Interview: Bill Bailey

If you have been involved in 360º photography for any length of time, then you have probably come across Bill Bailey.  Bill is a kind soul and a generous guy. If you have ever wondered what great customer service looks like from a company, you should observe Bill Bailey closely – he has a legion of fans and devoted friends that he has amassed over the years by treating people with kindness and respect. He has helped to grow Nodal Ninja from a new company, to one that plays a major role in the world of 360 photography.
I first came across Bill in the Panotools Yahoo group many years ago, and since then I have met him many times at many conferences and panoramic photography-related events. His cheerful demeanor and Hawaiian shirts are always a welcome sight.
When did you first become obsessed with photography?
Rather than an obsession, photography has been an ongoing passion that has played a positive role in my life beginning as a hobby in my early teens and turning pro whilst in Alaska.
And what else are you obsessed with, besides photography?
The definition of the word obsession could be a bit subjective if trying to quantify it within myself. I do however have other “interests” and “passions” in life and will temporarily step out of my comfort zone and share.
If I was a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg, much of my wealth would go back into the world to help those in need but I am not. Nodal Ninja, however, has provided a small platform whereby “we”, not I, are able to give back. Over the years we have given to non-profits and charities to help victims of natural disasters like earthquakes in Japan and devastating floods in Australia. It’s worth noting here as well that Nick Fan of Fanotec has also shared generously in many of the same causes we have supported. And we don’t forget about our 4 legged friends, cancer research, or small donations to local organizations. It just feels right to give something back.
Crafting Beer:
Some in the pano community are already aware, I do enjoy crafting fine ale. From grain to glass and all points in between. Experimenting with each phase of the process yields an experience of its own.  The brewing community, like the pano community, is a small market but growing rapidly with fellow brewers always willing to lend advice and a helping hand.
Having obtained my private pilot’s license in Alaska, flying has always been a fascination. Flying through the valleys and over the mountains in Alaska was a very unique and rewarding experience. Even though I’m not currently flying due to budget constraints the passion is still there and one day I’m sure I’ll return to the skies.
How did you discover 360 photography? When was it and what happened next?
After running a successful photography company in Alaska for 5 years, I sold up and headed back to my native state of California (Bay Area). Wanting to stay in photography, I continually researched the latest in photographic technology. I kept reading more about virtual reality photography being the next new up and coming thing. Back then, Panoguide was “the” forum to learn all about this new technology so I decided to take the dive. I bought the Nikon Coolpix with a big FC-E9 lens and was ready to go to work, but realized that I now needed a pano head. Others recommended that I take a look at the new Nodal Ninja made by Digital Initiatives (now known as Fanotec). I went to the website and bought the NN-1 and couldn’t help but notice the sign on Nick Fan’s website – “Dealers Wanted.”  After some back and forth emails, Nick and I shared many of the same important business ethics – quality of product with commitment to service and support. Looking back I see it’s been a tad over 11 years now and I’m sure you’ll see me here for many more years to come. I love shooting panoramas and testing all the latest gear, enjoy interacting with customers and dealers, and enjoy sharing with the community.  
Are you a professional or amateur photographer?
Experienced amateur. I don’t make money doing photography as a living, but it is something I’ve been doing for a very long time.
Do you travel much to do your photography?
No. Too many commitments.  I do not travel “to do” photography, but rather I do photography when I travel.
What kind of photography do you like the best? and of what kinds of things?
Nature – you can’t force a smile on her, but be ready when she does. Living in the heart of the Sonoran Desert offers an amazing landscape and backdrop to what the West was like. Looking at the world more now with 360° eyes opens even more photographic opportunities. I hope to bring exposure and education to preserving these native lands through the imagery of an ever changing desert landscape. Website coming soon…
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?
Without a doubt!  While 360° video is currently forefront and a driving force, 360° imagery will always have its place. Technology giants are racing to embrace the whole VR thing, so we’ll continually see higher quality results and ease of use, while keeping affordability in check. The underlying development is absolutely huge. Nearly every mobile device currently has the ability to capture interactive panoramas. More and more companies are jumping on the bandwagon.
Who are some of the interesting companies or people who are getting into VR / 360 Photography these days?
If you visit our website and look for our “Notable Customers” page you’ll see a broad and diverse group of companies and industries embracing this technology. Aerospace, Educational Institutions, Media and Production, Engineering, Architectural, Military, Law Enforcement, Forensics, Museums, Parks, and the list goes on. Every week we see a new company/industry buying our product and we ask ourselves how will they use 360° VR? At times it’s too hard resist and I’ll have to ask. One company that continually buys VR equipment for many years is a utility company(?). I learned they document underground utility vaults.  Another company shoots high resolution photography to survey for cracks in a dam.  The PGA is now doing 360° aerials during special events. Parks and Recreation documents land mass and forest devastation. The list goes on.
What is your opinion about 360 Video?
This is an area that we are already seeing exploding growth. It’s growing so quickly that 360° video cameras of today will become outdated by tomorrow. Like everything else prices will go down and quality will continue to go up. In less than 2 years we’ll be able to create stunning 4K interactive 360º video content on one button devices with prices tags under $500. Once 360° video reaches this level, 360° imagery will begin to decrease, however there will always remain a need for traditional 360° imagery for quite some time so hardware manufacturers need not worry.
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?
Fanotec is the pioneer building the Nodal Ninja equipment. Nodal Ninja serves the equipment up which places us in a unique position. We feel the “heartbeat” and the “pulse” of the industry as a whole. Wasn’t long ago we used to say this is a market that challenges technology.  We wanted higher resolution images, bigger cameras with larger sensors; we wanted stronger computers to process the higher resolution images; we wanted software to better handle and manage the images we process.
Today, however, we are experiencing drifts in needs. Most of these needs have been met. We now have the big cameras, we create the images with nearly as much resolution as we like and most computers and software can process what we throw at it.  For 360° imagery the need now is more based on the output requirements by the end user and consumer which ironically is not too demanding of current technology. We’ll still see 100+MP 360’s but they will be far and few between. 5MP or even 10MP 360’s fill the needs of most VR photographers doing this for hire. Because the market is growing so fast we now see users wanting to produce stunning panoramas with budget and ease of use in mind. At least 30% of people entering this market are first time users on a budget wanting to get out and make money shooting panoramas.  So single touch point and shoot 360° cameras like NCTech’s iris360 are seeing demand far exceeding supply. People want ease of use and automation. For standard businesses and real estate VR’s, we will see more low cost automated solutions coming to market. One shot high resolution cameras and low cost automated heads.  Companies like Fanotec, for example, will be entering into the emerging market of automation for 2016.
How do you think our panoramic medium will evolve over the next years or decades?
Oh – fun question. Where will we be in 5, 10, 100, or even 1,000 years from now? Panoramic photography is one of the fastest growing genre’s of photography. Photography, if you break it down to its core, is really about what you capture and record in the moment, what you see and cannot see, and the field of view (FOV) in which you see it in. The narrower the FOV generally the less information and less captivating it is. The broader the FOV the more that is captured, the more information you have, and the content becomes more interesting. We live in a 3D world and typically capture images and view them in a 2D plane looking to the left and right, up and down.  But let’s kick it up a notch an add another dimension – what if you could leave the 2D ground plane and go 3D? Not just seeing things with 3D glasses but traveling in 3D. Being able to travel up into the sky and down into the oceans.  This is more of the Virtual Reality are coming to learn. Then add in a 4th dimension of time and space. Being able to watch a forest grow as you walk through it, slow things down and travel around a lightning bolt as it’s being created. Even being able to record and playback smells and touch is not too far off.  Throw away the VR Goggles – cornea implants with sensitive under-skin pressure buttons. One could activate instant view….walk down a street and change the visible layers in the surroundings to view how it looked 50 years ago and watch the buildings on the street grow into the skyscrapers of today as you moves through the layers of time. 
It might sound a little sci-fi, but so did going to the moon a hundred years ago. 
We are trying to get as close as possible to the real world by capturing, creating and interacting in a virtual world. We want the entire virtual world to be as real as possible. Technology will always be striving to bring the two worlds closer. What will it be like once the real world melds “seamlessly” with the virtual world? We’ll have a “Real Virtual Reality”.
We live in exciting times.
In closing I’d like to thank Jeffrey Martin for this interview and and leave with one final thought to ponder.
Live and make the most of every moment today and learn from every experience you encounter. And for the experiences you wish you could encounter, feel confident in knowing that technology is racing to bring these to you as quickly as possible.
Thanks for your “real” time,
Bill Bailey
Bill Bailey LLC dba Nodal Ninja

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