This year, I’ve been experimenting with a new technique: 360×180 panoramas. Such an image captures the entire visual sphere, panning over 360 degrees and tilting 180 degrees from straight down to straight up vertically. Flattened with a spherical projection, as in the two images of Arches National Park which illustrate this post, it looks strange, but instead it is presented as a virtual visit so that the viewer can interact, using a normal angle of view, with the panorama with the mouse or touch gestures by rotating it in all directions and zooming in and out, as if we was standing there.
360 panoramas are in some sense opposite to photography, because by definition, no attempt is made at selective framing. I personally view them as a form of multi-media, since the viewer explores with motion, however unlike in video, he is the one choosing the camera motion, which could make them more captivating.
On the other hand, a particular time and viewpoint still needs to be selected. Because of the space encompassed, their choice is even more critical than in photography. I find they are at their best in places which offers interesting views in all directions, such as Petes Mesa.
From a conceptual point of view, there is something ultimate about recording the entirety of the visual experience of standing at a particular point in space and time. All the photographs that you could have potentially made are included in a single 360 panoramas, at least in theory, if it was done with enough resolution and dynamic range. You could just sit at your computer and reframe your view at leisure.
360 panoramas are of course nothing new, being the basis of Google Street View. This year Google has been trying to democratize them by incorporating “photospheres” into Android. However, there is as much difference between those implementations and mine as there is between casual snapshots and fine prints. Besides the choice of time and viewpoint, consider that the 360 panoramas that I present are assembled from at least 15 full-frame DSLR (5Dmk3) images – more when HDR is used – resulting in images of at least 16000×8000 pixels which yield virtual views that will look good on even the largest screens. In order to prevent parallax errors, which would certainly cause visible mis-alignment in those truly high-resolution panoramas, I used a two-axis panoramic head on a tripod, which in turn requires tricks to eliminate from the panorama.
Here is a first set of 360 panoramas from my trip to the Colorado Plateau last fall. For full effect, be sure to view in full-screen mode.
I’d appreciate it much if you let me know what you think of the presentation. For instance, do you prefer delayed auto-rotation or no delay, as in the two last panos of Capitol Reef ? Slow auto-rotation, or faster, as in the last pano ?