The Most Incredible 360 Panorama Virtual Reality Pics Ever

AirPano’s aerial photography and VR videos of the world’s most famous landmarks reveal sights you'd never see otherwise.

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Iguazu Falls, on the border of Argentina and Brazil, are the largest waterfalls in the world. The AirPano photographers said that filming them has been one of the highlights of the project.

The photos are immersive. They engulf you. You almost feel as if you’re there. You can swoop around a famous site you’ve always wanted to see — only now it’s as if you’ve developed the ability to fly as well as teleport.

These 360-degree aerial panoramas are thanks to AirPano, a Russian not-for-profit that features 3,000 of these impressive images.

Two of AirPano’s photographers, Sergey Semenov and Sergey Rumyantsev, answered some questions about this ambitious, one-of-a-kind project. –Wally

How did the AirPano project get started?

In 2006, we learned how to take spherical panorama shots on land. In those years, this was not an easy task: It required a special panoramic tripod head, a sufficiently deep knowledge of shooting panoramas, and it demanded a lot of manual work.

At that time, we also had a lot of experience in photography from helicopters and airplanes, and suddenly Oleg Gaponyuk, the founder of the AirPano project, got an idea: Why not break all of the existing laws of taking panorama shots on land, and try to do it in the air?

We figured out how to take a spherical shot in the sky, where it is impossible to use a high-precision panorama head, because the helicopter can shift by many meters while shooting, due to the blowing of the wind.

After several unsuccessful attempts, we finally figured it out, and the result exceeded all of our expectations. The effect was stunning, and the viewer felt like they were sitting in the helicopter and seeing the surrounding landscape with their own eyes.

The AirPano team

What's AirPano’s mission?

When we realized what a stunning impression aerial panoramas produce, we decided to do a project called “100 Places on the Planet Which You Should See From a Bird’s-Eye View.”

We wanted to share with the audience fantastic, awesome, incredible impressions, inaccessible to most people.

After shooting the first 100 places, we didn’t stop there, and now on our website you can find panoramas of more than 300 places of our planet — from the North Pole to Antarctica.

Why is this project so passionate for you?

Few people have the opportunity to see the most interesting places on our planet from a bird’s-eye view.

First of all, it would require a significant amount of time spent traveling. Secondly, the best spots are far from civilization, in places with no airplanes or helicopters nearby. Thirdly, the most popular places have restrictions on flying, and lastly, it’s too expensive. Our project gives this opportunity to everyone, regardless of their location or wealth.

As photographers, we have visited over 100 countries around the world, and we have seen unbelievable scenery with our very own eyes. When it became clear that everything can be shown to people in a new way, we decided that we should do it. But back in 2006, Andrei Zubetz and Gaponyuk, the founders of AirPano, had no idea that the project would be so successful.


How has the project grown?

In the beginning we had a goal to capture the most 100 beautiful places of the world from above. We have captured all of them and we couldn’t stop. So our current goal is to keep shooting.

Technology evolves, so we come back to places where we’ve already been, but capture them in new format with high resolution. For example, we have now created 360-degree videos of some of our favorite waterfalls.

Victoria Falls, on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe

How do you get those amazing panoramic photos and videos?

We shoot our air panoramas in a variety of ways: large helicopters and a radio-controlled “flying” camera. We use a typical SLR camera with a wide-angle lens. The process is not very long and it takes 30 seconds to shoot a single sphere.

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What’s the most interesting thing that has happened on your travels?

We’ve been in 300 places around the world, so it’s difficult to choose the most interesting thing in all these journeys. We’ve been on the Drake Passage on the way to Antarctica, on South and North Pole. We’ve seen a volcano eruption. And we’ve also created aerial panoramas from the stratosphere.

Were you ever in any danger?

Yes. We’ve walked by lava pipes. We’ve captured footage of wild animals on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia and in Africa. We’ve met angry elephant in the savanna, who were following our car. When we were capturing rafting on the Zambezi River, one of our operators fell from the boat.

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The Raja Ampat archipelago in Indonesia

We’ve embedded footage of your favorite spots. What did you like best about them?

We are landscape photographers; we love beautiful views. There are the most spectacular views from above and from the ground of these places. There is a powerful energy and untouched nature.

Where would you love to go that you haven't yet?

The main places where we’d like to go are the United Kingdom and Japan. We have tried a lot to get there, but we have problems with getting permissions for aerial shooting. Also we love volcanoes, waterfalls and tropical beaches, so all these directions interest us.