Facebook has strongly embraced virtual reality in recent times and has made another move to advance the immersive visual content. By integrating interactive 360º images to the already supported 360º video, they are encouraging people to create and share such images.

What kind of ‘interactivity’ am I writing about here? Please click here to see an image where you can drag your mouse (computer) or move your mobile device to see in any direction:

Fremont Street Experience Panorama

For most people using Facebook, it’s an opportunity to view or experience locations in a whole new way — anywhere panoramic photographers decide to capture and share! Whether you are viewing an image or a video, you can view every direction as if you were there and turning your head and torso.

Until the other day, you had to click a link like the one above in order to see an interactive image. But this change means that Facebook has stepped up the immersive experience right there in your timeline! To see this in action, I invite you to find me on Facebook (facebook.com/ronpepper), where I’ve shared panoramas publicly.

Facebook has already managed to create new interest in panoramic photography and videos with this new feature launch. I learned this first-hand about a week ago. I was asked/hired to capture panoramas at a recent sporting event ‘tailgate’ party. The reason for creating the images? It was because the client, a popular beer maker, became interested in the easily-viewed 360s and wanted to be one of the first to use it. Of course this also greatly energizes panoramic photographers who have had a difficult time getting people to see our work. So get ready to see many more immersive panoramic images if you are a Facebook user!

At the same time, the rollout has come with some frustrations as well. Many photographers are discussing why their images can’t be included yet and are coming up with their own solutions. I am only mentioning this because I’m going to tell you how to publish panoramas of your own and something I say might not work initially.

The good news is that you don’t need to be a panoramic photographer, or even a photographer frankly, to post your own 360º images on Facebook. Anyone with a smartphone and one of several apps can do this too.

Somewhat ironically, Facebook recommends using the Google Street Views App when you wish to use your smartphone to shoot and share 360s. I’ve tested this and it’s easy to do with no photography experience, just follow the guides in the app. There are drawbacks to doing this including the need for taking many overlapping pictures, which takes patience and a steady hand, and there will probably be imperfections in the results like jagged lines, blurry areas, etc. My advice when holding the phone and moving it is:rather than moving the phone around you, try to keep the phone in the same position and walk around the phone. This will help the images line up better.

Another option is to use a ‘one-shot’ panoramic camera. These cameras tend to sacrifice some quality for convenience but they are really incredible for what they are. The one I bought is the Ricoh Theta S and I’m happy with it provided I don’t expect too much.

If you are serious about panoramic photography and stitch them yourself, then you just need to upload your spherical image (exactly twice the width to height ratio) and Facebook normally recognizes it and shows it interactively.

According to the Facebook marketing person, any size can be uploaded but the images will be resized to 6000 x 3000 pixels. I’ve uploaded images bigger than 6000 x 3000 and it works.

Pro Tip: If your stitched image isn’t being recognized as a 360 by Facebook, you probably need to add EXIF data of a 360º camera such as the Theta or LG 360 Cam. Even if you used a different camera, this will ‘trick’ FB into treating it as a 360.

So why wouldn’t someone show their panoramas this way? While it’s great for showing single images but it’s not ready for a real virtual tour. Virtual tours like the one linked below, have many panoramas included so that one can tour the location and are usually linked together. For this, we still need to host the tour somewhere else.

Alcatraz Virtual Tour

After looking at panoramas on Facebook over the last 24 hours, it seems they are best viewed on mobile devices because you can physically move the device to look in every direction, on the desktop you need to drag the mouse around. It’s just not quite a sexy.