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The 360-Degree Selfi

Inexpensive cameras that make spherical images are opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories.

Seasonal changes to vegetation fascinate Koen Hufkens. So last fall Hufkens, an ecological researcher at Harvard, devised a system to continuously broadcast images from a Massachusetts forest to a website called VirtualForest.io. And because he used a camera that creates 360°pictures, visitors can do more than just watch the feed; they can use their mouse cursor (on a computer) or finger (on a smartphone or tablet) to pan around the image in a circle or scroll up to view the forest canopy and down to see the ground. If they look at the image through a virtual-reality headset they can rotate the photo by moving their head, intensifying the illusion that they are in the woods.

 

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.