to improve, and there are lots of panographers online to give you tips."
Process all of your RAW files with the same settings, and output them as 16-bit TIFFs. Then you’ll need panorama software to stitch them together. The two top stitching programs are PTGui and Autopano. PTGui is powerful, but can be a little bit tricky at first. Autopano has improved a lot over the last few years, and has a nicer user interface. There are also free options from Hugin and Microsoft ICE. Stitching 360s in Photoshop is technically possible, but very cumbersome.
Once your panoramas have been stitched together, you’ll need a way to present them online. If you’re adding 360 panos to your website or blog, Pano2VR, krpano, and PanoTour are interactive panorama viewers that offer lots of options. A simpler way to get your 360 panoramas online is to use 360Cities or Google Maps.
Most people can learn how to shoot and stitch 360 panoramas within a few days. Professional-level stitching and presentation can take more time to master. Panoramic software is continuing to improve, and there are lots of panographers online to give you tips.
Blending Your Passions
My passion over the last 10 years has been to photograph abandoned places, often under the light of the full moon. Once I started playing with 360 panoramas, I realized that the immersive experience really helped me remember what it was like to be at these amazing places. I started shooting 360 panoramas on most of my road trips to the rusty and forlorn locations that I like to photograph. Here’s a virtual tour of a junkyard in the middle of the night:
Explore this immersive panorama at this link.
I hope this article inspires you to try shooting and sharing some 360 panoramas, whether it’s on your next trip to somewhere exotic, or just walking around the city where you live.
About Joe Reifer:
Joe Reifer’s night photographs feature ghost towns, industrial ruins, desert junkyards, and closed military bases. He also enjoys shooting 360-degree panoramas. Reifer teaches night photography and light-painting workshops at California’s most scenic junkyards.
This is a great article, since it’s been 5 years already, I would love to see an update on the gears and tools! I guess the technique hasn’t changed! Thank you Joe Reifer!
This is so helpful! Great photos!
I'm looking at 360 stereoscopic photos (left eye/right eye)...do you have any experience with that?
Hi, I own both the Ricoh Theta S and the Nikon Keymission 360. I am very interested in making virtual tours with these cameras. Do you know of any software out there that would let me create virtual tours with these cameras?
Hi Bud -
You might want to look into these companies:
Hi Joe, great work, thank you. You may want to check out our platform for sharing 360˚ pictures and VR tours - ViarLive I think the community and you will enjoy it. We use similar tech to what you used to shared the picture. It's just we enhanced it, so you can embed a moving 360˚ image right in this blog post and connect a few spheres in a tour. Would love your and everybody's feedback. And... will appreciate your thumbs up on Product Hunt.
Hey Joe! amazing stuff, I am now doing 360° panoramic views for business for a living and I'd like some tips if you may.
Im using a Nikon D5300 with a standart 8 mm fish eye lens , I'm quite new to photoshop and I need some advice about how to photoshop out the tripod and the tripod shadow later in the edditing or is it better to just shoot the floor - if so , how best should I do that ?
Thanks in advance!
Hi Ariel, thanks for writing in and for the compliment on Joe's work. We invited him to respond to your question and here is his response: Here's a good tutorial on patching the nadir: https://youtu.be/WYbEHkxkOds
Hope this helps, and thanks again for reading the blog!
Working very great the 360 degree camera is the future and the ricoh is awesome i also reviewed it on http://the360cameras.com/
The 360 degree cameras are good but not all of them provide right quality they are on the first generation in which the bubl looks great and quality is good but not excellent ... also get more on <a href="https://the360cameras.com/">http://the360cameras.com/</a>
I purchased the Richoh Theta 15 and can say that it's quite easy to use. It's more of a gimmic at the moment because the quality of the camera is so poor. I was not pleased with that. But it's still fun, this little toy is going to be the start of something very big in the future. When they come out with a higher resolution model I'll be the first in line. If GoPro doesn't come out with one sooner. We'll see.
Thanks for posting your experiences with 360 panorama picturing
These are amazing photos and I never thought this was possible without a special camera.
Roundme is a new (and in my opinion way better) place where people can showcase their 360° images on-line and at a higher resolution than 360Cities or Google Maps. The immersive viewer is spectacular and it's free to use.
Roundme's simple interface is perfect for those just learning however experienced users will appreciate it's elegance. What I like best about Roundme is that you can do more than just post your panoramas. You can also string them together to create a simple and elegant virtual tour.
Just go to the website at http://round.me or download the app for iOS (coming soon to Android). Remember, it's free so have fun with it!
Is anyone familiar with 0-360.com ("360 panoramicphotos, just one click").
ANY TIPS HOW BEST TO GET RESULTS?
Extensive book of information (available from B&H) entitled "Virtual Reality Photography." For further info: http://www.vrphotography.com
Androids stock camera app will do this but I would love to get my hands on the ricoh camera.