Thanks to the introduction of VR headsets and 360 photo and video support on Facebook, the 360-degree photo hype is gaining traction – fast. With the functionality now available for iOS users, how do you take 360 photos for Facebook using an iPhone or an iPad? Here’s where we show you how to create VR-ready photos and videos on iOS.  

Read next: Apple VR/AR headset rumours | How to use a VR headset with an iPhone | Best iOS gaming accessories for 2017 | Best VR apps for iPhone

How to take 360 photos on iPhone and iPad: What is a 360-degree photo or video?

Before we explain how to take 360 photos on an iPhone or iPad, let’s first explain what a 360-degree photo is. Spurred forward by the VR hype train, Facebook is the first of the big social media platforms to offer support for 360-degree photos and videos, which offer a more immersive experience than a standard photo or video. This allows users to either use the built-in gyroscope on their smartphone, or their finger, to ‘look around’ a virtual environment, be it a static 360-degree photo or a more immersive 360-degree video.

Beyond being cool to look at on Facebook, users can take 360 photos or videos to be viewed in VR. Viewing the photos or videos on a virtual reality headset can really make you feel like you were there, a benefit both for those that recorded the video and want to re-live it, and for friends and family that couldn’t be there for whatever reason. Giving somebody the ability to sit inside a photo or video and physically look around provides a much more enjoyable viewing experience than simply scrolling through your Facebook News Feed looking at standard photos and videos.

How to take 360 photos on iPhone and iPad: Built-in Camera app

While the results may not be as impressive as when using a dedicated 360-degree camera, iOS users can produce decent 360 photos by using the Panorama functionality of the built-in camera app – although there’s a catch. Users won’t be able to look up and down when looking at your photo on Facebook, but should still be able to pan from left to right by either swiping across the display or by rotating their smartphone, offering a basic level of immersion. It’s also exclusive to photos, as there’s no way to film a panoramic video via the built-in Camera app.

For iPhone and iPad users, it’s as simple as opening the Camera app, selecting the Panorama shooting mode and capturing a panoramic photo. It’s worth noting, however, that the photos need to be a certain width for Facebook to recognise them as being 360-compatible. While it’s hard to measure the width of a panoramic photo when taking it in the default Camera app, taking a full-length panoramic shot (until it automatically finishes) via the app should suffice.

Once you’ve captured your panoramic photo, simply open Facebook, browse your photo library and select your newly taken panorama. As you can see from the above screenshot, any suitable 360-degree photos will be marked with a spherical icon in the bottom-left hand corner of the thumbnail. Simply select the photo, follow the on-screen instructions and you should be presented with a preview of your new almost-360 Facebook photo. It doesn’t always work, but deleting the draft post and starting again usually kicks the panoramic-photo-analysing algorithm into action. If it did work, simply add a caption and tap Publish to share it with your Facebook friends!

How to take 360 photos and videos on iPhone and iPad: Insta360 Nano

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to take and post 360 photos and videos is to use the Insta360 Nano, a new 3K 360-degree camera available for iPhone and iPad users.

The Insta360 Nano is one of the cheaper ways to capture 360-degree content at under £200 on Amazon, especially when you consider that Kodak’s high-end Pixpro 360-degree system will set you back a whopping £889. Featuring an optional MicroSD card slot, the accessory can also be used as a standalone 360 camera with users only needing to connect their iPhone or iPad to view saved photos and videos, get a live preview of the photo/video and tweak capture settings.

To take a photo or video, simply plug the Insta360 Nano into your iPhone via the Lightning, launch the Insta360 app and tap the shutter button to capture your photo or video. Be sure to hold the camera as still as possible for the best results when taking photos, as we’ve moved it mid-capture a handful of times and the blurriness ruined the finished product. Alternatively, pop a MicroSD card into the TF Card slot at the bottom of the device, and press the button when the LED is green to capture a photo. You can also customise shortcuts for triggering other capture modes via the Settings menu in the app.

Once you’ve captured a 360 photo or video that you’d like to share with your Facebook friends, tap the Share icon in the top-right hand corner. Now, instead of tapping on Facebook or Twitter, select the option to export it as a panorama – this will all make sense soon. Once exported, open up the Facebook app and tap the option to upload a photo or video and browse for your 360-degree file. If all has gone to plan, your 360 photo/video should feature a small circular icon in the bottom-right hand corner – this shows that the file has 360 metadata that Facebook can use to reconstruct the 360 environment.

Select the photo or video, give it a caption and upload it. It’s worth noting that it didn’t always work the first time around for photos, although deleting the draft and re-uploading usually fixes the problem. With video it’s slightly different, as you won’t get a 360-degree preview like you do with photos, as Facebook has to manually ‘stitch’ it together. It’ll take a big longer than a standard video to upload and process due to the extra work involved, with a 20-second 360 video clip taking around 5-10 mins to process via the Facebook app once uploaded – in our experience, anyway.

Once it’s processed, as with photos, you’ll be able to use your finger or your phone’s built-in gyroscope to look around the virtual environment you’ve created. Make sure you remember to step back when capturing 360-degree content, especially when capturing for Facebook, as the social network’s default view is closer than the preview in the Insta360 Nano app. While the quality produced by Insta360 Nano’s 3K camera isn’t as great as the high-end systems available, it’s a great option for those experimenting with the format, possibly to create VR content further down the line – or just to show off the amazing places you get to visit.