How the 360 Photo Evolved

Laura Tolson
June 24, 2024

The History and Evolution of 360 Photography

Welcome to the fascinating journey through the history and evolution of 360 photography! Whether you’re new to this technology or just curious about its background and potential, this article will give you a solid understanding of where 360 photography started, how it has evolved, and how it can enhance your work today.

Early Beginnings of 360 Photography

Introduction to Panoramic Photography

360 photography, also known as panoramic photography, has roots dating back to the early days of photography itself. The concept was simple: capture a wider field of view than what a single photo could offer. Early photographers used various techniques to stitch multiple images together, creating a seamless panorama.

Early Attempts and Techniques

One of the first panoramic photos was taken in the mid-19th century. Photographers used rotating cameras and manually stitched together prints to create a complete view of a scene. These early attempts were innovative but often cumbersome and time-consuming.

An old panoramic image which is actually 3 images joined together
This is one of the earliest known panorama images.
Title: View from the top of Lookout Mountain, Tenn., February, 1964
Photographer: George Barnard

Limitations and Challenges

Back then, the equipment was bulky, and the process was labor-intensive. Achieving a seamless stitch was difficult due to variations in lighting and perspective. The photograph above was created using multiple wet-plate glass negatives. Each plate was coated with a light-sensitive emulsion, which was exposed and developed in the field. Barnard pointed his camera, exposed a plate to make a negative, and then rotated the camera to the next section of the view to make the next negative, and so on.

Despite these challenges, early panoramic photographers laid the groundwork for what would eventually become 360 photography.

The Birth of Modern 360 Photography

Introduction of Specialized Equipment

The advent of specialized equipment marked the true beginning of modern 360 photography. Panoramic cameras, designed to capture wide fields of view in a single shot, became more accessible. These cameras used rotating lenses and film to capture a continuous image.

Early Stitching Techniques

Stitching multiple images together to create a seamless panorama became more refined. Early software tools, though rudimentary by today’s standards, allowed photographers to blend images more effectively.

Key Innovators and Milestones

Notable figures in the field made significant contributions. For instance, pioneering projects and exhibitions showcased the potential of panoramic photography, sparking interest and innovation.

Since 2005, Google Street View, has been a catalyst for immersive photography. The Google giant has invested heavily in both software and hardware in order to map the world in 360 photos.

A Google Street View car with a 360 camera on top drives through the streets

Advancements in Technology

Development of Digital Photography and Its Impact

The digital revolution in the late 20th century transformed 360 photography. Digital cameras eliminated the need for film, making it easier to capture and store panoramic images. This shift also led to the development of more sophisticated stitching software.

Introduction of Consumer-Grade 360 Cameras

Around the mid-2000s, consumer-grade 360 cameras started to hit the market. These compact, easy-to-use devices democratized 360 photography, allowing hobbyists and professionals alike to explore this medium. Brands like Ricoh Theta and Insta360 became household names.

Improvements in Software

Stitching software also saw significant advancements. Tools like PTGui and Hugin made it easier to blend multiple images into a single 360 photo. Editing software such as Adobe Photoshop began to offer features specifically designed for 360 photography, further enhancing the quality and creativity of the images produced.

Integration with Other Technologies

The Role of Drones in Capturing 360 Photos

One of the most exciting developments in recent years has been the integration of drones with 360 photography. Drones equipped with 360 cameras can capture stunning aerial panoramas, offering perspectives that were previously impossible. This has opened up new possibilities in fields like real estate, tourism, and environmental monitoring.

Drone flies with a 360 photo camera below

Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) Applications

The rise of VR and AR has also impacted 360 photography. VR headsets allow users to immerse themselves in 360 photos, while AR applications overlay digital information onto real-world scenes captured in 360. This synergy between 360 photography and immersive technologies is paving the way for innovative applications in education, entertainment, and beyond.

The Rise of 360 Video

Parallel to the evolution of 360 photos has been the rise of 360 video. This medium offers an even more immersive experience, allowing viewers to look around in a video as if they were present in the scene. The overlap between 360 photography and 360 video has enriched both fields, providing more tools for storytelling and documentation.

The Future of 360 Photography

Emerging Technologies and Trends

The future of 360 photography looks promising with continuous advancements in technology. We can expect more affordable and high-quality cameras, improved stitching software, and enhanced editing tools. Innovations in AI and machine learning are also likely to play a role, automating aspects of the stitching and editing process to make it even more accessible.

Predictions for the Future

Looking ahead, we can anticipate 360 photography becoming even more integrated with other technologies. For example, as VR and AR continue to develop, the demand for high-quality 360 content will grow. Additionally, the use of 360 photos in fields like virtual tourism, remote work collaboration, and interactive marketing will likely expand.

How Ongoing Advancements Will Continue to Shape Various Industries

As 360 photography evolves, it will continue to shape industries by providing new ways to visualize, document, and share information. For instance, in the construction industry, regular 360 photo updates of a site can help keep stakeholders informed and improve project management. In education, 360 photos can provide immersive learning experiences, bringing students virtually into historical sites, scientific environments, and more.


360 photography is a powerful tool that has come a long way since its early days. From cumbersome panoramic setups to today’s compact and versatile 360 cameras, the technology has evolved dramatically. Understanding this history not only gives us an appreciation for the art and science behind 360 photos but also inspires us to explore its potential in our own work.

As someone who started capturing 360 photos in 2014 as part of the Google Trusted Photographer program, I’ve seen firsthand how the technology has transformed. Incredibly, I still use many of the same settings and processes taught by Google a decade ago. The basics remain the same, but the tools have become more accessible and powerful.

Whether you’re in real estate, construction, tourism, or any other field, 360 photography offers unique opportunities to enhance your work. So, grab a 360 camera, start experimenting, and see how this technology can bring a new dimension to your projects. Happy shooting!

Laura Tolson
Share this post

Explore More

Discover Swyvl's Full Potential
Ready to see how a 360 virtual tour can transform your project planning?
Swyvl to unlock the power of your spatial data