How To Get Started on 360° Panoramic Photography


Introduction - the easiest way to create panoramas and / or get them to 360cities.net

- Download our iPhone app 360cities.net/mobile-app to create and share panoramas directly on your iPhone.

What are these photos on 360cities.net?

You're looking at 360 panoramas. They could be also be called 360° panoramas, 360-degree panoramas, omniviews, VR photos, virtual reality panoramas, sphere panoramas, etc. but we call them "360 panoramas" or simply "panos" here on 360Cities.

Panoramic photography of some kind has existed for more than a century. You can see many examples of 360 degree photos from 100 years ago. Nowadays you can see a boom in this kind of visualization technology due to the ever-reducing cost of the technology, availability of software, abundance of publishing tools. One of the most important aspects is also that the broadband internet made it possible to easily share this kind of photography with others. 360 Panoramas are the new way of showing places, events and businesses on the internet. 

Three flavors of panoramas

In terms of the format of panoramas, there are essentially three different kinds: 
  • Partial panoramas that you know mainly from traditional landscape photography. They are created by stitching (assembling) of multiple normal photos together side-by-side, which creates a photo with much wider angle that would be possible with a normal lens.
    360Cities does not support partial panoramas.

  • Cylindrical 360º panoramas - One notch higher are 360° photos which capture the whole field of view in all directions around the photographer. These are sometimes called cylindrical panoramas. They cover 360-degrees around but not up and down view. These are too created by stitching multiple photos together. The only real difference from partial panoramas is that you need to make sure the first and the last photos overlap. There are also so called "one shot" 360-degree lenses but they are by definition very low quality compared to the traditional stitched panoramas.


  • Spherical panoramas are the top of the line which not only capture the 360-degree field of view but in which you can also look up and down. They can even be taken in a way that you can't see the tripod nor the photographer's shadow in the picture. 

360Cities supports cylindrical and spherical panoramas. See also Requirements for Panoramas Published on 360Cities.

The secret of creating 360 panoramas

So, what is the secret of creating a 360 panorama? 

It's actually pretty easy. You, the photographer, choose a place from which you want the panorama to be taken. Then you start taking photos around yourself until you cover the whole intended field of view with photos. It does not really matter what camera or lens you use, you can even use a cell phone, as long as the photos overlap. The easiest, though, is to use a digital SLR camera with a fisheye lens. The wider the viewing angle of the lens is, the less photos you need to cover the entire field of view. With a cell phone, you will need many photos, with a fisheye lens, you need as little as three to cover the entire sphere. 

Take a look at these videos that show how to take fully spherical 360 panoramas:

























Further reading (advanced panorama shooting tutorials):
PanoTools Wiki - information hub for panoramic photography
Panorama Tutorials - more links

Equipment you need

It does not really matter at all what you start with. Really. You can test it with your cell phone or an old compact camera. You just need ANY camera. As with any craft, the right tools can help you get the job done faster, easier, and better. Once you're hooked, then you can think about getting the best tools for the job! For example, we recommend you get a digital SLR with a fisheye lens (e.g. Sigma 8mm 3.5 or Samyang 8mm F3.5). Once again. To start and to try it out, it doesn't really matter. Just make sure you take photos that overlap and try it, go out there and take some panoramas!

If you are serious

Here's some tips for taking even better photos:
  • Mind the no-parallax point. Your photos need to be taken from exactly the same point to avoid parallax errors in the stitched panorama. Panoramic heads are the best tools for achieving that. Take a look at Nodal Ninja panoramic heads (we really like them).
  • Shoot in RAW format to ensure maximum quality
  • Shoot on full manual mode (manual exposure - both time and aperture, manual focus, manual white balance)
If you are on mobile

360Cities is compatible with Microsoft Photosyth panorama creation app for the iPhone. Simply create your panoramas in Photosynth, save them to your camera roll and send them to upload@360cities.net. More info about email uploads

Stitching (assembling) photos on a computer

The photos you take need to be joined (stitched / assembled) together with great precision on a computer. When the shooting and stitching is done properly the result is a completely seamless, smooth image (without borders between photos), which can be viewed in any direction. You can truly enjoy the viewing experience that is close to the actual experience of being at the place where the photographer shot the panorama.

Here's the list of recommended tools for stitching your photos together:
  • PTgui - Absolutely great program for stitching panoramas (paid)
  • Kolor Autopano Pro / Giga - Awesome stitching software (paid); Kolor also makes great virtual tour creation software called Panotour
  • Hugin - An alternative to PTGui (a bit more difficult and less convenient to use but free)
  • Ideally, you will also need any photo editor (Photoshop or any other) for processing your photos
Beware: Stitching photos is not a lightweight task, and the more RAM you have, the better. It also helps to have fast hard disks. For example, tiny notebook might take 30 minutes to stitch a panorama while the same task would take 2 minutes on an average desktop computer (because of RAM and disk speed, more than processor speed). 

The final step - publishing your panoramas on 360Cities

Once you are done taking and stitching photos it's time to Create your 360Cities account and publish your panoramas.