Archive for October, 2010

Jan: Today I’m interviewing Nick Spirov, a professional photographer at 360 Cities based in Sofia, Bulgaria. Nick, how did you get started with panoramic photography?

Well, it has been quite a long road for me. Ever since the falling of communism in my country 21 years ago I have been putting my knowledge and expertise to work in various undertakings… First I founded an advertising company, several years later an IT integrator company was started. Everything was changing so fast – it was like the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. In just a few years the country evolved from mainframe computers to PCs to networks to Internet – and we started to offer webdesign, using both our advertising and IT skills. Around year 2000 webdesign was occupying 100% of my time and I sold the IT company to devote myself to Internet development.

It was at that moment when my all-time hobby, photography, became part of my everyday job. We were creating websites for hotels, restaurants and tourist destinations. Most of them lacked good photos so I began offering interior and outdoor photos as part of our services. Ever since the beginning I was using several portrait shots in a horizontal sequence to overcome the limitations of the camera’s lens, so I found some primitive software solutions that allowed me to stitch the shots faster than in Photoshop. I went from partial to 180 and even 360-degree horizontal cylindrical panoramas. Using Java panorama players we published hundreds of websites, both commercial and non-profit.

http://banskobg.org/tempsite/top_pano_big.jpg

A view from the church tower, Bansko, Bulgaria, around 2001

How did you discover 360cities?

As the technology evolved, I was investing in better equipment and software – both for stitching the panos and for publishing online. I always tried to evaluate the newest panoramic (and photographic) technologies and put them to work as soon as I am comfortable with them. I’ve been using various stitching software, HDR tools, image transformation tools and Photoshop plugins. In the beginning I managed to shoot spherical panoramas using a cylindrical (one-axis) panoramic head (don’t ask how!), later invested in real equipment. I used Java, then Flash for visualization and experimented with many websites, including 360cities.

It was a great advancement to move to spherical panoramas that required a change of the whole workflow – both software and equipment-wise, but also my shooting process had to change a lot. I finally moved to spherical in 2007. I have to admit, 360Cities was the main reason for this – because they didn’t accept partial or cylindrical panos. I have used many online publishing solutions, as well as self-made websites, but recently I find myself using 360cities.net most of the time. I still have a few panoramas published, but more than 100 are waiting in my queue – almost ready…

You are like me – I always have tons of panos to publish. :) Do you ever get in trouble for shooting anything?

You can always get in trouble for shooting in public :-) Joking apart, I did have an accident in a local pub, while doing 360° with customers. I was seriously threatened by a mobster who was obviously cheating on his wife with a beautiful girl… After some heated arguments, I had to delete the photos, then those two left without paying their bill… Of course I undeleted the photos later, but anyways. Usually my Press ID card helps a great deal in front of authorities, but I don’t think it would be useful in a case like this!

Haha. That’s funny even though I’m pretty sure you didn’t see it that way in the bar :) Did you publish the undeleted photos? :) No, I don’t want to get you into trouble. Let’s change the topics. Which of your panoramas was the most difficult to take?

I always have great fun when taking the panoramas. But sometimes other circumstances create difficulties… Take for example a recent shoot of the “Eagle eye” in the Rhodopes mountain. Technically, it’s nothing special. What you can’t see is the two-hour climb up the scree slope with all the equipment on my back, while enjoying both the breathtaking view and the big storm coming closer and closer. I’ve been warned that the peak is very dangerous in lightning storms, so I was near quitting. But, thank God, the storm waited for me to take the panorama and stroke on my way back down the scree. You can never take a great photo (or panorama) if you stay in your room, can you?

The Eagle Eye at Yagodina, Bulgaria in Bulgaria

What do you think is the next big thing in panoramic photography?

From the technical side, there are constant advances in panoramic technology. I expect Gigapixel to become much more popular and I already built myself a Giga-robot to play with. Expect some gigapixel from me soon! I also carry a surround-sound recorder with me and record interesting sound backgrounds. I also expect advancements in 360° video technology, although I hate video myself. Interactive panoramas are already going mainstream – I expect to see them more often used by museums, galleries and the like.

I also expect panoramas to work on more mobile devices. Currently they only work fully on the latest version of Android (thanks! thanks!) and partially on iPhone/iPad/iPod.

What is more important to me, though, is to put more artistic effort in the panoramas. That is, to make them more beautiful. Personally I am trying to improve shooting sunrises/sunsets using HDR, finding the right spot to capture beautiful close details, putting people in the panorama to convey a feeling. I also admire others’ efforts to make editorials (event panoramas), beautifully staged panos, great colors from shooting and post-processing. I am absolutely sure it will be art that will define panoramic photography future, not technology. Which can be said about photography in general, of course. Technology is just the tool.

Any last words?

Just a short advice to anyone wondering if panoramic is worth all the hassle: Go there, take the photos! You will have enough fun even trying!

Thanks for the interview!

Thanks!

Nick can be contacted via his profile on 360 Cities or via his website.

Sign up for 360 Cities to get started with panoramic photography!


Cape Kaliakra in Bulgaria

We have designed 360cities.net PRO account badges to help you easily and proudly announce on your website that you are a 360 Cities professional member. You have spent time with publishing panoramas to 360 Cities and contributed by expanding your business here and now it’s time to be recognized as a PRO member of the 360 Cities panoramic photography community and get an official badge for your website that endorses your membership.

To grab your PRO badge, go to your account settings (www.360cities.net/account) in your 360 Cities PRO account and follow the instructions there. Note that you will find the badges in your account only if you are a PRO account holder.





Here are some images from the current strikes, demonstrations and protests that are taking place in France over the Sarkozy government’s proposed reforms to the pension system. These images are from Quimper, in southwest France, and were shot by 360 Cities contributor Dieter Kik. To view the images, press the play button and then drag your mouse on the image to look around.

Demonstrations in France

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 5059 in Cornouaille

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 4869 in Cornouaille

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 5159 in Cornouaille

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 5347 in Cornouaille

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 5191 in Cornouaille

6. manif retrait 60 Quimper 5457 in Cornouaille

Manif for better reform retrait 62 Quimper in Cornouaille

Jan: Today I’m interviewing Richard Chesher, a 360 Cities PRO member, who is a resident in Noumea, New Caledonia. He and his wife Frederique create and publish the Rocket Travel Guide to Vanuatu and the Rocket Travel Guide to New Caledonia (both with tens of thousands of distributed copies). He’s also famous for his underwater panoramas on 360 Cities.

Noumea Resort l'Escapade Coral Reef

Jan: Richard, how did you start with panoramic sphere photography?

Richard: When my wife and I began commercial tourism photography, one of the main features of our guides was 360 degree cylindrical panoramas of resorts, hotels and the insides of hotel rooms. But many of the tourism features I was shooting, especially the interiors of resort bungalows, would have interesting floors and ceilings that I could not show in a normal cylindrical panorama. About 10 years ago I discovered a sphere image on the internet. It was actually a pretty terrible image, but I saw the advantages of being able to show “everything” – to give someone the ability to be in a hotel or resort room and look anywhere at all. Back then getting the right equipment and actually making a sphere image was a nightmare (challenge is too weak a word). We were really busy and could not spend a lot of time taking and processing sphere images.  I stuck with normal panoramas for quite awhile until my favourite panorama stitching program, Autopano, came out with their first version that handled sphere images. Soon, making sphere images that didn’t take forever to put together became a reality and I invested in the best equipment I could find and started shooting spheres commercially.

Composing a sphere image means visualizing in your own mind what the sphere will look like when it is finished and then getting camera in exactly the correct central  “nodal point” of your imaginary sphere to create the image.

How did you discover 360 cities?

I belong to many panorama forums and photographers frequently give links to their latest images. One of these images led me to 360Cities.net. At the time I was spending a lot of time making sphere images and tours on my own website. I was impressed with 360Cities.net “easy” solution to getting my sphere images and tours online – plus the image quality of the 360Cities.net sphere displays put my own efforts to shame. As a busy photographer and publisher I saw 360Cities.net as a way to save me time and effort and at the same time let people see my images at their best. Having them appear on Google Earth in the 360Cities gallery was an awesome bonus.

About 10 years ago I discovered a sphere image on the internet. It was actually a pretty terrible image, but I saw the advantages of being able to show “everything” – to give someone the ability to be in a hotel or resort room and look anywhere at all.

Do you do anything else for living? How much of your time do you spend taking panos?

My wife and I produce CD-ROM based travel guides and cruising guides to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. The guides gave us a vehicle to publish our images plus a considerable income. When we are “shooting” we spend almost all our time taking and processing photographs – both normal and sphere images. Since our clients use our images on their websites and in travel publications, brochures, magazines and posters we do mostly “normal” images. Sphere images have been a real commercial success for us for the past two years and our clients find the sphere images and tours greatly enhance their websites.

What is the most extraordinary location you’ve taken a panorama at?

The most extraordinary location? Well, that’s a tough question as I as I always try to take panoramas at extraordinary locations (as do we all). But the one location that stands out for me is the underwater coral reef sphere image I took on a truly lovely coral reef just at the northern tip of Bokissa Island in northern Vanuatu. Bokissa is a private island resort, only accessible by the resort’s boat, and the owners of the resort have set aside the whole island (except for the resort itself) and surrounding reefs as a nature sanctuary. So the coral reef there is one of the nicest in all of Vanuatu and it is certainly extraordinary to find a beautiful coral reef anywhere in the world that is right off the beach in front of your resort bungalow. For me, personally, this was also an extraordinary location because it was the very first sphere image I ever took underwater and perhaps the first sphere image of a coral reef taken anywhere. I love it, too because as I was struggling to take it, I signalled to my wife to do something interesting (she was just hovering there like a sleeping dugong) and I caught her just as she gave me a great body language reply.

Bokissa Private Island Coral Reef 1 in Melanesia

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give to people starting with panoramic photography?

One piece of advice? OK. Taking sphere images isn’t like taking “normal” images. Understanding composition for normal photography is pretty simple and there are zillions of examples of well composed images and known rules and tips for composing your shots. Most new digital cameras actually have a “rule of thirds” grid for composing the shot. Also, normal photography falls into certain categories: this is a specimen shot, an action shot, a wedding image, a landscape – you know what I mean, there are “scenes” on most digital cameras to cover all these and set up your camera to optimize your chances of getting a good image. But there are no easy rules of composition and no built in “scenes” for sphere images. A person viewing your image can look anywhere, in any direction. It’s a sphere, so where is the rule of thirds with a sphere? Composing a sphere image means visualizing in your own mind what the sphere will look like when it is finished and then getting camera in exactly the correct central  “nodal point” of your imaginary sphere to create the image. This isn’t just a physical location, it’s also a temporal location because if you are not at the exact place when everything in all directions is just right (sun angle, shadows, people or other creatures) you won’t get the shot.

You also need to consider that some of the “features” in your sphere will be moving and take this into account when selecting the right central place for your sphere. For example if it is a beach scene with waves breaking, you need to time your adjacent images to match the same wave position as closely as possible or you are going to have a devil of a time trying to get it to stitch properly. If there is someone or something moving along the beach and you start taking images in the same direction they are travelling you are going to either have multiple shots of the person or you’ll have to wait for them to finally vanish, or you’ll have to erase the extra images of them in Photoshop. Any sphere photographer will discover all this the first time they give it a go. But not all of them manage to come up with a way to create really well composed and interesting panoramas. My one piece of advice to a newbie sphere photographer? Look at as many sphere images on 360Cities.net as you can and every time you find one that looks really great, think about how it was composed and ask yourself, “What are the primary features of this image that make it work?” And then go looking in your own part of the world for similar nodal points with similar features.

What is a place in the world you would like to visit?

I’d like to do some sphere images of the Great Wall of China.

Nice talking to you. Thanks for the interview!

Richard Chesher can be reached via his profile page on 360 Cities (http://www.360cities.net/profile/richard-chesher) where you can find links to his panoramas. You can also contact him via his tourism photography for businesses website.

To start publishing panoramas on 360Cities.net, create your account and/or get a 360 Cities PRO account to publish business panoramas. To learn how to get started with 360 panoramic photography, read our guide.

Ouvea Paradis Beach Sea Shells in Ouvea Loyalty Islands New Caledonia.

Martin Broomfield published a great panorama on 360 Cities recently. Martin’s comments: “The traffic in Jakarta is legendary. In the rush hour, the roads become extremely busy. Local informal bus services alleviate some of the congestion. There are plans in the future to build a monorail across the city. The Dirgantara Statue, (Father of the Heavens Monument) created by artist Edhi Sunarso, was erected in 1965. It is also known as the “7 Up” statue because of its shape.”. And then on our Facebook page: “The fastest person in the shot was the guy with the hand cart. We need to rethink the transport thing.”

All that said, it’s also a remarkable panorama. Enjoy yourself:


Dirgantara Statue, Jakarta in Indonesia