A photographer from Singapore has created a navigable 360° video of part of a tour he made of North Korea. Aram Pan has set himself a project, which he calls DPRK, to make a documentary that 'captures the essence of North Korea through the use of 360° panoramas, photos and videos.' Through collaboration with the authorities in both North and South Korea, Aram has been able to gain extensive access to the usually closed country and has been able to tour popular sites as well as meet and photograph local people. He points out that his project is non-political and that he aims to steer clear of controversial subject matter or discussion, as he intends to use his photography to encourage a better understanding of the country so that 'fear can be removed and friendships can be made.'

The 20 minute video is filmed entirely as a 360 degree panorama, and viewers can scroll around the footage to choose where they want to look in the scene. Aram shot with a modified GoPro camera fitted with a 280 degree lens that was supplied by Japanese fisheye lens company Entaniya, while the footage was stitched together using Video Stitch software.

Aram says, 'It took about 2 days to render all the files on my 4 year old PC, converting the fisheye videos into equirectangular videos, then go through the footage for the scenes I wanted. The video was edited in Premiere Pro.' The video covers parts of the North Eastern part of the country on a tour with a company called Young Pioneer Tours. It shows popular tourist sites as well as other less well known locations – including the first foreign footage inside a local bus.

For his stills he uses a Nikon D810 with the 24-70mm f/2.8 wide angle zoom, but he says he is looking for something a little more discrete. 'I'm seriously considering a mirrorless option. The locals can be very wary of foreigners snapping away at them, so mirrorless cameras look very unobtrusive compared to a D810. I'm still not sure which option to go with yet but I suspect I'll divorce my D810 if the right mirrorless comes my way. I stick out like a sore thumb in NK with the huge D810 around my neck. I get spotted a mile away.'

The Senior Lieutenant at Panmunjom JSA was so intrigued by samples of my 360 panoramas that he dropped everything he was doing to jump up my bus and ride with me all the way out. Photo and caption by Aram Pan

Aram specialises in shooting 360° panoramas, and wanted to shoot one at the Panmunjom Joint Security Area. He broke the ice with the border guards by showing them examples of his panoramas on his iPhone. 'Immediately everyone left their posts and crowded around to play with my iPhone. Something like that doesn't happen every day and I was glad to play even a small part in easing tensions. After that, everyone returned to their posts and I got this shot.'

Aram has been invited to hold an exhibition of his work at a Unification Event in Seoul in September, which he says is about building bridges between the North and South of the peninsular and promoting understanding. 'My project isn't about politics and it is simply a window into an unknown world. Both the North and the South have shown immense support for my project and to me, having both their blessings is really what matters. I'm not concerned about what others may think because ultimately the Korean peninsula stands to gain the most through peace'.

You can see more of Aram's photos on his website and his Facebook page.

Aram's statement about his DPRK project

The DPRK 360 project is an independent project that aims to showcase the many aspects of DPRK (a.k.a. North Korea) through photography. All attempts will be made so as not address any past, present or future political issues that may be sensitive. The purpose of this project is to encourage understanding of the country and uncover the mysteries that lay hidden. Through better understanding, fear can be removed and friendships can be made. Most of the images will not undergo any instagram, lomo or artistic filters to make them moody or emotional. There will also be interactive 360 degree panoramic images of places across the DPRK.

This project is an initiative by me (Aram Pan), a Singapore based virtual tour photographer. This project is entirely funded by myself and some sponsors and I'm not paid a single cent to generate any propaganda. I plan to make regular trips to DPRK to photograph more of the country so any sponsorships or grants will be deeply appreciated. I do not wish that my photos or panoramas be used in politically heated articles as it may jeopardize my project. I have made the first baby steps in gaining their friendship and trust so I will not do anything that will disrupt this friendship.

The spirit of this project can be found in a DPRK folk song 'White Dove Fly High'. The white dove is a universal symbol of peace and has been chosen to be the symbol of this project.

In case anyone wonders where my political loyalties are, I love my country of Singapore as it is my dear home and I fully support my current government and its leaders.

Aram Pan has been a photographer since 2003. He went into full time commercial panorama production in 2007 and has produced over 3000 panoramas for real estates, hospitals, tourism, industrial, aerospace and many other industries.