We interviewed Sam Rohn, 360° VR Panoramic Photographer based in New York City. He shares how he utilizes our flagship model RICOH THETA Z1 for his work as well as his tips and tricks for shooting beautiful 360-degree photos.
360 photography life
Can you share how you got started shooting 360-degree photos?
I have been shooting photographic panoramas since the mid 1990s when I started shooting on film as a location scout for film and TV, this quickly evolved into a strong interest in digital photography and by 1998 or so immersive QTVR panoramas shot on early digital cameras, and this new technology fascinated me right away, by 2005 or so I was mostly shooting professional 360 full time, and 360° photography continues to fascinate me to this day.
How do you use 360-degree cameras for your work?
Mostly I shoot 360° panoramas for various advertising projects and virtual tours, but I have also shot 360 for journalism, editorial, weddings, events, etc, much of this has been with larger DSLR camera but THETA Z1 is particularly well suited for live events and journalism.
You’ve been using THETA cameras for quite some time. When did you first start using them?
I have been using THETA cameras since first THETA in 2013, resolution and image quality was somewhat limited on earlier models, but Z1 DNG files properly developed in Adobe Lightroom have really amazing colors and detail, and are comparable to DSLR results from a few years back.
Wow- eight years! Has the past year changed your business with 360-degree photography due to COVID-19?
COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness of the value of 360° tours for many clients, in real estate and healthcare where it is valuable for people who could not visit locations in person, and for museums and other cultural institutions for virtual school trips, remote learning and other educational uses.
Shoot by Dual Fisheye Plug-in: This is a townhouse in Brooklyn, Here I am using the Dual Fisheye Plugin which allows me to balance the interior and exterior light and view through the windows for a very natural and pleasing result.
The places and scenes you photograph are always amazing. How do you find those shooting locations?
A good location for 360 should have at least one strong point of interest as well as other interesting details all around to keep the viewer engaged, but the key to great 360° or any other photography is always lighting, some locations can be boring at mid day but fascinating at dusk, other locations might be very well lit and photogenic at night or not, on some days right after a storm the light can be magic in some places but another day the same location can be boring, I think it takes patience and practice and experience to find and capture the best light.
Shoot by Dual Fisheye Plug-in: This is a rooftop in Manhattan with a great skyline view just after sunset with a nice partially cloudy sky, here I was assigned just to shoot a normal still time lapse of the view and shot this panorama for myself.
Can you share recommended shooting settings and tips for the following three scenes: night view, indoors, and outside in daytime?
For single exposure DNG night scenes I keep ISO as low as possible (to minimize noise in recovered shadows) and use a long exposure being careful to not overexpose the highlights, HDR-DNG mode from Dual Fisheye Plug-in also works very well with many night scenes as well and can reveal great detail that may not be visible in single exposure, and I always use a very sturdy support (like Nodal Ninja Travel Pole on a sturdy base) for maximum sharpness, as a wobbly support can result in blurry images with longer exposures.
Shoot by Dual Fisheye Plug-in: This is the New York Public Library on 1st night of NYC COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020, normally there is much more traffic and tourists here but this night the city was empty.
Most interiors with no people work well with HDR-DNG mode from the Dual Fisheye Plugin, with this plugin exposure is mostly automatically controlled and gives great result, but if I am shooting single exposure DNG in manual control I will use low ISO and an exposure time appropriate to not overexpose highlights, if there are people in the scene I will use higher ISO and keep exposure time at 1/30 or faster to avoid blurring moving people etc, and I always use a solid support base as described above to avoid both camera shake and the possibility of tipping over and damaging the camera.
This is an old used bookshop in Manhattan, I shot this as a personal documentation history project of old shops in NYC as many have closed in the last years, this shop has a lot of character and interesting detail all around so it made a good panorama.
Outside in daytime
For most daytime exteriors I will typically shoot single exposure DNG, as always keep ISO as low as possible for best shadow and highlight recovery, shutter speed might depend on if you have moving objects like people or cars or not, HDR-DNG mode of Dual Fisheye Plug-in can work well in many daylight scenes as well but can also cause “ghosting” of moving objects if you are in a busy area, and as always a solid camera support is important.
Thank you for sharing these tips. They are very helpful!
Dual Fisheye Plug-in
We know you are utilizing Z1 and Dual Fisheye plug-in* for your works. What kind of scenes do you use the Dual Fisheye plug-in for?
*Among the many THETA plugins, the most downloaded one in the world* is the DualFisheye Plug-in . It was personally developed by a Japanese THETA user, Ichi Hirota. The HDR-DNG mode in Dual Fisheye Plug-in allows easy generation of a single HDR-DNG image in THETA Z1, enabling 360-degree image editing with a wide dynamic range. So, it gets a lot of attention, especially from panoramic photographers all over the world. Please visit this blog to learn the detailed tips and tricks.
I mostly use the Dual Fisheye plug-in for static (no movement) interiors, although I have to admit it does a fantastic job de-ghosting moving objects, so I sometimes experiment in exterior scenes as well, but in general the less movement in the scene the better for any kind of HDR bracketing or burst mode stacking.
I almost always use HDR-DNG 9, but in some cases where I might need to manually blend in a single exposure to “de-ghost” moving people or objects I might use bracketing, or I might use burst mode to decrease noise in higher ISO shots with RAW+ app in situations where noise free shadow recovery is more of an issue than overall dynamic range.
Shoot by Dual Fisheye Plug-in: This is the Cloud Gate which is a public artwork in Chicago, normally people are allowed close to the Cloud Gate and there are always crowds but the plaza was closed due to COVID-19 or I would have shot much closer, here I shot with Dual Fisheye Plug-in at dusk “blue hour” just after sunset which is always beautiful light.
*Here is an article to learn about the latest updates for RAW functions of THETA Z1.
*New version of Dual Fisheye Plug-in, ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ has been released! With the new ‘Dual Fisheye RAW’ plug-in, the shooting efficiency is improved by reducing the time from 20 seconds to less than 1 second for 9 shots. Have a look to learn about the new Dual Fisheye RAW plug-in here.
Can you share your favorite THETA accessory?
My favorite accessory for Z1 is the Nodal Ninja Travel Pole, this is basically a tall sturdy monopod that extends to maximum 3 meter height and breaks down to 2 51CM sections. As a base for the travel pole I typically use a Leofoto LS-223C small tripod.
Wow, it’s surprisingly long! What is the final result?!
Here it is! This is a Penthouse in Brooklyn where I was shooting a 360 tour and still images, here I am using the 3 meter travel pole to put the Z1 out over the balcony edge for a simulated Drone shot with no Drone.
Thank you so much, Sam! We are looking forward to seeing more of your amazing images taken with THETA!
In our next article, we’ll share more about how he utilizes 360 photography in his profession.
Credit: Sam Rohn ( www.samrohn.com )
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