Amanda's View: Photo Sphere

By Amanda Knox
 
The first Photo Sphere I ever saw transported me to the Valle de Cocora. I was standing in the middle of rolling hills so green they looked radioactive. I turned around myself, slack-jawed and gazing up at impossibly tall palm trees with bright white trunks and pom-pom heads. The sky was a happy Pantone 292, stretching out forever, pierced only by a burst of white gold that was the sun. It was a scene straight out of The Lorax, but all green and white and real.
 
I didn’t even know there was a place in the world that looked like the Valle de Cocora. I had never seen anything even close, and I’ve traveled to Germany, Mexico, Italy, Canada, Japan… And this wasn’t like looking it up on Google and looking through the postcard perfect images. This Photo Sphere felt like stepping into the paradise frozen in time. And it was. This was from Chris’s trip to Colombia—a moment he documented in every direction.
 
Sounds complicated, but really, a Photo Sphere is just a 360° picture composed of about twenty regular pictures stitched together. If you have a Google/Android, LG, or HTC phone, the software is already built into your camera app, called Photo Sphere, VR Panorama, and Panorama 360 respectively. If you have Samsung, it’s an optional download called Surround Shot. Check out this tutorial to see how to use it.
 
Once you’ve created a Photo Sphere, you can view it on the screen of your phone, scrolling and zooming around the picture by swiping and pinching, but the real beauty of these images is the opportunity for immersion. All you need is a Google Cardboard—a super cheap ($15) VR headset that you insert your phone into—and the free Google Cardboard app, that puts your Photo Sphere images into VR viewing mode. That’s how Chris transported me to the Valle de Cocora while I was standing in the living room of his apartment in Seattle.
 
Since then, I’ve become an enthusiastic Photo-Sphere-er. At the end of July, Chris and I took a walk through the Japanese garden in the Arboretum. It was sunny and warm, the garden was lush, the water was glistening. Even the koi fish and painted turtles were frolicking and paddling around like California wake boarders on spring break. Standing on the bridge, I took the Photo Sphere attached to this article. If you have a Google Cardboard, feel free to download it and give it a gander. It’s not perfect—there are some stitching errors where the program tried to piece together photos I took revolving around myself, as opposed to around a perfectly fixed point. There are also some vanishing ghosts—where the koi fish moved between shots. But even with those imperfections, the experience is remarkable. It’s the difference between “Wish you were here!” and “Welcome! Come on in!” 

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