Photo sphere for visual story-telling : Nexus 4


Photography and Visual Story-telling have undergone tremendous changes over the last hundred years. From a single or a series of  images printed in newspapers, to online slide-shows, and to a convergence of motion picture and still photography, the world has changed a lot. Today, a visual story-teller has plethora of options to tell a story. From info-graphics, audio slide-shows, interactive timelines, and to DSLR cinematography, the boundary of multimedia story presentation is constantly expanding. Every new invention or technological advancement could provide us with new way communicating visually.

When I first began publishing my multimedia work online, the Soundslides software to create online audio slide-shows was already popular. It was also the time when photographers had started to experiment with HD video capabilities of Digital SLR cameras (Mainly due to Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 which turned out to be a game changer). I had made use of Soundslides in my multimedia project, Fistful of Dreams. And I had produced my first documentary film, Err-Bane Truth, using my Canon EOS 5D Mark 2 DSLR camera.

 The biggest boost that technology has done to photography is to make it accessible and democratic to anyone who wants to use it. Apart from getting the option to use various media or forms to present a story visually, technological advancement also led to inexpensive photography devices like Mobile phone cameras. The photographic quality of mobile phones continue to improve day by day. When I am not on any a commissioned assignment or a self-funded documentary project, I rarely carry my heavy Digital SLR. During my personal travels and holidays, I have most often relied on my compact camera – Canon Powershot S100 – or my mobile phone. Even on my honeymoon I used a compact Nikon Coolpix to frame memories in Malaysia, the result of which was a travel music video named Langkawi Memories.

Some of my personal favorite photographs have been out of serendipity in daily life, rather than from any planned photographic trip. And in such cases it has always been a mobile phone that was used to frame images. These Mobile Phone Memories rarely get printed. They take up space on my computer, and some images do get shared online on social networks or my website. This brings an important question : Isn’t the consumption of photographs now largely digital rather than being in a printed form?

The question hints that the number of people are increasingly seeing images digitally on a screen. Even the newspapers have now online presence. An iconic image today could be seen online in almost real-time on mobile devices. One need not wait for the next day’s morning newspaper any more to view the photographs first hand. When the objective of the photographs is largely visual communication, then indeed the consumption of the image by the audience is increasingly taking place digitally on a screen. The printed image today is a novelty, it does exist but only when the objective is not just visual communication. Holding a print photograph is an experience.  Hanging a framed photograph is more about love of art and collecting it, than about communication in mass media.

As a visual story-teller and as a multimedia producer, any new developments in creating or sharing visuals digitally on a screen does excite me. I am currently fascinated with my latest mobile phone device. It is a Google Nexus 4 Android phone and it was gifted to me by my wife on my birthday. I was impatient to lay my hands on it. Apart from it being a great smart phone with the latest Android operating system, the most interesting part in the phone for me is its camera. At 8 Mega pixels, it may first sound like a normal mid-range mobile phone camera. What stands out is its ability to shoot 360 degree panoramic (stitched) photograph, which Google refers to as Photo Sphere. Panoramic images have been there for a longtime. Digital camera panoramas are always a stitch of a series of overlapping horizontal or vertical images. The resulting stitched panorama when viewed always had a heavy distortion, and probably couldn’t communicate the real experience of the photographer viewing that scene. The beauty of Nexus 4‘s Photo Sphere is that it not only lets you shoot a 360 degree image but also lets you view it in that 360 degree view.

The example photograph that I have shared on top is a Nexus 4 Photo Sphere shot at my kitchen. One can notice that in that image my model (my wife!) is at multiple locations. This is because the Photo Sphere is composed of stitched images that are all made at different snapshots of time, and is not always a true/real still photograph representing a scene at a given moment of time.  This can lead to whole new world of debate of ethics in making panoramic images in visual story-telling. Whether a true panorama or a stitched image, it can’t be denied that Photo Sphere does provide a new way of sharing images of the world around us. It also adds another way of telling multimedia story. Landscape photographers will definitely love this 360 degree panorama.  If I am standing at the center of a landmark site, then the closest experience of how I saw the place could be better had by my audience through a 360 degree panorama than a normal single image, isn’t it?

I am already thinking of application of Nexus4’s Photo Spheres. I am currently thinking of projects that could make use of Photo Sphere to tell a story. Landscape photography may be the first thought that comes to applying this. But, I think we can creatively use it in other subjects like portraiture and documentary. I will post more on this subject when I start realizing in Photo Spheres some of the ideas that currently on my mind.

In the beginning, only Google+ website provided tools to properly view a Photo Sphere online. But, now people are able to embed Photo Spheres in other websites using widgets or plugins. My website makes use of a free WordPress plugin called WP Photo Sphere to display Photo Sphere. There is a growing community of photographers online who are increasingly using Nexus 4 to shoot Photo Spheres. One such community can be found on Google+.

Do you have a Nexus 4 or any other device that lets you shoot Photo Spheres? Do share with others your thoughts on the application or subject of 360 degree panoramas and Photo Spheres.








Nishant Ratnakar
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Evan Rapoport
8 years ago

Really exciting ideas of the potential of Photo Sphere for storytelling. I’m happy to see you’re enjoying the product. Please share your ideas with me anytime. Best way is through Google+.

8 years ago
Reply to  Evan Rapoport

Thanks Evan. I will reach you via Google+ with my ideas. I hope that there is a faster evolution or upgrade Photo Sphere in Nexus 4. I see that from my initial usage of Nexus 4, that a full 360 degree Photo Sphere works best in wide open spaces than small indoor locations.