Archive for the ‘News and Announcements’ Category

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Jim Watters has been a friend and fellow pano-maniac for many years. Even when I discovered the 360 imaging world over a decade ago, Jim was already deep in it, having contributed code to the panotools software stack among other things. There are not many people in the world who have a deeper understanding of the mechanics and math behind image warping and 360º imaging than Jim Watters.

You can find his personal website at http://photocreations.ca/
“This is my personal site and is full of experiments that are not always finished but posted because I felt they were worth sharing.”

Where did we first meet in person?
I first met Jeffrey in person in Prague. I changed my return flight from Vienna and took a train up so I could pick up my copy of the original Sphericam I ordered from him on Kickstarter. Jeffrey at the time just received a pre-production version of the original Ricoh Theta camera. I got a personal tour of Prague as we walking all around testing it out.

When did you first become obsessed with photography? And what else are you obsessed with, besides photography?
When I first started taking pictures, digital photography was not a thing. I won my first camera when I was in grade school in a swimming competition. It was a 110 film camera. My parents upgraded me to a 35mm film camera a Christmas soon after. In Middle school and high school I joined the year book and photography clubs. I had a camera with me on every vacation I can remember.

Right out of high school I studied photography for three years, receiving a Diploma of Fine Craft in Photography.

I had a Commodore 64 the first year they came out. I spent days writing programs for that thing. I started to learn assembler programming on it.

Instead of photography I was also considering studying mathematics or computer science. With no knowledge of a way to combine my two passions of photography & computers at the time, I abandoned computers and began a career in photography.

As time progressed I was using computers more and more to manipulate photographs. My passion for computers increased. With the goal of combining photography manipulation and computers, I added a Bachelor’s degree in computers from SAIT to my list of completed education.

While at school, the first megapixel digital camera was released and I knew I wanted to combine my knowledge of photography and computers at manipulating and enhancing digital photography. The internet became commercial and witched from mainly sites of .gov and .org to .com.

I have always loved being creative and I challenge myself at making things with new materials and technologies all the time. I made my first pan head, I designed and 3D printed several multicamera rigs. I have hacked and modded electronics to get them to do things I wanted instead of what the manufacture intended.

How did you discover 360 photography? When was it and what happened next?
360 photography was a natural progression from the large photo collages and wide angle photography I was doing at the time. My photo collages had overlapping enlargements glued down on 4 foot by 6 foot board:

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In 1991 I learned the proper way to tilt and rotate the camera around the NPP (No Parallax Point). I created my first pano head out of wood. I was still shooting film and cutting the prints to piece them together with tape. These were not even full 360° horizontal.

As soon as software and computers were able to stitch digital versions of panoramas I was shooting panoramas all the time. I purchased a film scanning so I could create seamless cylindrical panos for the purpose of printing.

When I discovered interactive panoramas I jumped on board. I was hooked at first sight. In 1997, soon after Apple released QTVR I went back to some of my old negatives that I shot to be printed and made them interactive on the computer. I realized that partial panoramas was not enough. Panoramas must be full sphere, 360° and consumed on a computer.

This is when I realized I wanted to specialize in software for creating panoramas not just manipulating images to make them pretty.

I started updating the open-source Panotools software that Helmut Dersch started, the same frameworks that PTGui, Hugin, PTAssembler, VideoStitch, and others use for aligning and assembling images into panoramas. I was distributing the software from my website, but after others started submitting changes too I help move it to SourceForge for easy updating and distribution.
Over the years of making my own changes, mentoring Google Summer of Code projects, making Windows Photoshop plugins I have probably acquired the highest level of insight into that code than all other contributors.
Are you a professional or amateur photographer?
I have recently switched from being a software designer for panoramic photographers to working as a consultant as a panorama guru in the 360° panoramic video specializing in stereoscopic 360° video for the purpose of viewing in HMDs.

Do you travel much to do your photography?
A current client wants to show off some exotic locations in VR video. I have been travelling as Director of Photography and Panorama guru on those shots. As a result I have been travelling every few weeks to new locations. I am enjoying this part of my new career choice.
What kind of photography do you like the best? and of what kinds of things?
For still images, I like panos of geographic locations that have many layers of depth and detail. Shows intriguing detail when zoomed out and in. For video I like stories about people. I want to be drawn into their lives and experience what they are experiencing.

I want to tell stories in VR video. I am not the best director and I am not a good writer, but I am kick-ass at the technologies needed. I plan on teaming up with as many projects as I can to make VR video the best it can be.

What is your opinion on today’s state of VR? Will VR, as we know it now, hit the Mainstream in the next 12 months?
I love printed wide angle panoramic images. Panoramic images are improved by making them interactive for viewing on a monitor with a mouse. Interactive panorama images become awesome when viewed in a HMD as VR. The current pixel density of HMDs are no where near what they need to be. The images on screen are either soft or pixelated. But this is overwhelmed by being able to just rotate your head around and see the scene as if you were really there. When the hardware catches up to the need things will get real. :)

It will take several years before people will be able to consume VR as we do the Internet now. Right now you can look at just about anything on a monitor or smart phone navigating from one page to the next. The internet is used is ways that were not imagined 20 years ago. VR is not like that yet. It is very limited but growing at an fast pace. The technology will improve over time too. We need faster processors, larger higher density screens, and more content.

Google Cardboard is a good method of getting people an idea of what VR might be. GearVR is currently the best mobile option for a VR headset. My local cell phone company is giving away GearVR headsets with Samson S6 or Note5 purchase. Mattel View-Master is a high quality plastic Google Cardboard for only $30.

Using Oculus order day stats it will take several months to fulfill its preorders for the Rift. By next Christmas VR will be huge.

I am still looking forward to a time when everyone can afford to capture video using lightfield technology. Having your head rotate at a fixed point in space can be disorienting in VR.

At first only the large motion picture houses will be able to afford the equipment needed to capture and process lightfield footage such a camera will acquire. Then no one will be able to download and watch because the file sizes and processing power needed to watch it will exceed the hardware uses will have. But eventually, it will happen.

I am looking forward to get my Sphericam 2. Synced global shutter will make stitching so much easier. It is exactly the specs of the minimum camera that is needed right now.

It was nice to see a couple new cameras for VR video introduced at CES.
Who are some of the interesting companies or people who are getting into VR / 360 Photography these days?
The VR porn industry will be big. They are pushing at the boundaries of what can be done in VR video. They have short turnaround, making lots of videos as simply as possible. Most companies in this space have standardized on 180° stereo shot with two synced cameras. Although not as immersive as full spherical stereo panorama it is still very immersive. Reading customer comments of what they do and don’t like about each video is very informative.

Camera position is the most important thing about VR video. I have shot panoramic video that works ok when viewed with a mouse on a screen but fails when tried to view in a HMD. I have a poker video shot from above the center of the table. In VR it is too weird of a position to watch a poker game. It does not work on many levels.

What is your opinion about 360 Video?
360° video is my livelihood these days. I want to capture everything in 360° stereo but the extra time and other issues limit stereo to only the best possibilities scripts. I try to watch a 360 video every day. Not always in VR but often.

As a pioneer in building the equipment that panoramic photographers use, what kind of trends have you noticed in the last years / decade that might not be obvious to other people?

I see myself as an evangelist of everything panorama and recently also VR. I want the masses be to able to create and consume VR content. In this drive I have searched for inexpensive ways for photographers to create acceptable content with off the self components.

I created my first 360° panoramic video recorder rig with webcams back in 2005. I have been actively looking at every small action camera that comes out to see if I can use it to improve an existing design.

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above: Jim Watter’s stereoscopic panoramic camera design; below: Samsung’s Project Beyond design, revealed some time later

My most popular design I created was with 7 overlapping pairs of Mobius cameras creating a stereo 360° camera rig that resembled what Samsung came out with Project Beyond a few months later.

In the fall of 2013 I acquired a bunch of these small Mobius action cameras that I intended to used to make the smallest 360° video rig that I have seen. Before I had the rig assembled I tried a Oculus Rift DK1 for the first time and realized that all panoramas needed to be in stereo. That panoramic video needs to be in stereo. I did not even attempt making a mono rig and went to work on building a stereoscopic video rig. No one had one available for sale.

The result was a proof of concept and a lot of knowledge about what hardware is needed to make such a rig. http://photocreations.ca/3D/mobius_camera_rig.html

I shared what I discovered on my website and I hoped that someone or some company with more resources than me would take my idea and make a usable camera rig. The lenses pairs need to be about 65mm, the same distance as the human eye, apart. To be enjoyable to watch on HMD, the frame rate needs to be at least 60fps, to utilize all the viewable pixels of current HMD each pano needs to be about 6k wide. To be portable the cameras need to write to internal storage and run off batteries that would last about an hour. For stereo it is important to have the cameras genlocked together so the image captured by both the left and right eye are captured at exactly the same time. The Mobius cameras I was using solved some but not all of these issues.

Samsung came out with Project Beyond a few months later. On paper it sounded like everything I was hoping for. I used 7 pairs of overlapping cameras and they used 8 pairs. Their rig is a single camera with 8 pairs of sensors covering the horizon and a single sensor covering the zenith. 18 months later and there are no sample videos to view. They put a request out to have a few 360 video producers to test and give feedback on their rig. I heard rumors of problems with image quality but have not been able to confirm anything. I was surprised that they did not have any big announcements at CES this year.

Everything happens in incremental steps. Both new methods and new components are needed. Over time the components get better and cheaper. Methods get faster and easier. I was reviewing an email discussion I was having in 2001 about live panoramic video on the web. Things have improved a lot since then but it is still not an easy thing to do. In the last 15 years panorama photography has been a niche market but now with VR becoming bigger we will see things change at a faster rate.
How do you think our panoramic medium will evolve over the next years or decades?
Software updates will make stereo panoramas easier to make. They will be the award winners for HMD viewing.

Lightfield capture which is the holy grail of image capture for VR will start to become possible in two years. Distribution and viewing lightfield video will will not be easy for a couple more years.

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I first met Peter Stephens at the Plymouth Panotools Conference back in 2010. Peter is a versatile photographer, shooting a number of different things, which he will elaborate on a bit in this interview. You can see his work at http://www.peterstephens.co.uk


When did you first become obsessed with photography?
I wouldn’t say that photography is an obsession for me, it is one of many things that I love doing which became my profession. There where photographers in my family when I was young, which no doubt I learnt from. I was given an SLR for one of my birthdays, I think I was 8. From here I collected lenses, then upgraded cameras etc… Oddly I never thought I would make a profession out of it, I don’t remember the thought ever crossing my mind. I didn’t really have a plan for what line of work to go into, music was always a big thing for me… and I used to spend a lot of time doing woodwork, making electric guitars. I assumed I would have done something like that, not photography.

How did you discover 360 photography? When was it and what happened next?

I discovered 360 photography through another photographer local to me who had published some underwater images with an iPix camera. I was some taken back with this, spent some time interacting with them and trying to work out how they where produced. At the time I had a sales job and was dabbling around with web design. I showed a good friend & colleague of mine the images and we decided to invest in an iPix setup to see if any businesses might be interested in using it. Fortunately it was a success, and the camera paid for itself in a short period of time.

The jobs we had also involved still photography, which at the time I was shooting in film. As a photographer I was very frustrated with the low quality of iPix, within a few months ditched that for a DSLR setup and was producing QTVR’s. Though with only a fisheye lens to start off with any other photography had to be shot in film, which was fun :-) Going fully digital was a huge jump forward for me, made life a lot more simple. At this point photography became a full time profession for me, around 2004/5. I still enjoy using film when I have the time, but I don’t miss the commercial shoots I did with it.

Since then I have produced thousands of 360vr images, mostly for clients though I do enjoy producing them for myself too. 360vr photography is about 50% of the photography I produce. The rest is commercial still photography, and a few 360 object spins.


Are you a professional or amateur photographer?

Professional.


Do you travel much to do your photography?

Yes all over the United Kingdom and occasionally in Europe. I am based in the South West of England, a fair amount of my work is local photographing properties and businesses.

 

What kind of photography do you like the best?
I love interactive photography, my favourite type of photography for sure. As with the subject, I really enjoy visiting and photographing properties and old buildings. I also enjoy producing 360vr inside cars and small spaces.

What is your opinion on today’s state of VR? Will VR hit the Mainstream in the next 12 months?
Still photography will most likely always be the most important photographic medium. Virtual Reality is in an interesting place at the moment, with Google’s Street View and 360 Video. Many people have invested in VR equipment recently, sadly though I feel more of a way of building a business offering a budget service rather than quality photography. There are a lot of low quality 360 images out there now. Fortunately not on 360cities though :-) I enjoy looking through the images here.

One problem with the increase of people being able to produce 360vr images is that the price one can charge is effected. Sadly there are many customers out there that are enticed by low prices, sacrificing quality which I believe will have a negative impact on their marketing. I appreciate that competition is good, though offering a service at a price which isn’t sustainable as a business is frustrating. Fortunately it hasn’t effected me much yet.

I do believe that camera technology will improve greatly in the near future and most people will be able to produce quality images without much photographic experience. This is something I need to keep an eye on, as I’m sure it will effect business.

Will VR hit the mainstream in the next 12 months? I’m not sure it will do anymore than it is right now really. I hope it will be used more yes.

Who are some of the interesting companies or people who are getting into VR / 360 Photography these days?
I was interested to see GoPro investing in Kolor last year. Weather the current range of GoPro’s are the most suitable camera for 360 video I’m not sure, it will be interesting to see if they come up with a dedicated camera for the medium.

What is your opinion about 360 Video?
I can remember when I first saw 360vr images and my wife saying how cool it would be if it was video, at the time I didn’t think it was possible… but here we are. I do like 360 video and have produced a couple films in the past, but it is not something I will be investing in at the moment.

How do you think our panoramic medium will evolve over the next years or decades?
Mostly I see camera technology improving greatly, resulting in much less skill required to produce quality imagery. Personally I would like to invest more of my time in producing images of artists & craftsfolk at work and spherical gigapixel images, when I get the time :-)

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Keith Martin has been a friend and fellow panorama addict for many years now. Originally American and now living in the UK for a very long time, he is a former editor of MacUser magazine, and has been regularly posting on 360-related forums since the beginning of the last decade.

When did you first become obsessed with photography? And what else are you obsessed with, besides photography?

I first became obsessed with photography when I was 15. I took some photography and darkroom classes and I got an SLR for my birthday; a Fujica STX-1. Totally manual, so I quickly learned the intimate relationship between shutter, aperture and ISO (or ASA for me, back then). I couldn’t afford to print all that I wanted to shoot, so I would mostly take shots virtually: set up, compose, evaluate exposure, etc., just not actually press the shutter unless I was absolutely certain. Later I bought a Canon A-1. I had a few digital cameras in the early 2000s, but I didn’t turn from film until I got my first proper digital SLR, the Nikon D70.

Other obsessions? Oh boy – I have quite a few! Typography is a major one; I studied graphic design at university, but I was already obsessed with type when I began that. I researched and wrote a large part of a book called ‘1000 Fonts’ a few years ago – no plot but endlessly interesting for type freaks like me! I enjoy designing for print print, and I’ve been developing multimedia software projects since the beginning of the 1990s, using HyperCard, SuperCard, Director and Revolution/LiveCode. Boy, things have changed a lot since I started all that!
I’m also obsessed with longboarding – that’s big skateboards, not the surfing kind. It’s a regular part of my commute to work, and I launched Thane Magazine to connect it with my other obsessions; print and digital publishing, experimental media, and so on.

How did you discover 360 photography? When was it and what happened next?

I first saw QuickTime VR back around the mid-1990s, with the first CD-ROM demos. I never got my head around MPW but I experimented a little with ‘The VR Worx’ in the early 2000s. This was with scanned slides, negs and prints; the kind of affordable digital cameras back then really weren’t up to the job. It wasn’t until late 2005 when a friend showed me some techniques and swapped one of his pano heads for a mint-condition eMate that I was really hooked. I got myself a 10.5mm fisheye lens for my Nikon D70 and began exploring what was possible at the time with QuickTime VR, Java and early Flash players. I began this chapter of my pano life using Realviz Stitcher but, thankfully, I graduated to PTGui sometime around 2008. I’ve been shooting panoramas constantly since 2005 – always spherical; I never like feeling restricted when I look around a panorama – and I’m always trying to improve.

I particularly like the challenge of exceptionally crazy dynamic environments: festivals, raves and clubs where lasers, smoke, acrobats and dancing people are kicking off all around. That really makes you sharpen your techniques!
I also enjoy the WorldWidePanorama.org events. Shooting a panorama as a way of interpreting a theme, just for the fun of it, is actually a really good way to make yourself try new ideas, and the WWP itself is a great community-focused project with a lot of history behind it.

Are you a professional or amateur photographer?

I teach publishing and cross-media design full time at university, so my photography is a part-time thing. It’s not my main income but yes, I do professional panorama shoots from time to time. I also shoot for the love of it, and I do pano creation as part of experimental projects with and for friends. However, I am very keen on client work being done only for appropriate payment; anything else harms our industry.

Do you travel much to do your photography?

For commissions, I’ve travelled around the UK (I live in London) for festival shoots, but my panos taken in other countries are almost always done in conjunction with travelling for other reasons; trips to conferences, press events or with my students, and holidays. A couple of years ago I was in discussions with an organisation in the US about doing a big pano shoot over there, but it eventually went to a more local photographer. That was fair enough of course, but it was a shame not to get the gig.

What kind of photography do you like the best? and of what kinds of things?

Spherical panoramic photography. That’s one of my obsessions. I like capturing the feel of a place, particularly with people in it, unless it’s a remote nature scene where people are a distraction. I find panos and regular photos of most spaces to be sterile and boring if there’s no life in the shot – and I particularly like taking this to the extreme with my festival panoramas.

What is your opinion on today’s state of VR? Will VR, as we know it now, hit the Mainstream in the next 12 months?

360 VR imagery (still and video) is becoming properly recognised, if not actually understood, by the mainstream media and the general public. This year will be when Oculus finally releases a product that’s not actually meant for developers. 360 video in particular is starting to really take off, and that’s going to get a lot of attention over the next 12 months.

I don’t know if it’s going to become truly mainstream, but as long as we get past the point where people just say either “oh, like Google Street View?” or “that would be great for real estate sales!” I’ll be happy. What we do is SO much better than either of those things…

Who are some of the interesting companies or people who are getting into VR/ 360 Photography these days?

It was really good to see Ricoh take a bold step into spherical photography with the Theta, and I was even more thrilled to see two new models developed. The Theta m15 and then the Theta S each took the product a little further, adding 360 video and improving the output. It’s still in the general realm of toys in terms of absolute image quality or device control, but it’s the best all-in-one 360 device I’ve seen from a big-name mainstream manufacturer.

In terms of people, it’s very hard to pick out individual names because there are so many people exploring things and helping develop techniques iteratively. There are always interesting presentations at the IVRPA conferences. Your adventures in gigapixel creation have been great to see, of course. Aaron Priest’s time-lapse wilderness panoramas are magical, and I’m delighted that he’s been so good about sharing the details of how he makes them. All I need now is the budget for some of those specialist bits of hardware… :)

What is your opinion about 360 Video?

360 video is not something that is perfect for every situation, but when the moment is right – oh boy, it is utterly magical! There are significant challenges to doing this well, and many of the hardware products available through to the end of last year have been as flawed as they have been exciting. Through to the end of last year the closest to a ‘turn-key’ solution was Ricoh’s Theta S, although that’s not really capable of pro-level output or serious control. In terms of products, this year is looking very interesting indeed – but time will tell.

Video is more than just a photographic medium. I’m working with a stop-motion animator (who is also, conveniently, one of my sons) on a 360-degree stop-motion ‘panimation’ project. This has its own set of challenges and things to learn, but that’s what keeps life interesting. When there’s something to show it will be on panimation.org.

Technical production aside, the biggest challenge 360 video poses to film makers is how it affects story telling. The entire history of filmmaking is based on the premise that we, as directors, have perfect control over what the viewer sees; we choose what they look at, and that’s how we tell the story. This new 360-degree form of video media puts the viewer right into a scene more immersively than ever before, but they are free to look where they want, when they want. In 360-degree immersive VR video, directing the viewer’s attention in a non-disruptive manner is hard, and perhaps the basic idea of the single linear storytelling method itself needs to be rethought. We’re at the beginning of a new form of visual story-telling. A new film-making vernacular is needed, and it’s being developed right here, right now. That’s mind-blowing.

As a pioneer in building the equipment that panoramic photographers use, what kind of trends have you noticed in the last years / decade that might not be obvious to other people?

Over the years I’ve seen manufacturers try to come up with cameras and equipment for panorama creation without fully understanding the technical requirements of the medium. At times that’s been quite entertaining, but it’s also frustrating to know that a bit of consultancy with the right people could have turned a forgettable flop into a memorable success.

Within the specialist panoramic photography industry itself, panorama heads have been getting slowly but steadily more precise and better designed. I have an ancient Kaidan QuickPan Pro head (aka ‘the boat anchor’) in my attic that weighs more than my entire pano setup, camera and bag included, does today. Also, despite it being a relatively niche market, robotic heads are becoming affordable; the PanoCatcher is a really interesting new option in this area.

Finally, there’s the sensor megapixel race. For most photographers anything much above 18 megapixels is rarely needed, but for panoramic work more really IS better. When I got my 24MP Nikon D3x I was able to capture complete spherical panoramas with three shots and produce high-resolution final results. That camera is no longer ‘out there’ in resolution terms, so I’ve been eyeing up the 36 megapixel D810 for a while now. Canon’s 50 megapixel 5DS is also superb for pano work, although I would prefer slightly better high-ISO performance.

How do you think our panoramic medium will evolve over the next years or decades?

Oh boy, that’s a tough one. Here’s a thought to work on: for end users of any medium, convenience is by far the most important factor. Follow this thought through and you’ll be able to predict at least a little of how things will work out.

For example, stereo panoramas are fascinating things. They’re challenging to make, but the solvable parts of the equation are being worked out. The problem here is the absolute requirement of a headset viewer or special glasses in order to see the stereo effect. That’s why I think this strand of pano creation, while highly impressive and great in some circumstances, won’t become truly mainstream.

I don’t have the same fears for 360 video, partly because it doesn’t absolutely demand extra viewing hardware to work but also because as a medium it can be exceptionally emotionally involving. The biggest challenge there, as I’ve already said, is more about learning how to adapt film-making and script-writing ideas to the immersive medium.

I’ve enjoyed exploring, training and teaching about panoramic photography for as long as I’ve been shooting it. I hope I can stay abreast of where things are going in the 360 photography and video fields so that I can keep helping others get more involved. I’m a firm believer in sharing tips, tricks and techniques, not hoarding them. When someone becomes better than me through my help I am delighted, and I then try to learn from them. Long term, that’s the only way for both individuals and complete industries to keep growing and improving.

What’s your main panorama gear?

I normally use my Nikon D3x and 10.5mm fisheye lens, and sometimes a 16mm fisheye. Because so many of my shots are in lively locations I’m not much of a gigapixel guy, although maybe one day…
My most-used panorama head is the 360Precision Atome, as it mounts perfectly to my 10.5mm lens, but I use a 360Precision Carbone or a Nodal Ninja pano head when I use a different lens. I recently got a PanoCatcher robotic head for scripted, automated rotation, and I’m finding out what that’s good for and where its limits lie.
For fun I carry a Ricoh Theta S with me most of the time. It’s great for quick and ‘impossible location’ shots, although the quality is nowhere near what my regular equipment produces. It’s also a good way to experiment with 360 video, although, again, the quality could be better.

You can find Keith’s work at:
PanoramaPhotographer.com
ThatKeith.com

Roelof de Vries is a talented panoramic photographer and a really nice guy, who I have met online many times, and who I finally met in person in 2014, at the annual VR Photographers’ conference in Las Vegas. He has done a lot of interesting work, and is continuing to do so as he starts to combine 360º photography and UAV operation in interesting ways. I managed to catch up with Roelof over Skype and we talked for quite a long time.

Roelof is currently working as UAV designer, photographer, and optics expert at Skycap.

I asked Roelof if he would share some of his experience in photography, piloting of UAV’s, and his anti-poaching efforts (you might even call it “poacher hunting” in South Africa.

Tell me about what it is like in the world of poaching rare and endangered animals.

What i found out in South Africa is that there is a war going on. It is a money-driven war between poachers and anti-poachers about the prevention of extinction. When

A lot of money is involved, the market of poaching, poaching teams are small teams, military trained, tough guys. the only way to prevent it is to outsmart them with military force and intelligence. that’s why it became a war in the last two years. 90% of contact with them is fire contact.

What is the economics of poaching?

Selling rhino horns to vietnamese mafia who sell it for traditional medicines. In Vietnam, they believe it cures cancer, it’s an aphrodisiac, and magical powers.

A rhino horn is the same material as your fingernails. it’s not ivory.

One rhino horn is worth half a million dollars.

Last year, more than 1000 rhinos got poached in South Africa. The total population is ten thousand… That’s 10% of the whole population dead in one year.

How did you get started getting involved in anti-poaching efforts?

http://www.wfft.org/360/tour.html

I made this virtual tour above the rescue center of the wildlife friends foundation in Thailand.

This is a fully donated product i shot 1.5 years ago. It’s an aerial tour entirely shot with my multirotor. This is just a very nice product. it visualizes the biggest wildlife rescue center in Southeast Asia. Bears, monkeys, tigers, elephants are there. I went there with my multirotor to shoot this tour for the wfft because visualizing it this way helps him get more volunteers and donations.

In addition to this project we went to Laos, home to one of the biggest wildlife traffickers, and we proved that they were capable of holding live tigers for the international trade.

How are tigers sold on the black market?

The market for tigers is lucrative: skin of course, also bones for traditional medicines, and also live tigers for mafia or dictators who want private zoos. Here is a page with some prices for tigers: http://www.havocscope.com/tigers-for-sale/

How did you do this without getting murdered?

We were there for 3 days, we did location scouting. when we drove along the compound there was a guy with a rifle. probably with tranquilizer darts, but if you get shot with that you won’t run 10 meters without falling down. A little bit of risk but we came up with several scenario to get the UAV airborne and get the photos, and then get from laos into thailand again.

Where do these tigers come form? 

Everywhere in se asia. Here is a map: http://www.raonline.ch/images/trav/map/asia_tigermap001.gif

Thailand is the biggest hub for wildlife trafficking int ehworld. because it’s quite central in se asia. also everything with wildlife trafficking can be brought to Thailand.

So these guys in laos have a holding area next to thailand. they smuggle it across the mekong river into laos as the main route. also bear, monkey, slow lorises, and so on.

All of them are used for illegal zoos, pets, props for tourist photography, and a lot of pets.

What did you do with these photos?

I handed them over to the Wildlife Friends Foundation. They used the photos in the Bangkok Post. And got it onto the national agenda in Thailand.

So you had some concrete success from taking those Laos photos….

Yes we did have some success. Now you see in thailand with the change of government that they are more keen on preventing things like this.

Why do you like shooting aerial panoramas rather than normal photos?

Panoramic photography is a great medium for this. it is quite fast to shoot since you don’t have to bother make a proper composition; you just put the UAV above a location and rotate the camera to capture everything. Especially for the illegal tiger thing in Laos, we flew up 3 minutes, and i shot 4 differen high resolution aerial panoramas, within 5 minutes we were back in the car.

Every second counts in that case.

Yes exactly. With the use of UAV’s and drones, preparation is EVERYTHING always, when it’s shooting an aerial panorama for a construction site or of a building or whatever. especially when you look at rules and laws, what you see is that they need trust that you work in a safe way. that’s everything. you have to have your mission planned: exactly what you’re going to do, path you’re going to fly, you have to have a crew of a couple of people so the pilot can do the flying only, someone else shoots the pictures, someone else is paying attention to incoming aircraft, and to people coming in the area.

Or in your case flying in Laos, someone coming at you with a tranquilizer rifle…

Yes in that case, you just run away!

Did they notice you flying there?

We don’t know. i think they didn’t notice and if they did they had absolutely no idea what was going on.

But that was a couple years ago… what if you did it today?

Yes they might now. A lot of things have changed. These people know what a drone is.

At what point will hunters/poachers of animals be using drones themselves?

They already are. in the usa, a couple of states put a ban on the use of drones for hunting. i think it’s jsut a matter of time but of course it’s a matter of money. The question is, does the guy who does the hunting, does he earn enough to do that?

You started out as a freelance pano photographer.  What kind of work were you doing?

I started in 2005. When I was a student, my thesis project was called rotterdam rooftop; I made 60 panoramas from the top of the tallest buildings in rotterdam.

http://www.dakvanrotterdam.nl/

I grew up in north holland in a small village with no traffic lights, and i moved to Rotterdam in 2001. It’s the only dutch city with a real skyline! I was quite interested in the skyline. Most importantly to see what the view is from all these tall buildings. I asked a couple owners of these tall buidlings and the answer was always “no”. I had to find a reason to visit the roof! So , being a panoramic photographer was the answer, to be able to capture this view for every resident of rotterdam who can’t enjoy the view form all these tall buildings.

Right after this project, i started my company Little Planet. I have a background in web development, my education is in web development.

When i started the Rotterdam Rooftops project, it was about creating a concept and a web portal, and learning how to create this kind fo photography. Before starting this project i never did any more complex photography than pressing the button on the camera. this was in 2004.

So you hit the ground running :)

When you enter this market as a web developer rather than a photographer, you see this as a web product that you can transform and manipulate yourself. it’s about creating visual products with communication value rather than creating just a pretty panoramic picture. The value of a visual communication product is much higher than the value of a nice photo.

After graduation i started my company and soon after, I wanted to leave the ground perpsecitve. the tripod gives you a maximum altitude of 3m. U wanted to shoot between 20-100m altitude! I did research and found a captive balloon aerostat skydock http://www.skydocballoon.com/ – an american company called floatograph and they produce the captive helium balloon capable of flying stable in hurrican speeds with one line. It’s an aerodynamic shaped balloon called an aerostat. These things are used by the military to get antennas airborne so they can send signals further away. so the usa uses them in Afghanistan for instance and the navy uses them to get antennas above the horizon and get signals further away. with a small one, they are pretty good for aerial photography.

Helium is very expensive?

In 2007 it was still quite chaep. And now at the moment yes. I pay 300 Euro for 50 liters (what i need to get my camera up) that’s about 5 cubic meters. That wll give you enough lift to get a sony nex-5 airborne.

How do you control it when it’s up there?

With regular RC (radio control) components, i built my own rig with servo engines and a standard 35Mhz RC from model airplanes, and also with a wireless video stream from the camera to what we now call a ground control station. You can rotate the camera on 2 axes, and look through the camera.

So you were shooting high resolution aerial panoramas in 2007?

Yes.

Wow!

Yes. remember the website big eye in the sky?

Yes, that was when I first found the whole VR – 360 photography community online.

That was the first guy to shoot aerial panos.

His name is Ed Fink, right?

Yes here it is. http://bigeyeinthesky.com/ this was one of the first guys to shoot aerial panos. they used a full size helicopter to shoot their panos. At that moment i said, well, I want to do that as well. After a lot of research I bought the balloon. We were shooting aerial panos for the Rotterdam government to visualize the new railway station.

That was the first assignment. The balloon was 10,000 euro when i bought it, I was still a small guy in doing business, and I had to go to the bank to get 10,000 euro, they said to me, ‘we’ll give you 10,000 euro but you have to get your first assignment’.

The first assignment I got, [the job with the Rotterdam government] was the most difficult I ever did. I got a contract from the local government to visualize the new station via aerial panos but I had no balloon, I hadn’t tested anything, I didn’t know if the balloon could do it, but I went to the bank, got the money, got the balloon, when we were shooting the first assignment, it was quite a success.

Yes, this was a great technical achievement, congratulations.

Thank you! In the next few months we will take the final image….

You mean you’re still working on that first project!

Yes! Summer 2008 to now. So I’m still working on the project and then it’s finished. This project was the first one I did with the combination of aerial photography and 3d rendering in order to visualize photographic environments. Here is the link: http://www.littleplanet.nl/clients/rdamcs/index.html

When you hit the last arrow, you see the combination of aerial panos and a 3d environment.

In 2010 i bought my first multirotor. it was combination of everything – there was no dji phantom. It was a droidworks xl frame, (one of the first companies in the world to build carbon fiber frames for multirotors) http://www.droidworx.com.au/ ;  mikrocopter electroncis, and a gimbal from photoship one.  The nice thing about a multirotor is that it is easy to set up and fun to fly. It saves a lot of time compared to a balloon – it takes a lot of time to deploy a balloon, and also to get the spherical panorama. The platform is less stable compared to a multirotor since it’s depending on wind and wind direction. The balloon is always drifting a bit from one side to another with a difference of 3-4 meters.

With a balloon, when we shoot aerial panos of views from non-existing skyscarapers, I use a crew of 5 people: a pilot in charge of the balloon, someone with a steering line on the north-south axis, another on the east-west axis, and then we can position the balloon on a specific spot in the air. And me as photographer and then sometimes another person with a single line straight under the balloon.

You can find a few of Roelof’s Panoramas on his 360cities Profile Page.

And you can find his personal website at www.littleplanet.nl

We have an interesting perspective here at 360cities on what people call “VR”. Because we have been, like, totally all over VR for ages. I mean ages. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a trip in the Wayback Machine!

Here we are in June 2007.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 14.31.55

“The World’s Virtual Reality Portal”. Now isn’t that cute?

I can almost hear myself muttering that as I don my stovepipe hat and gallop away on my steam-powered penny farthing, or something.

Anyway, we didn’t keep that dreadfully last-century phrase for long. By October 2007 we were “the World’s fastest-growing Virtual Reality network, now with 28 cities and over 3,200 virtual reality panoramas”.

And then in November 2008 we were doing basically what we are doing now – bringing interactive, panoramic photography to the mainstream.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 14.40.00

One thing is fairly clear though – we started out calling ourselves “Virtual Reality Photographers” and then kind of gave up on that because, well, no one know what the hell that meant.

Mind you, Google Streetview had only just barely started to exist at this point also, and it was still years away before dead bodies started showing up on their Rio images. All to say that in 2007 and 2008, people didn’t know that 360 photography existed at all, and didn’t know what it was good for, and sure as hell didn’t know what “virtual reality photography” was either. And it can be hard to sell something to people when this is the state of things….

And this is all a roundabout way of saying “yeah we’re gnarled grizzled veterans who have been keeping the VR flame alive since the dark times of the beginning of this century”. Which brings me to the question that is this blog post:

Where is VR going now, and is it going to finally hit the mainstream… finally?

This thing we know as Virtual Reality somehow became a thing again after a long period of being kind of forgotten as an embarrassing fad in the 1990’s, something that was interesting, but clearly not ready in any way.

What changed? The commoditization of mobile hardware, making all the necessary parts cheap; and, John Carmack, who, realizing that Palmer Luckey was onto something, especially with Samsung ready to get serious, jumped on board as Oculus CTO, instantly giving Oculus a kind of god-like status, and instantly making the entire medium of VR legitimate again.

But Oculus hasn’t actually released any of their own hardware yet. They have worked closely with Samsung, who have released the Gear VR “powered by Oculus” and it is a magnificent piece of hardware, and it really works.

And the kicker? One of the most awesome things in VR is 360 Photography!

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 15.33.24

The chicken and egg problem with VR today

The problem with VR remains that until there is a lot of stuff to do in VR, no one is going to want to buy a VR headset. And unless lots of people own VR headsets, no one is going to want to develop stuff to do in those VR headsets. This is a chicken and egg problem that exists for any new platform, and VR is no different.

Meanwhile, Oculus has been taking their time – longer than people thought – to release their consumer hardware, partly for this reason. They have been developing and nurturing the ecosystem of VR developers and software so that there is at least something to do when you put on a VR headset.

At least 360cities has been collecting 360-degree photography for ages, so we have a lot of interesting content that already exists :-) But other stuff has to be developed from scratch. Some games have been rewritten / adapted for VR, with varying results (such as Temple Run, which is perfect for VR with some people, and with other people it is the most vomit-worthy thing you could possibly play in VR). And of course there are a multitude of 360-degree cameras being developed, including Sphericam (founded by this author), Bubl, 360fly, Giroptic, Jaunt, Nokia Ozo, and others.

And there are more VR headsets coming out this year besides the Oculus Rift, including the HTC Vive and Sony Playstation VR, as well as a few well-funded chinese ones.

So…. is 2016 the year that VR finally hits the mainstream? Maybe, almost. :-) Considering that most people have not even heard of VR headsets yet, it honestly seems like a bit of a stretch to say that it will manage to completely envelop popular culture in the span of a year, when it is still essentially at nearly zero. But it is possible. By the end of 2017? I absolutely do think that by that time, most average people who are not living under a rock will know about VR and will want to try or buy a VR headset.

So yes, it is coming. It might not happen as quickly as we’d like, but we’ve already been waiting for a while, and it’s going to happen sooner or later.

 

2015 has already gone, but we have lots of panoramas from all over the world to show you.

New Years’s eve can be great fun for photographers, and even more so for 360º photographers. Here are some of the folks who have shot some panoramas on or around New Year’s Eve:

Willy Kaemena says Happy New Year from Bremen, Germany.

Wong Chichuen gives us a Happy New Year panorama from Hong Kong.
Jean-Pierre Lavoie wishes us Happy New Year from Montreal.
Tomasz Mielnik says Happy New Year from Poland.
Christopher O’Grady says Happy New Year from Singapore.

Diego Martinčić wishes you a Happy New Year from Croatia.

Akiyoshi Odagawa gives us a Happy New Year from Yokohama.

Ali Zareiee wishes us Happy New Year from Oslo, with this 360º panoramic video.

Bart de Boer says Happy New Year from Maastricht, Holland.

 

Here are some more new year’s-themed panoramas from previous years.

 

 

 

We wish a happy and healthy holiday season to all and lots of happiness, health,

and success in 2016 as well.

 

Thank you for your support, feedback, and wonderful panoramas.

Don’t forget to take advantage of our FREE Holiday Season Offer.

 

New Year 2016
The 360Cities Team

We’re celebrating the holiday season with a free offer to all contributors to 360Cities’ Panoramic World. Our offer does not involve any work on your part and there is no cost to you.

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If this sounds interesting, keep reading

…………………………………………………………………………………………….

As you have no doubt read, Getty Images has become our distribution partner for image licensing, particularly, although not exclusively, for high volume editorial usage. Please check out our updated FAQ to learn more about our exciting partnership with Getty. We successfully soft-launched on gettyimages.com a couple of weeks ago with a limited number of panoramas and we’re moving toward a high-profile hard launch in early 2016 with a larger set of panoramas.If this sounds interesting, keep reading

Preparing images for Getty Images is a time consuming process. We have to check and augment the metadata that you supplied with each panorama in order to ensure that the metadata conforms with Getty formats and best practices so that Getty’s thousands of customers can more easily discover your images.

……………………………………………………

So what’s the offer?

……………………………………………………

As a Holiday Season special offer, we are offering you priority submission to Getty Images. If you accept our offer, we’ll put your qualifying images at the front of our Getty submission queue. While we cannot guarantee how quickly your images will actually appear on Getty, we can promise you that your qualifying images will have receive priority review and submission.

By accepting this offer to get your panoramas on to gettyimages.com sooner, you may see an accelerated increase in your royalty earnings in 2016. No sales results are guaranteed of course, but every advantage helps.

All you need to do to accept our offer is to check the checkbox in your account edit page under the Licensing tab:

Please note that this offer is valid until 23:59 GMT on 7 January 2016. We encourage you to take advantage and opt in for priority submission to Getty Images.

Seasons Greetings,

The 360Cities Team

 

 

We recently announced our new Distribution Partnership with Getty Images and today we’re pleased to announce the launch of the first set of panoramas from 360Cities contributors on Getty Images. In order to see these images, just enter “360cities.net” in the search box on gettyimages.com when the box is set to either “All images” or “Editorial images”.

This is just an initial set of a few hundred images to start. We’re going to be growing the number of images and photographers represented on an ongoing basis so that more participants can benefit from the global reach of Getty Images’ own and third party sales forces, as they begin to promote interactive 360° panoramic imagery as part of their regular offering to thousands of business customers around the world.

Getty Images is the world leader in editorial licensing, with a large sales staff and a customer list that includes the largest consumers of editorial imagery in the world. The result for participating contributors of 360Cities is that many more images will be licensed by editorial users via the Getty channel, and thus more of our contributors have a chance to earn royalties from their panoramas.

See our Help Guide for more information on how you can participate and benefit from our exciting new Distribution Partnership with Getty Images.

As always, thanks to all our members for your great work and for contributing to 360Cities.

The 360Cities Team

 

Harry Peter

2 hrs · Aachen, Germany

As being an amateur I could really need some experts advice on buying a portable “light/flash” for use with the new Theta model S:

Imagine you want to place a Theta on a standard tripod inside a room/cave with very bad lighting and no electrical power supply, but it is essential to see details on the walls around you. Thus you’d need some kind of central light/flash that’s beaming in all directions, right?

What kind of light/flash could you use to enlighten the entire room, q…

See More

Zeljko Soletic and Sravani Saha like this.

Comments

Allen Clark

Allen Clark You could probably make something suitable out of a battery-powered fluorescent light stick (see pictured example). You’d have to build a transparent tube to place it in, with a tripod screwhole plate at the base and plate with tripod screw at the top…See More

Allen Clark's photo.

1 · 1 hr

Harry Peter

Harry Peter This suggestion is nice, thanks! If nothing else appears I think I will try to build this do-it-yourself-solution smile emoticon

54 mins

Sravani Saha

Sravani Saha Can you post the link to this example?

1 hr

Allen Clark

Allen Clark It’s a pretty common product, a shop light that happens to be a battery-powered fluorescent. Google any of those terms and you’ll come up with other manufacturers’ products. http://www.kmart.com/makita-18-volt…/p-03415433000P…

1 · 1 hr

Jeffrey Martin

Jerome Boccon-Gibod

November 6 at 11:54pm

Linear panorama with some parallax effects (krpano)

Over The Wall – Nantes

Dans le cadre et en étroite collaboration avec Le Voyage à Nantes 2012, “Pick Up production” et “Plus de Couleurs” on réalisé un projet d’envergure à la hauteur de l’événement : un parcours graffiti qui s’étend de manière discontinue tout au …

360IMAGES.FR|BY BOCCONGIBOD.JEROME

Jim Watters, Arthur van den Enk, Thomas Sharpless and 17 others like this.

Comments

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Christoph Simon

Christoph Simon very cool!

1 · November 7 at 1:52pm

Thomas Sharpless

Thomas Sharpless Great work! Could add vertical parallax shifts?

November 7 at 3:16pm

Jerome Boccon-Gibod

Jerome Boccon-Gibod Yes, updated version with vertical parallax shift online wink emoticon

2 · November 7 at 6:05pm

 

Jeffrey Martin

Jeffrey Martin unless you stop the auto-play audio, next time i see you, i’m going to come up from behind you and start shouting in your ear without warning, in a foreign language. ok! smile emoticon

2 hrs

Jerome Boccon-Gibod

Jerome Boccon-Gibod Music soothes the savage breast Jeffrey, or you can use the mute button…

1 hr

Jeffrey Martin

Write a reply…

Jeffrey Martin

Robert Miller

November 8 at 10:40am

So here is an interesting thought… I have used a wide variety of panoramic heads, including robotic heads. The robotic heads all have their quirks but the biggest issue is a lack of communication between the head and camera. Given the fact that cameras have usb ports, they could infact connect to and control the head. This would allow for auto levelling by compensating when moving, acurate triggering and optimal stepping and most importantly a way of altering exposure during the panorama.

I designed a system and tried Nikon but of course and not surprisingly, zero interest in doing anything creative. Anyone have contacts at a camera manufacturer that may be interest?

Zeljko Soletic, VR Emaad and Juan Felipe Mindernickel like this.

Comments

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Jeffrey Martin

Jeffrey Martin unless you are well funded with a very clear proof that you will be selling this on a global and retail scale, you can’t really expect ANY camera company to be interested in this.

2 hrs

Jeffrey Martin

Jeffrey Martin you might try that micro four thirds camera that was on KS. He might be interested. that would get your foot in the door and help you get to working prototype stage

1 · 2 hrs

Matthew Rogers

Matthew Rogers You can already buy all the hardware and controllers you need from just two companies. Just do some research smile emoticon

2 hrs

Jeffrey Martin

Herwig Niggemann

November 7 at 12:15pm

Herwig Niggemann's photo.

Gerald Blondy and Johan Offermans like this.

Continue reading ‘This week in VR Photography: October 30 – November 9, 2015’ »