You Can’t Take a Great Panorama If You Stay In Your Room (Interview With Nick Spirov)

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.
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 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!


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

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