‘I can offer something extra to clients, a new dimension’: 360° pioneer Mark Hakansson.
In the second article in our series on 360° and VR, we talk to accomplished photographer Mark Hakansson, whose embrace of 360° has allowed him to stay ahead of the game.
With over 25 years’ experience as a pro photographer working for NGOs, news agencies and corporate clients, Mark has been at the forefront of 360°, specialising more recently in high definition virtual tours of resorts, hotels and museums.
Embracing 360° technology has given him access to many situations that would otherwise have remained elusive. “I’ve been in more Presidential suites than Kennedy,” says Mark. “It’s allowed me lots of interesting experiences.”
Mark first encountered the technology 20 years ago while studying a post-grad course in digital media at Lighthouse in Brighton, where he began experimenting with Quicktime VR, having seen companies such as Benetton embracing it.
Mark was already creating panoramic images, so from there he took the step into 360° to make interactive portraits of Brighton eccentrics like Drako Zarhazar, an artist who had spent time with Salvador Dali. Mark used a fish eye lens to take photos and then stitched them together in IPIX, the software dominating the market at the time. He also added interview snippets that became audible as the viewer rolled over hotspots on the image.
Mark continued to develop 360°, producing material for travel, and saw the field change quickly. “The tech developed and became easier, meaning you could start stitching in different software,” he explains. “Other equipment came onto the market such as special rotators that you could attach to the top of the tripod when photographing with a 17-20mm wide-angle lens, removing the tripod in post.”
After learning the photojournalism trade on a newspaper in London, Mark freelanced for NGOs all over the world. But when the NGO work dried up his 360° skills proved to be a major pull for travel companies. He shot 360° in numerous hotels and resorts, including the Goldeneye Hotel in Jamaica, where Ian Fleming wrote his Bond stories.
“360° for hotels experienced a boom,” Mark says. “Then around six years ago Google got in on the act, launching Street View.” Google created ‘See Inside’ in which businesses could hire official photographers to create 360° interior views of their restaurants, hotels and events spaces.
Pro photographers like Mark were able to sell their 360° imagery to businesses who wanted to be part of this. But non-pros got on board shortly after, and the quality went down. However Mark has still shot a lot of 360° for hotels who want to be featured on Google Maps, stitching these images together in Autopano Giga software.
Recently Mark has started using a new camera system called the Matterport which has been out in the States for a year and a half, but only in the UK since September. It rotates on a motor, and shoots using infra-red that measures the distance from the walls and back, allowing it to create a 3D model.
He has used this to produce 3D models of buildings such as John Jacob Astor Estate in the Maldives and Sigmund Freud’s house, each of which took him only a morning to capture with this system. He believes that high definition 3D models and virtual tours like these will become more and more popular.
For fun Mark uses a Ricoh Theta VR ready camera that fits in his top pocket. He points out that there is an even smaller camera coming out, the size of a pen, that shoots high quality 4K 360° video and can be controlled with an iPhone.
Looking ahead, Mark believes there is increasing potential to use VR in advertising, citing Krispy Kreme as one of the companies that has recently created a VR film for Google cardboard and iPhone. Mark would also like to go back to his original approach to 360° in which he embedded audio, harking back to his first 360° work in Brighton.
“360° and virtual tours were a natural progression for me,” he concludes. “People are still apprehensive. But I can offer something extra to clients – a new dimension. People nowadays take such good photos with an iPhone that a pro photographer has to offer more.”