Henri Smeets is one of Holland’s leading 360º and panoramic photographers. A contributor to 360Cities.net for many years, Henri is a prolific and knowledgeable guy in the field of 360 imaging, and I have had the pleasure of meeting him in person a few times.
Henri’s website can be found at C360.NL.
My favorite panorama by Henri is this image of people ice skating on a frozen canal in Amsterdam:
When did you first become obsessed with photography? And what else are you obsessed with, besides photography?
I was never really obsessed with photography, I liked it for sure but the steps from taking a shot to looking at the result never suited me in the analog days. Perhaps it was due to a lack of skill or the flat end result, fixed ratio and size, on a piece of paper. Photo’s just ended up in a drawer or box somewhere.
In 1996 I got my first digital camera, a second hand Apple QuickTake. That allowed me to shoot whatever I wanted without having to worry about the costs, still the quality was quite bad. Having gotten used the digital process I decided to get a Kodak DC260, a 1,5 MP digital camera with glass lens, lcd screen, flash and everything 😉 and started shooting for real. I still really enjoy looking back at all the memories that where documented this way, mostly from places all over the world. Later stitch-assist enabled cameras allowed me to create wide panoramic photos.
How did you discover 360 photography? When was it and what happened next?
When I was reading MacWorld Magazine there was this article on QuickTime VR, the latest Apple development in the QT platform enabling a 360 degree foto to be looked at interactively on my Mac. It showed me a way of looking at a photo that I’d never seen before yet felt so natural, logical that I was immediately hooked. The next couple of years I kept following all development around QTVR. Did a few experiments converting scans from a Widelux camera into 360 degree strips but never really got the hang of the entire process involved. As a multimedia producer I did in fact incorporate some QTVRs into several CD-ROM productions, some shot by professional photographers and others created in 3D environments, mind you, this was in the late nineties. It was not until 2006 that I started to create my own 360 full spherical images. I borrowed a Nikon D70 and bought a fisheye lens and a panohead by Kaidan, according to online tutorials and forums (panoguide.com) the ideal combo for the job, and started experimenting with the set.
Visiting IBC, a large broadcast conference a was talking to a marketing manager about interactive panoramas and somehow I ended up shooting his stand. After spending about a day on processing I showed him the results two days later and he was really impressed and immediately asked how much it would cost to put that 360 on his site and if I was available for another exhibition for more stand coverage. Right there and then I knew I was on the right track!
Are you a professional or amateur photographer?
I created a living from creating 360 degree photos and tours, although I always think I could/should get better and still look with envy to what others are creating. Thankfully over the years getting more and more respected by peers and I’ve helped others starting in the field of 360 degree photography with tips tricks lessons and more.
Do you travel much to do your photography?
Most shoots are on location in the Netherlands, about 4-5 times a year I travel around Europe for other shoots and I have coordinated shoots around the world using my Linkedin Panoramic Photography Group and Facebook groups.
What kind of photography do you like the best? and of what kinds of things?
Museum shoots tend to be my favourites but many other jobs are very nice as well. I’ve shot several exhibitions for a famous Dutch Designer called Marcel Wanders and a Photographer called Erwin Olaf. Some a marketing projects or just for documentation purposes. Ideally I would travel around the world shooting Unesco Heritage locations or just beautiful places.
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?
VR or at least the headsets that are being released really gave me a boost in being able to get attention for 360 photography, viewing those very same images we’ve been creating on a Gear VR still amazes me and even stuns many others. Mainstream me be a bit much but it’s popularity it rising that is a sure thing. Many people have used Google Cardboard, mostly briefly and not always for 360 photos or video but the bar has been lowered seriously for creators to get VR content out there.
Who are some of the interesting companies or people who are getting into VR / 360 Photography these days?
Well, it seems like just about everyone is getting into VR, most of them for 360 video creation. Obviously I’m active in the field so it’s possible that my vision is ‘coloured’.
What is your opinion about 360 Video?
Great, just too bad that most of them look really bad to mediocre on a PC screen or good VR Headset. For mobile display they are OK at this moment, some companies are creating some awesome examples like Felix&Paul. But for mainstream creation there is still a lot of work to be done before it will look convincing enough and it will be comfortable experience for longer then a couple of minutes.