Can Photo Spheres Change the Way We Experience The World?

Logo for Android Photo Sphere Jelly Bean 4.2On October 29th, 2012 Google announced the Android Jelly Bean 4.2 operating system as well as a slew of new Android Nexus devices (Nexus 4, Nexus 7 and Nexus 10). One of the key photography focused features in 4.2 that was showcased was called “Photo Sphere“, which effectively allows you to capture immersive 360 degree panoramas (covering both horizontal and vertical elements). However currently, there are already other applications for mobile devices that allow you to take amazing standard panoramas but the end results are always the same….a flat image that makes it somewhat difficult  to really get a feel for what you are looking at.

Android Photo Sphere taken on a Galaxy Nexus at Horse Shoe Bend

Android Photo Sphere taken at Horse Shoe Bend during sunset when viewed as a flat image

This is where Android’s Photo Sphere takes things to the next level. If you have ever used the “Street View” feature on Google Maps, you will have an idea of how a Photo Sphere works, which isn’t by accident considering the feature was created by members of the Google Maps Street View Team. The basic premise is that the viewer is in the center of the action, allowing them to experience a location as if they were standing on the very spot the Photo Sphere was taken. When looking at a PS, you can use your mouse (or finger on a mobile device) to rotate around the image, constantly changing your perspective. Want to look up at the sky as if you were there? No problem! Want to see what was behind the photographer? Easily done.

Up until now, the only way to view a Photo Sphere properly was on Google+ or on an Android mobile device running the 4.2 software (or higher). I am happy to announce that I have been working with the amazing team of engineers over at Android and you can now embed a slide show viewer onto your website to showcase your very own Photo Spheres to the world (Instructions have been removed by Google, but will be back soon).

*Use your mouse to click & move around the Photo Spheres below

Over the course of the last six months, I have used my Android Google Nexus & Nexus 4 smart phones to capture Photo Spheres all over the globe including locations in Jordan, Australia, California, Utah and Colorado. While mobile photography technology still has room for improvement, I am constantly surprised by the detail captured in a PS. While my professional images will always be the best way that I can showcase a given scene or moment, I have truly enjoyed creating and sharing Photo Spheres as they tend to offer a very immersive experience to the viewer…showcasing the world all around me, rather then just a small but very specific moment that is found in my work as a photographer.

Viewing a Photo Sphere from within Google+

A Photo Sphere of Little Petra in Jordan from within Google+

This year I have numerous upcoming trips (Iceland, Africa, Thailand, Myanmar and others) and you can be sure that I will be capturing Photo Spheres along these adventures. As Google and Android continue to improve the software with PS and mobile photography technology continues to advance at the rapid rate that we have seen over the last 36 months, things are only going to get better and better. Be sure to look for an in-depth tutorial (that I am co-writing with the Android team) on how to best capture your own Photo Spheres as well as other major announcements in the coming months.

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  • Elijah Lynn

    This is fantastic, works pretty smooth too!

  • peytonhale

    I’m infamous :)  These came out awesome!  Besides the minor distortions in the stitching process, the detail and quality are amazing!

  • evanrapoport

    Beautiful photo spheres, Colby! It’s an honor working with you on this project and to have someone with your talent using our product!

    • ColbyBrown

      evanrapoport – Always a pleasure my friend! Looking forward to a bright future. Hopefully catch you in Mountain View during one of my two trips there this month :)

  • sfbubu76

    Beautiful, but, there is black triangle (bug ?) in the desert sphere when I turn to the right, in the sky…

    • ColbyBrown

      sfbubu76 – That is not a bug, but simply a spot that I missed in creating the photo sphere. Sometimes I am shooting in harsh sunlight, causing the screen on my phone to be hard to view. Atleast that is my excuse :)

      • Dallas Edge

        Colby, this link is no longer active. please help me add this feature to my site. It looks amazing!

  • ualeriano

    Does not work with nexus 7!!!

    • ColbyBrown

      ualeriano – The Nexus 7 does not have a front facing camera, so you can’t take photo spheres. If you are talking about viewing this blog post, it should work using Chrome for Android in desktop mode, but I will double check on that.

  • moldor

    I so want this on my 4G SGS3…..

    • ColbyBrown

      moldor – I hear Samsung is bringing their “Photo Orb”, which is very similar to the GS3

    • jonman4257

      moldor If you root your phone you can install the new photosphere and Google Gallery on your GS3! I just did it last Friday and it works fine. It’s pretty awesome.

  • jonman4257

    This is pretty awesome. How did you create the photo gallery with the panos? It is great.

  • photojpl

    Nice Colby.  I tried to embed a panosphere on my site and I see a black circle at top and bottom.
    Do you know why?  When I look at it in G+ it looks fine.

  • iwehmeier

    Since g+ recognizes the pano/photo sphere concept, is there a way to get it to recognize a pano head created pano for embedded viewing in g+?

  • kronpano

    I like that kind of gallery.
    The only thing I thought is missing is the possibility to see the map. So I made up my gallery javascript which allows you to show or hide a map as well.
    Somebody might be interested – if you are have a look here

    • Ben Zvan

      kronpano I like the idea, but it doesn’t seem to work when I use my own user ID and album ID. All I get is previews at the bottom with nothing in the photosphere spot but blackness.

      • Bernd Kronmueller

        Haven’t had a look at it for a while so all I can think of is that you album must be public. I had feedback from some people that it works (or at least worked) about a month ago. If you still need help let me know.

    • spage1707

      kronpano Hi Kronpano,
      I checked out the link that you have posted and I am seeking help on how you do that exactly. Please help me out. 
      Shohn Page

      • Bernd Kronmueller

        Just sent you an email to see if I can help. I am this kronpano guy.

        • Dallas Edge

          i want to do this too please help me too

          • Bernd Kronmueller

            The source html and javascript is on the web site above. Have you downloaded that and played with it? It should just be a matter of changing and album and user ID to get it to work.
            On how to get this data – google is your friend!!
            Or what seems to be the problem?

          • Dallas Edge

            i have googled high and low
            found several code snippets that i have tried but all failed except one. Of the one that worked i couldnt see anywhere in the code to change anything to my albums.
            plus i am a novice and certainly no coding expert

    • Vincent D. Bautista

      Hi Bernd great work. I figured out how to use your script I love it!. However I can’t seem to get it to work with my account. I just get a black screen. If you would be so kind to help me out.

      • Bernd Kronmueller

        Are those albums public? The album needs to be shared public to use the script.

        • Vincent D. Bautista

          I figured it out. Yep the image needs to be public.
          Also I had to make sure there is a map linked and a comment. Since the Jscript requires both. If neither are available, it will come up blank.

          Thanks again!

  • prajapatikrishna021

    Photospheres on my Nexus 4 have black circles on the top and bottom. How come these don’t?

    • stuffman

      prajapatikrishna021When taking photospheres, the best technique is to imagine your camera is mounted to an invisible tripod that when it rotates, the camera’s lens is kept in the same position in space. If you hold the camera away from your body and simply rotate your body around as you shoot, you will introduce distortion and not be able to fill in the top and bottom portions. Instead, walk in circles around the camera so it’s pretty much staying in place.

    • thatadamguy

      prajapatikrishna021 holding the phone vertically can also significantly help :)

  • SamRubin

    I cannot figure out how to get the “slider” across the bottom to display to show the other photospheres. The page that is linked seems to have a tool to do that but it does not work. Can anyone assist?

  • MinHeo
    • thatadamguy

      MinHeo Sorry, please try going to

      • MinHeo

        thatadamguy I read that article several times, but it’s too difficult for me as a basic programer. I think there should be step by step instructions. :( Anyway thanks again for your post.

        • thatadamguy

          MinHeo thatadamguy Ah, no problem :)  If you want to simply embed a photo sphere, you can find that photo sphere on Google Maps, then select the EMBED option from there, no programming knowledge needed!

        • MinHeo

          thatadamguy I’m really sorry, but I can’t find EMBED option. There is a link, but no embed code, Im afraid.

        • thatadamguy

          MinHeo thatadamguy Ah, I missed a step.  Click on the link icon, and then there’s embed code right inside that window that you can cut and paste.

        • MinHeo

          thatadamguy If you mean the box lower left side of this image, then it gives only links, no embed code. 

        • thatadamguy

          MinHeo thatadamguy Sorry about the issues at present.  We’re exploring options to make this easier, so please stay tuned :)

        • Ben Zvan

          thatadamguy MinHeo I’d be happy with a difficult way to do it.

      • adefaria

        thatadamguy MinHeo How about 1) you fix the broken link and 2) we get this into Chrome for the desktop so that Photo Sphere’s posted to Google+ work using this method by default?

        • MinHeo

          adefaria thatadamguy MinHeo At least, I should not upload and download and upload again, IMHO.

  • Piotr Berlowski

    Hi Colby,
    Thanks for the amazing news. However, it seems that the documentation you’re linking to does not exist anymore. Do you know what happened? I was looking forward to posting my photospheres on my personal website, as opposed to publishing the on GMaps.

  • Peter Margetic

    An interesting article, there appears to me an accelerating trend for professions to form sub-species, thirty years ago a carpenter was a carpenter, a lawyer and lawyer and a photographer a photographer. A professional photographer shoulder be able to photograph professionally whatever is in front of the lens. Photography being art is not a lot different to most professions but with photography the art is visible, with other professions they still contain are but maybe less obvious. Some of the most enduring images of our generation were crap when it came to are, but the moment in time they captured told a story and proved significant and enduring reminders of events. Art… person’s masterpiece is another’s drop sheet when painting the ceiling, incredibly subjective given human nature are the vagrancies of taste. There are a zillion technically brilliant images out there, so many in fact they get lost via inclusion in volume, finding that point of difference is a trick then being savy enough to commercialise it. Some of the best photographers I have seen can’ make a buck, where very average wedding photographers make a descent living. Mixing art and commercialisation is at best risky, becoming emotionally attached to a product theme, genre, style etc while maybe easy as it may well fall into a comfort zone of skill is at best ‘lucky’ to yield the best value for effort.

    No right or wrong, just human emotion, passion and life, some are prepared to risk commercial success in producing (in their believe) works of art. Worth remembering one persons masterpiece may well be another’s drop sheet when reprinting the kitchen ceiling.

    I think the underlying factor is relevance, anything that ranks highly in that regard will tend to be sort after, what we believe to be relevant requires care that it fits with consensus.

    There are an awful lot of very good images out there, but what is the point of difference apart from another pretty picture?

  • Giuseppe Serra

    Actually I tried to click it for test but doesn’t work

  • Andrew Dodd

    Colby –
    I see that you both enjoy Photospheres and you are also a very happy SmugMug customer like myself.

    Out of curiosity, have you had any success with getting Photospheres integrated with a SmugMug gallery? I’d love to put all of my vacation photos in one place, but since on my most recent vacation I used Photosphere a lot (probably too much to be honest) – I’m kind of torn as to where to upload my photos.

    On an unrelated note, I noticed in the comments of the Camera Awesome blog post that you’ve used Focal and even recommended it to users who had issues with CA on some devices. I’ll let Guillaume (Focal’s developer) know that a professional photographer has used his app, it might add a little bit more motivation for the rewrite he’s planning. (He’s been busy with finishing his masters’ degree and helping some mutual friends of ours get a consulting business off the ground, but at some point, we DO want to bring Focal back from the grave that last years’ events put it in.)