How To Shoot Amazing Pictures With A 360-Degree Camera

Image: Gizmodo

A 360-degree camera is one of those things that I didn't quite get the draw of until I actually tried one. A friend brought his new Gear 360 to a dinner party, snapped an epic shot of everyone at our table doing a cheers, and I was instantly hooked. A week later I was toting my own around, and I've carried the thing with me on every single holiday and remotely interesting event I've attended since.

The Gear 360/Samsung

There's something magical about capturing everything going on in the world around you in a single shot. Even better, with a VR headset, you can let your friends essentially step into your photo and see everything that was going on around you. Capturing the perfect 360, however, isn't as simple as just hitting the shutter button. Here's what I've learned.

Use a Timer

The beauty of 360-degree cameras is that they capture an image of everything around them. If you're the one taking the picture, then chances are good that "everything" also includes you. If you don't want all your 360 photos to have a picture of you holding your phone in them (no judgement here if that's your thing!), then the timer can be your best friend. A five or 10-second countdown can be just the time you need to put your phone in your pocket and make yourself look like you're the life of the party, not the girl who can't stop texting.

Use a Tripod

A tripod can also be invaluable when it comes to shooting 360 photos. Samsung's Gear 360 comes with a tiny one, but you'd be better served springing for a selfie stick or a collapsable tripod to use instead. The reason? 360 cameras work by taking two 180-degree pictures and stitching them together. While that stitch looks great up high, toward the bottom of the shot things can get dicey. Since the camera is a sphere it will essentially edit itself out of the shot, but if it isn't high enough off the ground that can also mean it misses some of what's below as well. That can look pretty wonky. Using a tripod can ensure you actually capture everything you want. It can also come in super handy for this next part…

Pick the Right Height

My first big trip with my 360 camera I shot a dozen or so videos holding the camera beside me, which resulted in a bunch of videos where my face takes up a quarter of them. Not ideal. Once I figured that issue out, I started putting the camera on a tripod and moving away, but my tripod was short, so I was taking pictures from fairly close to the ground. It's not a big deal since it's capturing 360 degrees, right? Wrong. So, so wrong.

If you take a picture with your camera on the floor, then the person looking at the picture later is going to feel like they're sitting on the floor. It's awkward, and likely not what you intended. Instead, the best move is to get the camera to a person height (1.5-2m in the air). Then the viewer will feel like they're just another person in the room, not an awkward onlooker.

This is especially important if you're taking a picture or shooting a photo you plan on viewing later with a 360 headset. If you don't have a tall tripod and are willing to sacrifice cool points for getting the perfect pic, try sitting a small tripod on top of your head. The finished picture will have the viewer essentially replace you in the picture.

Stay Still

While it might be tempting to walk around with a 360 camera, truth be told, moving videos end up being a bit jarring for people to watch. The reason is pretty much the same explanation as why you should use a tripod. When you move around holding the camera, it's impossible (unless you're a professional with some sort of steady cam rig) to move smoothly. That means your video is going to naturally move up and down a bit as you breathe and walk. That's no big deal when you're shooting a normal video, but when you shoot a 360, you're doing so with the idea that people will want to look around. When your viewer is looking left and you're moving forward there's a solid chance you'll be walking away from what the person watching your video wants to look at, and you'll probably be making him or her a little nauseous in the process. Shoot videos, but do it from a stationary position. Trust me.


    A lot also has to do with the right lighting, like with any camera. I have had the Keymission 360 for a while now even though it gets a lot of bad press from people who don't know how to use one (and yes the phone connectivity issue is still there). Best thing I did was get a monopod for it (fancy name for a selfie stick with little tripod legs). At the right height you will never see any legs stick out. The 2 metres away thing is a definite rule you must follow at all times. Never walk or stand directly to the side of both lenses FOV otherwise you will be badly auto stitched. Also outdoor pics works best when the sun is directly above you or being obscured by clouds or a house or whatever, otherwise you will get massive light and colour differences from both lenses.

    So far my favourite cams are definitely the Gear360 and Keymission. I also have seen Gyroptic made this plug and play type of camera for your smartphone and the pictures look quite nicely for hand held 360 pictures.

    As someone who's used a few 360 camera (I currently use a Insta360 nano, which is convenient as it attaches to the iPhone) and done a lot of photography in my time, here's a few more tips:

    * angle: because of the way it stitches 2 images, be aware of your planes of vision, especially what is directly left/right/up/down. The stitching will blur on the edges, which are to your left/right. If it's something interesting or detailed this will get blurred or disrupted
    * focus: You'll be tempted to face the most interesting thing, but being 360, this isn't necessary. In fact, having the most interesting object offcentre encourages the user to move the camera and interact.
    * camera quality: most every 360 camera quality can't compare to good gear. Be careful of situations with lots of contrast light, dark, lens flares or lots of detail that can be a bit disruptive

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