One of the biggest turn-offs for online shoppers is inadequate detail on the product or service offered. There’s a gulf between the experience of viewing product photography online and the far more intimate and tactile experience of viewing or testing the same product in-store. It’s the e-tailer’s job to help narrow that gulf, and perhaps the most effective means of doing so is through the use of 360 images.

360 photography helps bridge the gap between traditional and digital shopping experiences. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for digital marketers who are aiming to present their products in a more enticing manner.

There are several varieties of 360 imaging in use in digital marketing today. We’re going to focus on two of the most commonly employed: 360 product photography and 360 viewpoint photography.

360 product photography

360 product imaging along a single axis (i.e. showing every side of the item along a horizontal axis, but not vertically) simply requires the photographing of a product multiple times as it turns through a 360 degree rotation. This is achieved by placing the product on a slowly revolving turntable with a white surface, against a white background, and setting up a high quality digital camera on a tripod to capture photographs of the product as it revolves. To create the desired effect, the camera will need to capture 20-30 frames per revolution – the more frames, the smoother the end result. If you own a decent camera and a record player, you can test the basic principle at home (bear in mind that the images created almost certainly won’t be of adequate quality to use professionally!)

Once product images have been created and edited, they can be digitally composed into an interactive display, often allowing the viewer to rotate their view of the item by dragging left or right. The end result is a more satisfactory experience of the product.

Top tips

  • This technique is easy to try independently, but tricky to master. We would recommend hiring in a specialist.
  • 360 ‘spin’ photography is easiest to achieve with solid, free-standing products of a relatively small size. Great examples include sunglasses, motorcycle helmets and products held in upright containers. Testing at home using a record turntable is a handy way to assess feasibility without spending money on specialist equipment or booking a professional photographer.
  • Maximise the value of the process by using the images gathered to create GIFs for use in marketing banners.

360 virtual tour photography

360 virtual tours are an excellent way to offer a window onto your business for prospective customers. All manner of service businesses and attractions use virtual tours, from hotels and gyms to theme parks and restaurants.

360 viewpoint images are sometimes created using omni-directional cameras (also known as spherical cameras), which capture a 360 image around the horizontal plane of vision. The same effect can be achieved using stitched-together images taken using a standard DSLR camera, rotated through 360 degrees on a tripod. The techniques involved in creating 360 virtual tour images and using those images to create interactive digital views require specialist knowledge and equipment, so once again, we would recommend hiring in a specialist.

Where you can help in this process is in devising the content of the virtual tours. Here are some pointers on composing the perfect scene:

  • Thoroughness – every building, every piece of scenery, every person, every object captured by the camera will be on show in your virtual tour. It’s far easier to order reality than to airbrush a 360 photograph, so strive to remove any undesirable items from your location before the shoot – especially litter or signs of dilapidation. Nothing in your virtual tour should contradict the positive attributes you seek to project through your marketing activities.
  • A reason for everything – if an area of your site looks pretty, that’s a great reason to photograph it as part of your virtual tour – but it’s not the full picture. The process of selecting locations should be methodical and tied to the selling points you wish to convey to the prospective customer. Do you want to show how family friendly you are? Do you want to show off your impressive architecture or luxurious interiors? Define exactly what it is you wish to put across about the business, list your top priorities and use these to score and rank a shortlist of possible virtual tour locations on your site.
  • Easter eggs – not the chocolate kind, but rather, hidden messages or visual jokes incorporated subtly (or not so subtly) into your virtual tour. This concept was originated by video games designers in the late 1970s, but has since spread into a number of online applications – notably including Google Maps. Here’s an easy albeit unoriginal one: sneak your business’ mascot (or failing that, a cute animal) into the frame. But you can probably do better than that!