Dynamic 360’s

The developing and ever changing photographic trends are a bit of a moving target, with so many potential areas to explore.

Which way to go? Well there is one golden rule and that is to follow your heart, if you do this then the results will follow.

My roots are in photojournalism, I worked for the national press in the UK for many years, and though I now work in many diverse photographic genres I still like telling stories with photos.

360 panoramic photography since it first became accessible with digital photography has long had the reputation as the tool of real estate sales folk and holiday resort sales but for me it has much greater potential than just these fields and though I have only been shooting 360 panoramas for a couple of years the medium has always interested me as the ultimate story telling tool in that it tells the story of what is going on behind the camera as well as what is going on just in front of it.

I used 360 degree panoramic photography to record the dramatic scenes of the floods in the Thames Valley last in the UK.

If I have had an interest in 360 panoramic photography for so long then why has it taken so long for me to adopt it?

Though 360 panoramic photography has been easily accessible for the photographer since the early 2000’s the implementation of the the technology has not always been so straightforward.

There have been three key factors in the evolution of the medium which have made it mainstream for the end user or consumer, firstly with Internet speeds rising all the time it has made download times much, much quicker.

We all have become accustomed to 360 panoramic photography with the advent of Google street view, before Street View came along some viewers complained it made them feel queasy, now it is accept as an everyday way of viewing a scene.

Thirdly the advent of the smart phone and particularly the iPad have made it much easier for consumers to view 360 degree panoramas effortlessly – literally putting a panorama in the palm of their hands.

If you want to try shooting 360 panoramas what do you need?

Well, there are essentially two methods of shooting a panorama.

Firstly you can shoot a 360 panorama with a cluster of small cameras such as GoPro’s arranged at specific angles which in theory allow simultaneous capture with a lightweight set up, I used this set up to capture this exciting 360 panorama of the White Helmets motorcycle display team rider leaping through fire.

Using a multi cam set up such as this can be challenging, particularly when it comes to synchronising cameras and stitching the images and image quality the GoPro currently cannot challenge a large sensor DSLR or mirrorless camera in low light.

If you shoot with a DSLR or mirrorless camera you need to rotate the camera on the nodal point of the lens/camera combination you are using. The nodal point is where the points of light entering the lens cross, inside the lens itself, and when you shoot your 360 it is important that you rotate the camera at this point and not by the camera.

If you are new to 360 panoramic images can read an excellent guide on how to find the nodal point here.

Once you have established the nodal point of the lens/camera combo you are using you then shoot the appropriate number of images to give you a 360 panorama, the wider angle your lens the  fewer images you will need to shoot, objects will appear further away in the final panorama. A wide angle lens of around 20mm is a good starting point.

So if you want to try 360 panoramic photography out with your existing camera what do you need?

There are many possible solutions for this but a really good starting point is the Manfrotto 303SPH VR head.

Manfrotto Multi-row Panoramic Head
Manfrotto Multi-row Panoramic Head

It is very versatile and has a myriad of adjustments which allow you to shoot a panorama with just about any camera lens combo you might have.

It is important however that you ensure the camera is totally level when you shoot your panorama otherwise it will be uneven when played back.

My head of choice is the Gitzo Systematic Ball Head which has a very stable levelling head and allows precise controlled levelling adjustments.

Gitzo head
Systematic Ball Head Series 5 Quick Release D

Though the Gitzo head has a levelling bubble it really is worth getting a hotshot mounted spirit level, it really will ensure your panorama is level.

Hot Shoe Bubble Level-2 Axis
Hot Shoe Bubble Level-2 Axis

Once you have shot your panorama you need to stitch it together, you can do this in Photoshop but   there are some really excellent specialist panoramic software programmes such as Autopano Giga and PTGui which have many features which are not available available in non specialist software.

The important thing to remember though is that you will learn more by trial and error and experimentation than in any tutorial or manual.

Less and less of us are consuming print media all the time and 360 degree panoramic photography   is a great way to make your work more relevant to a wider audience and telling stories in a completely unique way.

You can see more of Drew’s dynamic 360 panoramas at www.gardnercreative.co.uk

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