With VR headsets ranging from the budget Google Cardboard all the way to the high-end HTC Vive all readily available to buy in the UK, the 360 photo and video hype is gaining traction – fast. This is mainly due to Facebook support, offering users the ability to view 360-degree photos and videos without the need for a VR headset, directly from iOS and Android devices. With the functionality now available, how do you take 360 photos for Facebook? Here’s where we show you how to create VR-ready photos and videos on iOS and Android.  Read next: Complete guide to VR

How to take 360 photos for Facebook: What is a 360 photo or video?

Before we explain how to take 360 photos and videos for Facebook, 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 for Facebook: Insta360 Nano

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to take and post 360 photos and videos on Facebook is to use the Insta360 Nano, a new 3K 360-degree camera available for iOS users. Android users have to instead use the Insta360 Air, which works in a similar way but looks quite different to the iOS variant. We’ll concentrate on the Insta360 Nano for this article as this is what was supplied to us by the company to put through its paces, but those interested in the Air for Android can buy from here.  

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 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, launch the Insta360 app and tap the shutter button to capture your photo or video. Be sure to hold the camera still for the best results, as we’ve moved it mid-capture a few times and the blurriness ruins 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.

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. 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/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.

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. 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.

How to take 360 photos for Facebook: Panorama

But what about those who can’t afford to buy a dedicated 360 camera? While the results may not be as impressive as when using a dedicated camera, Android and iOS users can produce 360-ish photos for Facebook by uploading panoramic photos. While users won’t be able to look up and down when looking at your photo on Facebook, users 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.

For iOS and Android users, it’s as simple as opening the Camera app, selecting the Panorama shooting mode and capturing a panoramic photo – it may slightly vary between Android devices, but most (if not all) feature the functionality within the default Camera app. 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, taking a full-length panoramic shot via the Camera app should suffice.

Once you’ve captured your panoramic photo, simply open Facebook, tap Photo at the top of the page and select your newly taken panorama. As you can see from the above screenshot, any suitable 360 photos will be marked with a spherical icon in the bottom-left hand corner of the thumbnail. Select the photo, tap Next 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.