We experience the world in 360 degrees, surrounded by sights and sounds. Until recently, there were two main options for shooting photos and video that captured that context: use a rig to position multiple cameras at different angles with overlapping fields of view or pay at least $10,000 for a special camera. The production process was just as cumbersome and generally took multiple days to complete. Once you shot your footage, you had to transfer the images to a computer; wrestle with complex, pricey software to fuse them into a seamless picture; and then convert the file into a format that other people could view easily.
Today, anyone can buy a decent 360° camera for less than $500, record a video within minutes, and upload it to Facebook or YouTube. Much of this amateur 360° content is blurry; some of it captures 360 degrees horizontally but not vertically; and most of it is mundane. (Watching footage of a stranger’s vacation is almost as boring in spherical view as it is in regular mode.) But the best user-generated 360° photos and videos—such as the Virtual Forest—deepen the viewer’s appreciation of a place or an event.
Journalists from the New York Times and Reuters are using $350 Samsung Gear 360 cameras to produce spherical photos and videos that document anything from hurricane damage in Haiti to a refugee camp in Gaza. One New York Times video that depicts people in Niger fleeing the militant group Boko Haram puts you in the center of a crowd receiving food from aid groups. You start by watching a man heaving sacks off a pickup truck and hearing them thud onto the ground. When you turn your head, you see the throngs that have gathered to claim the food and the makeshift carts they will use to transport it. The 360°format is so compelling that it could become a new standard for raw footage of news events—something that Twitter is trying to encourage by enabling live spherical videos in its Periscope app.