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.
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.
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.