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Getty Images CEO says VR is the next frontier for stock images, too

The storied photo service plans to equip every one of its Olympics photographers with a 360-degree camera.

Benjamin Torode/Getty Images

Across the film and video game industries, there is a consensus that virtual reality and 360-degree imagery are the next frontier.

That's also the case when it comes to still photos, says Dawn Airey, CEO of Getty Images, which on Tuesday is announcing a new dedicated VR business unit to its stock photography business.

"A great panoramic delivers a unique sense of presence," Airey said in an email interview. "It has a powerful way of making the viewer feel connected to the action in a way that is entirely different to a traditional image."

Getty has been experimenting with 360-degree image capture since the 2012 London Olympics, but plans to really dive in at this summer's games in Rio. There, Getty is the official photo agency, and it plans to equip each one of its photographers with a 360-degree camera in addition to their standard gear.

A 360-degree image from last year's World Cup.
An immersive, 360-degree image from last year's World Cup.
Robert Cianflone/Getty Images.

The agency has already partnered with Oculus to offer content for its devices and is also working with Google to provide 360-degree content for its Expeditions classroom effort, which allows students to travel virtually to places around the globe.

Of course, things are still early. Not many people have plunked down cash for a dedicated virtual reality device, but with Samsung's Gear VR and Google Cardboard out there, Airey said the time is right to get started.

"While the technology is still in its infancy, along with the business models that utilize it, we expect to see VR become a key tool for visual storytelling this year," she said.

Some things are actually better left to a traditional frame. "Not everything is engaging in 360 degrees," she said. It's also tricky on the technical side, with a photographer needing to find ways to expose for an image that has both sun and shadows.

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