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TECHNIQUE: Introduction to 360 photography: 360 photo workflow and 12 ways to use 360 photos

TECHNIQUE: The Secret to Getting Thousands of Views on Your 360 Photos
The Nikon Keymission 360 is one of the recently-released 360 cameras.

360-degree cameras are still uncommon, and for most people shooting with it will be unfamiliar territory.  Moreover, some of the techniques for traditional photography, such as the rule of thirds, have no application to 360 photography.

This post is a quick intro to shooting with a 360 camera.  In the first part, I’ll discuss my workflow for editing and posting 360 photos.  In the second part, I’ll post 12 ways to use 360 photos, to give you ideas for shooting with your 360 camera.

The workflow for 360 photos is not as foreign as it may initially seem.  Here are the steps I use:

Simple/Mobile Editing
Here are the steps for quick editing on your smartphone:

1. VIEWING/SELECTING: Use your 360 camera’s app to view the photos and choose the ones you like.  When you find a photo you like, export it to your phone’s gallery / camera roll.

2. EDITING: From the gallery, you can edit the 360 photo using any app, including the phone’s built-in photo app.  The only limits are: you should not crop it, and you should avoid using the Clarity effect which can make the stitch line more obvious.  After editing, export the image.

3. SHARING: You can share the the edited image to several sites for sharing 360 photos such as Facebook, Spinnable (for iOS) or (web-based).

Advanced Editing

It is also possible to edit 360 photos within your normal Lightroom or Photoshop workflow.

1. IMPORTING: First, the 360 photos can be imported to your catalog as you would any other photo (in my case, I created a separate panorama folder in my catalog).

2. VIEWING/SELECTING: Lightroom doesn’t have a 360 viewer.  Instead, I installed the free Ricoh Theta desktop app, then I added it (or another panoramic photo editor) as an external editor.  From Lightroom, you can choose to edit with the Ricoh Theta desktop app to be able to quickly view a photosphere.

3. EDITING: The equirectangular panoramas can then be edited just like other photos but if you want it to be viewed as a 360 photo, just don’t crop it.   Also be careful about using the clarity slider, which can make the stitchline more obvious.

4. EXPORTING: After editing the photo, you need to export the image.  Unfortunately, Lightroom won’t preserve the 360 photosphere metadata needed for viewing the photos.  To add it back, use this tool.

5. SHARING: You can share the the exported image to several sites for sharing 360 photos such as Facebook, Spinnable (for iOS) or (web-based).

Now that you have an overview of how to view and edit your photos, let’s take a look at ideas for shooting with your 360 camera:

1. As a super-fisheye lens. Fisheye lenses have a very short focal length, an extremely wide angle, and exaggerated distortion. 360 cameras have those same features and therefore can be used in the same ways a fisheye lens can be used. See here for various applications of a fisheye lens.

In the shot below, I used a 360 camera to capture not just our lunch, but the surrounding area as well (actually even the wall “behind” the view here, although the wall is not shown in this crop). The wide angle gives additional context, and the subjects are framed by the Christmas decor on the edges, and the converging lines on the ceiling.

Christmas brunch

2. Immersive photo. By giving the audience a 360-degree view of a location or event, a 360 camera creates an immersive experience for your audience. This shot of a toy store doesn’t just give the viewer a view of the colorful toys but surrounds the viewer with them.

Toy store – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The immersive effect is even more powerful when a 360 photo is viewed on a VR headset such as the Samsung Gear VR (reviewed here).

3. Observer vs. participant. With a 360 photo, the viewer can be an active participant, not just a passive observer. I took the shot below while we were on a ride at Legoland theme park. As the viewer rotates the image around, they can get some sense of the thrill and vertigo from the ride.

Legoland airplane ride – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

4. Photo of a complementary pair. The Theta can take a photo of a pair of complementary subjects, such as a performer and the audience reaction, or any kind of action and the consequent reaction.  In the photo below, you can see the shooter, and the reaction from the target.

Terranea Resort (Ricoh Theta S with waterproof smartphone pouch) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

5. Getting it all in. The Theta’s ability to capture the entire surrounding view can be used to take a photo of an immense environment. I used a 360 camera to take a photo of the immense hall at Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX.

LAX Tom Bradley International Terminal – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

6. Group shots. When I take a photo of a group, especially during a meal, it’s not easy to get everyone in the picture, unless people go out of their way to stand up and pose as a group. A 360 camera is perfect for these occasions. In the shot below, I used a 360 camera to take a photo of a holiday lunch with my family.

TuanTuan Chinese Brasserie (SM Megamall) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

7. Context for a subject. A 360 camera can show multiple points of view simultaneously, which can be used to capture not just the subject but another compositional element that can give context for the subject. In the shot below, I used a 360 camera to take a photo of my daughter at a balloon popping game at an amusement park. The Theta not only captures the focused expression on my daughter’s face, but the expectant expressions on the onlookers, the balloons to be popped, and the prizes being offered.

A photo posted by Mic Ty (@creadvty) on Jan 13, 2016 at 4:00pm PST

8. The Big Reveal. Because 360 photos can be interactive, you can select a point of view that builds up toward another point of view.

The Big Shop – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

To use this technique, be aware of which side your camera shows as the initial view. On some cameras, the side with the button is the initial view, while on other cameras, it’s the side opposite from the side with the shutter.

Some sharing sites have made it easier to use this technique by allowing you to specify the initial point of view. Sites that feature this include Facebook and

9. Leading lines. The ultrawide angle of a 360 camera causes parallel lines to converge toward the center, and even perpendicular lines seem to radiate from the center, which can be used for a powerful effect.

A photo posted by Mic Ty (@creadvty) on Jan 17, 2016 at 8:09am PST

10. Un-selfie. Selfies are ubiquitous but they can also be boring and can make the photographer seem self-absorbed. Images taken with a 360 camera can also include the photographer, so technically yes they are selfies, but there is so much more to the image than a photo of the photographer that the image appears less narcissistic. In the photo below at a Legoland concert, I used a 360 camera to capture the performers, the artificial snow, and the audience’s delight. Although I’m in the shot, the photo doesn’t give the impression of being a selfie.

Concert at Legoland (Carlsbad, California) – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

11.  Virtual tours.  360-degree photos are ideal for making virtual tours for real estate, architecture, or travel photography.  There are software that specialize in creating virtual tours.

12.  360-Specific Apps.  There are several apps that are uniquely suited for 360-photos.  For example, Rollworld allows you to morph your 360-degree photo, changing the point of view in seemingly impossible ways.

Using Rollworld and similar apps, you can also create animations from your 360 photos, such as this (posted on Instagram):

These are just a few of the many ways 360 photos can be used.  Got any ones that I haven’t covered?  Please post it in the comments!

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