If you’re a THETA user, you may have seen this image…

This is the one that appears first when the THETA+ app is activated. Since it’s a very nice image, many people may think it was taken by a professional photographer, but in fact it was shot by Kazuaki Nakajima (@snow_j) who has a regular job outside photography.

Mr. Nakajima is one of the few THETA users who has been using it since the first model was released. He was already posting high quality THETA photos on Instagram even when the camera was not yet widely known.

Our staff paid attention to his posts and invited him to be an ambassador and to contribute content. He kindly agreed and has created many cool works over the last few years from 2016.

We interviewed him and asked about how he got interested in THETA in the first place. He also shared his tips for shooting outdoors, especially when travelling and camping.

Mr. Nakajima and his THETA

First, please introduce yourself. Do you usually work with photos or videos?

My job doesn’t relate to photography or video, but I’ve always liked to take photos and edit videos. I’m originally from Nagano and lived close to nature, so I’ve always loved playing outdoors ever since I was a kid. My father seemed to like shooting photos and videos also. There was a big VHS camcorder in our house, and I was often shooting with it. I guess it was natural for us to save our memories in videos. My father used to take pictures with a big camera on family trips all the time.

I moved to Tokyo when I entered university. I felt that society would become more IT focused from now on, so I studied programming by majoring in information and communication. But before I entered university, my dream was to be a hairdresser for a nursing home, so I took night school courses to become a hairdresser and got a qualification as well as a license to be a care worker. In the end, I couldn’t get the job I was hoping for, but I was already working at an architecture firm on a part-time basis, so I just started working there full-time.Now I’m designing architecture for a living.

How did you find out about THETA?

When I got a Gopro, I got more and more into gadgets and electronics, so I spent plenty of time reading about such things. When I found out about THETA, I thought “wow, such an interesting camera will be released soon!”

What made you purchase it?

We had heavy snow that winter. I was planning to go snowboarding, but I couldn’t go anywhere due to the snow. So I went to buy THETA to relieve my stress (laughs). Soon after buying one, I went straight to Yoyogi Park and took a photo of a snowman someone made. There were other ultra-wide-angle cameras available in those days, but the THETA form factor and the fact that can be attached to a monopod attracted me a lot.

Looking back at this first shot, it would have been better to put THETA on the ground.The snowman has the same color as the snowy park, so it blends in and is difficult to see. By putting THETA on the ground and shooting from below, the snowman would pop up more against the blue background.

Traveling with THETA

What’s the best shot you took when you went to Spain on holiday?

Well, it’s difficult to choose but I’d say it is this shot in the Sagrada Familia. The stained glass windows were all different colors , and the light projected onto the ceiling was very beautiful. When shooting inside a building, I look for a position in the middle of the space.

Do you check the image on the spot after shooting?

Yes, I often take one trial shot and then take a few more. When I don’t have time, I also use the plugin self-timer mode.

The light shines so beautifully into the Sagrada Familia. Did you do anything special in taking the photo?

I shoot a bit underexposed when there’s a lot of contrast since overexposed images cannot be easily adjusted afterwards. I shoot in auto mode first, and then shoot again while reducing the exposure if it’s too bright. I also use HDR sometimes, but I usually take photos handheld on a monopod, so HDR shooting isn’t the best for that since the photo can come out blurry. So, I often shoot in auto mode after all.

Do you have any other great shots?

This shot in Park Guell. I checked the positions of the pillars and the stones on the ceiling, and stood THETA in the middle of the room. I took a test shot to check the composition, making sure my position and pose were natural. If I blend in with something or I’m not visible enough, I retake the shot.

Your work always has a human subject somewhere in the frame to great effect. The THETA+ app intro image is very cool as well! Where did you shoot that?

That photo was taken on the coast in Kanto.

How did you find this spot?

I found this place while on a camping trip. Actually, this is not a campsite. When I go camping, I try to find places to set up my tent outside of usual campsites because I prefer peace and quiet. My friends and I often look for places on Google Maps that look good and also allow tents.

In fact, this photo is not taken around sunset but actually early morning. We went camping with about 10 people, but only 5 people wanted to wake up that early in the morning. As a picture, I think it was well balanced with five people. When the tide came up, everyone’s silhouettes were reflected in the water.

By the way, how do you share THETA photos with your friends?

I usually get my friends to install the basic THETA app and transfer them all at once straight from THETA to their phones.

What’s your favorite shot during your travels besides the ones you took in Spain?

I like the starry sky photo I took on Mauna Kea on the Big Island of Hawaii. I rented a car and we went by ourselves without using a tour. One of the reasons I like it is that no one else was in the photo.

<Starry sky shot in Little Planet mode>

Wow, the starry sky looks so beautiful! Is there anything you keep in mind when shooting the stars?

I’m very careful about unwanted light sources when I photograph the stars. When shooting with an ordinary SLR, we can avoid unwanted lights by aiming the lens toward the sky. But with THETA, everything will be captured, so I try to hide unwanted light sources by standing in front of them.

There’s nothing we can do about the moon, so I recommend shooting during the new moon if possible. It’s quite difficult to time the new moon when traveling, but I planned for it when I visited Mauna Kea Island in Hawaii!

By the way, how long is the shutter speed for stars?

First, I shoot at about 10 seconds and then take several attempts to adjust the brightness. It can be done in about 5 seconds sometimes. I try to keep the ISO as low as possible so that images will not be noisy.

How high do you hold THETA when shooting?

The sky is the main subject, so I keep THETA low. If THETA is in a high position, the ground will take up much of the frame, so it is better to shoot from the lowest position if possible. I recommend shooting this way because our silhouettes will also be in frame against the starry sky.

By the way, when shooting while standing THETA on the ground, I use this tripod head so that I will not fall down even in strong wind.

Are there any recommended star spots in Japan?

I’ve shot a lot of starry skies in Okinawa as well. This was taken on Tokashiki Island.

Other than stars, I recommend the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. One time, my friend and I missed the last train, and as we were stuck there, I decided to take a picture of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office in Shinjuku. I think it’s a great photo as there was no one there late at night.

The Great Outdoors with THETA

You often post photos of the sea. What kind of activities do you shoot there?

I mainly do SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard) as well as skin diving. I wanted to shoot from an interesting point of view, so I used to shoot with a Gopro held in my mouth during SUP. I did the same with THETA once, but it just turned out that my face looks huge so I stopped doing that. Basically, the SUP board has a screw hole where a monopod can be attached, so I shoot that way.

Do you use an underwater housing for THETA during SUP?

When I’m out on the water, sunlight reflects off the housing and creates white glare, so I don’t use it. I only use it underwater. If the board flips, it’s over (laughs). So, I try to bring THETA with me on SUP when there are almost no waves.

<A set of THETA gear to take on a trip>

So what do you watch out for when shooting underwater?

I try to avoid having myself in the part of the frame where the joints of the case are. Also, I keep in mind not to hold THETA so that the lens is facing the water surface in a way that the sunlight shines directly into it. Underwater, the light only comes in from above, so if I shoot with one lens facing the water surface, the image would be dark on the side of the opposite lens.

Do you shoot videos underwater?

Yes, I often shoot videos underwater. The fish move around so it is difficult to shoot still images. So, I cut stills from video or shoot in intervals.

You mentioned that you often go snowboarding. What do you keep in mind when shooting on the slopes?

I try to make sure the videos are as stable as possible so that I don’t have to make so much effort to decide the viewpoint during editing. When shooting myself, I make sure that THETA is always in front of me, while when shooting with a friend of mine I try to keep it between us. It looks dynamic when shooting from the feet, but it can be hard to tell how I am sliding, so I often put THETA in front. Basically, I mainly shoot my friends or myself while tackling the slopes.

As you’re mainly shooting friends, wouldn’t an ordinary wide-angle action camera be easier to shoot with?

Actually, no. When I shoot with my THETA 360-degree camera I also get to be in the video, so that it makes it more fun for me.

No other cameras can capture this kind of composition.

It seems difficult to shoot yourself and look cool while snowboarding! Is it a challenge?

I sometimes grind on rails or steel pipes. I was snowboarding while shooting with THETA on a monopod but I fell down, hit THETA on that pipe, and broke its cover (laughs).

Oh that sounds terrible… Please, everyone, be careful when shooting while snowboarding.

Editing Videos

How do you edit 360-degree images?

I edit all the pictures with a smartphone, but use a PC for videos.

How much time do you spend on editing?

I edit in transit, such as on long drives home at the end of my trips (of course while my friend is driving). I made this snowboard video in about an hour.

Do you edit THETA videos combined with videos taken by other devices?

Each camera has its own taste. I don’t really put the videos together because I don’t like how the style changes with each cut.

How long do you shoot videos at one time?

Basically about 15 seconds. Once, I shot a long sequence while riding a lift, but usually I shoot short clips one by one because it’s easier to edit. About 3 minutes of shooting at one go is my maximum.

Final Thoughts

According to you, what is the beauty of THETA, Mr. Nakajima?

For me, the main appeal is that we can capture the natural atmosphere of the place as it is. It’s a unique way to capture moments rather than the typical picture created by calling out for a group photo. When I look back on memories, I think one of its greatest values is the ability to remember not only one perspective but the entire surrounding environment as well. It’s nice to be able to look back at the whole space with friends together on a trip.

What is more valuable about THETA, the ability to save memories or to create works of art?

For me, it’s about both. However, photos tend to be more for memories and videos are more of a work of art.

How have your feelings changed regarding the appeal and value of THETA after using THETA for 4-5 years?

At first, I purchased it as a toy, but as I’ve used various THETA models for years, I recognise them as cameras because the image quality has improved, the video function has improved, and the plug-in functions were enhanced as well. It is also great that they can be used underwater with a housing.

Regarding editing, I myself improved my editing techniques beyond circular styles like Little Planet, gaining the ability to cut images into a semicircle, or make video that is flattened into a wide-angle perspective.

Thank you for sharing all your stories about you with THETA.

We look forward to seeing your wonderful work!