Surround yourself

It's hard to describe what exactly changes when you view 360 images through a VR headset - it's really something you have to see to believe. With my field of view entirely occupied by the beach, the issue of wide-angle distortion was removed, nullifying my overall sense of detachment. Even though I wasn't the person capturing the scene, I felt like I was actually back in the scene (the low-ish resolution of the Galaxy Gear VR notwithstanding, of course).

It's time to acknowledge something, though. Even though the 360-degree image took on a new life when I wore the headset, it doesn't really replace a set of 'normal' photographs for me - but they do complement each other rather well. The 360-degree view might be as close as we can get to the raw experience of a new setting, but there's still something to be said for either capturing your own interpretation of a scene, or interpreting someone else's.

Now, at the risk of sounding highly hypocritical, here's a wide-angle shot taken at eye-level of an overall scene in front of me (at least I hiked up the side of a mountain first).

Nikon D810 with Nikon AF-S 16-35mm F4G @ 16mm | F11 | 1/200 sec | ISO 64.

It's a little bleak for a postcard since we didn't visit Iceland when everything was a little more green, but I liked this image for the sense of scale exacerbated by the wide-angle lens (click through to see people looking like ants on the lower-right side of the frame). Even with this still image providing a decidedly wider field of view compared to the images from the black sand beach, I ended up preferring the still image to the 360-degree view as presented on a two-dimensional screen:

And also as before, once I looked through the headset, a 360-degree capture of this scene made a whole lot more sense. But I'm still not convinced of its usefulness as a replacement for traditional stills - but as an augmentation? Definitely.

What's next, then?

Frankly, your guess is as good as mine. I am certain of one thing, though - the style of photographs I take, particularly photographs I take for myself, precludes the possibility of replacing my arsenal of traditional cameras with a VR device. This is true even if (and when) VR capture devices and viewers go 'high def,' as more often than not, my interpretation of the scene in front of me is just as important as my being at that place in the scene itself.

Again, that's not to say I wouldn't consider adding VR to my kit, as opposed to replacing anything - here's another example.

Nikon D810 with a Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.4G @ F4 | 1/1000 sec | ISO 64. Photo by Carey Rose

The above image was also taken outside the town of Vik, during morning light at a cabin where we stayed the previous night. For me, the colors, the quality of light, and most of all, that dog (which was incredibly smelly) are enough to jog my memory of that place, and I liked the overall feel of this image to boot. Here's a 360 image taken from a similar vantage point the evening before.

In this case, I can't really argue that you get a better overall sense of place from the 360-degree view, regardless of what device you use to view it. But without my perspective, without a sense of purposeful composition and without a sense of what was important for me to include in the scene and what wasn't - well, I frankly find it a less emotionally engaging experience than the much more 'limited' still photo from my DSLR.