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Techniques & Gear \ Feb 2nd 2017

My First Surreal Photo In 360°: Interview With Photographer Ronen Goldman

The ability to dream plays a crucial role in one’s creativity. Ronen Goldman, an uber talented photographer (and a Wix User, too!) took this notion to the next level. In a series of magically surreal photos, a personal project titled “The Surrealistic Pillow”, he managed to capture scenes from his dreams in real life. For almost 9 years now, Ronen has been documenting the elusive images using his camera and considerably less graphic effects as you’d have thought. Believe it or not, not a single item in his photos was added in Photoshop – every lizard, card or jellyfish you’ll see in these reenacted dream-scenes was shot for real. That’s why they appear so optically correct, and successfully create that tricky illusion of reality.

Magician with a flying deck of cards

Master Magician, one of the first and iconic images of the “Surrealistic Pillow” project.

In the latest addition to the series titled, “The Storyteller” he decided to explore a whole new medium for depicting his dreams – 360° Virtual Reality. We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to take a first look at this groundbreaking creation and ask Ronen personally how he managed to turn his dream into [virtual] reality.

Hi Ronen, really nice to meet you!

Hi and thanks for your interest in my work!

We’d love to hear a little bit about what inspired you to create a personal photography project based on your dreams.

When we dream, we see impossible things, places and scenes occur before our eyes and we believe them to be real, at least while we’re looking at them. So I started thinking how the same thing happens to us when we look at certain images. If everything looks optically correct there is a short moment in which we buy into it, and experience something special.

What was your process in recreating an image from your dreams?

Most photographs from this series started with a dream, or part of a dream I remembered. I wrote down different elements from the dream when I first woke up. Sometimes it’s just an abstract feeling and other times it is literal objects or places. I then try to figure out what the overall atmosphere of the dream was, and why it affected me so much. I attempt to conjure up an image that corresponds with that dream and create the scene in my mind.

Once that whole process is done, I switch on my ‘photographer brain’ and start to figure out how I can technically execute the idea. I begin by researching possible locations, actors and props etc. I then figure out technically which camera, lens and lighting would work best to recreate the image I had in my mind.

Man with umbrella and flying green apples

“Identity Crisis” by Ronen Goldman

What made you switch from 2D to 3D dreams, so-to-say?

For this new image, I decided to try creating an immersive 360° VR environment. It seemed like a natural evolution for the project, instead of a two-dimensional dream. I just thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great if you could actually feel like you are in the room with all this magic happening around you?

Why did you choose the specific scene you chose for the first 360° image?

I knew I wanted to create a scene where a mother was telling a child a bedtime story. I still remember that feeling of absolute wonder when I was about to go to sleep and my mom or dad would tell me some fantastic story about faraway lands and creatures. Being on the brink of falling asleep, I would imagine those places and they would come alive in my imagination.

I wondered if I could create something close to that feeling in this image. Being a fan of underwater tales of exploration, I thought a room full of jellyfish would do the trick.

Really interesting! Though jellyfish are not the most friendly real-life pet. How did you end up actually executing this?

I spoke with my special effects friend Or Sapir and she created these great realistic silicone jellyfish especially for the project.

Gear-wise, how were the needs different than when you create a still image?

When creating a 360° photosphere, there are really two ways to go about it. First, you can use a dedicated 360° camera like the Samsung gear 360°, or Ricoh’s Theta S – which create the whole sphere in the push of a button. Second, you can use a DSLR and create multiple panoramas that you later stitch into a photosphere. I decided to go the second route, since I wanted to be able to use all of my lighting equipment, the lenses I prefer, and techniques I am more familiar with.

Shooting in this way does create many challenges, the biggest which being – where do you hide the lights? When shooting any other type of photo, I can always have my lights off camera, but in a 360° everything is ON camera

Wow, sounds tough! How do you hide the lights then?

The solution was to break up the shot into four quadrants and shoot each part with the lighting setup spinning with me as I go. Another solution was hiding flashes in small spots on set that aren’t seen.

A creative solution for sure! Can you tell us more about how the scene was shot?

So after we got the two actresses into position and put the tripod in between them, it was time to shoot. We made sure each shot overlapped the previous one so that stitching it later will be easier.

The jellyfish were held on a pole with some fishing line and moved around the room, lighting the jellyfish from behind with a focused flash in order for the transparent material to show up.

And the editing?

After we finished the shoot, I brought all the files into Photoshop, editing each frame individually to make sure the jellyfish looked great, and all the lighting was hidden. After I had all the pieces of the puzzle complete I brought all the files into PTgui and stitched a 360° panorama.

couple running on the beach with jellyfish

“Making it out alive” – Ronen’s jellyfish had many adventures

How would you sum up the experience of creating your first 360° dream?

The most interesting thing about this new visual 360° language is how people will be experiencing it in the near future. When published on a personal website or Facebook, viewers can already move their phones around and explore the space organically.

In the next few years, I believe the whole field of VR 360° photos and videos will be a really big part of our lives. I expect that most people will have some sort of VR glasses at home or on the go. With that much access, it will be fascinating both from an artistic and commercial standpoint to step into these new visual worlds.

This new visual 360° language will play a major part in how people experience photography in the near future.

What do you hope to do for your next photo adventure?

The potential is endless and opens up new possibilities for photographers and artists to really push the genre. I have already been contacted by some clients and ad agencies about creating conceptual 360° spheres for their needs. I intend on making more of these as both art and my personal projects to see how far I can go with it.

Anything you want our readers to know?

Honestly, I would just love to hear about different ways you plan to use 360° media in your work!

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