Activity – Find and Create 360 Photos and Video

If you want to create VR learning experiences that are orientations or tours, you may want to use 360 images and video. There are some free 360 photos available under Creative Commons licenses, just be sure to provide proper attribution. (How do I attribute?). 360 videos that are free for use are much harder to find.

While you will capture the highest quality 360 media using a dedicated 360 camera, you can also use your own smartphone with a free app.

First, let’s look at some examples of 360 media.


While you can create 360 photos using your own phone, there are significant quality differences versus if you used a dedicated 360 camera. Here are some examples.

360 photo taken with a 360 camera (click to view in 360):


Figure 1 – “Space Shuttle Atlantis OV-104 main flight deck” by Daniel Molybdenum, Flickr. Public Domain.

360 photo taken with an Android smartphone and Cardboard Camera app (note the letterboxing):


360 photo taken with an Android smartphone and Google Street View app (note the distortion):


Creating Your Own 360 Photos

If you want to create your own 360 video, you will definitely need a dedicated 360 camera.

If you want to create your own 360 photos, you can use a 360 camera to capture high-quality images, or you can use your existing smartphone to capture good-enough images! Before we dive into creating your own images, it’s important to understand how these images are captured and how they are formatted.


Figure 2 – Insta360 ONE X. This is a popular 360 camera that runs about $400.

There are a wide range of 360 cameras. A high-quality one will cost between 300 and 500 dollars. 360 cameras have two camera lenses. When you take a photo or video, it’s actually capturing two different images at once. These two images must be stitched together to create a single image.


Figure 3 – Two lenses means two photos that must be stitched.

Stitching is not necessarily automatic. Some 360 cameras stitch internally. Otherwise, desktop software must be used. The software is usually bundled with the camera.

Once the images are stitched, the final 360 image is in equirectangular format. This is the standard format for 360 images. Equirectangular images are jpeg files that are in a 2:1 ratio.


Figure 4 – Above images stitched into final equirectangular format photo. Click the image to view in 360.

Equirectangular photos appear distorted when viewed in 2D. They must be viewed in 360 view. Flickr now automatically portrays equirectangular images in 360, or you can use a hosting service like Momento360 (free).

When you use an app to take a 360 photo with your smartphone, you are actually taking many separate photos that are stitched together to make a composite.

Google offers two free apps that you can use to make your own 360 photos with your smartphone.

The first is Cardboard Camera (Android / iOS). This app produces 360 photos that are similar to your regular camera’s panorama mode. To capture an image, you must stand in one spot and very very slowly pan your phone to create the image. The resulting image is not in the requisite 2:1 ratio. I edited my image in Photoshop to add the letterboxing to produce an image that is in 2:1 ratio, and thus a properly formatted equirectangular image that will work in VR projects.

The second app is Google Street View (Android). The Android version works with your regular phone camera. Unfortunately, the iOS version only captures 360 images if you are using it with a 360 camera. This app does allow you to capture a full 360 spherical image with your smartphone’s camera. Rather than slowly panning to create a panorama, the app instructs you to take a series of images while standing in one place that it stitches together to create a final composite. The app is intended to allow users to contribute 360 images to the Google Street View project, but your images are private unless you intentionally share them. When you download the images, they are in proper equirectangular format and ready to use.

A Few Pointers on Capturing 360 Images

Take your 360 photos at eye level. Most VR scenes are viewed from eye level, and it will feel very strange for your user if they are higher or lower than they expect to be.

Here’s an example of an awkward 360 photo taken too high (click to view in 360):

360 photo taken from too high a vantage point

If you use a dedicated 360 camera to capture your photo, you’ll end up capturing either your tripod or yourself in the final image. A colleague of mine recorded a quick video demonstrating how to remove a tripod or photographer from a 360 image using Photoshop’s content aware tool.

If you capture a 360 photo without using a tripod, your horizons may end up skewed. You can level out your photo using additional software. I have used edit360 (Android / iOS, about $5) on my phone to correct horizons. This app is intended for use with the Ricoh Theta 360 camera, but I was able to import my own 360 photos just fine and it allows easy fixing of my horizons!

Finally, you can edit your 360 images in Photoshop in 360 mode! Watch this video to learn how:

That’s it for capturing and editing your own 360 photos! Happy developing.

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