How a tin of custard started the 360 revolution

When we named it the Swiftspin 360 revolution we didn’t realise exactly how popular 360 product photography would become. Nowadays, companies large and small are displaying their products as spins, and thousands of photographers are learning the skills to produce them. But how did the 360 revolution begin? Simple really, it all started with a tin of custard…

Back in our graphic design agency days, we were asked to produce a 360 panorama for a client. Not of an impressive mountain, luxurious hotel, or even a secluded lake. No, our challenge was to produce a panorama of a tin of custard.

In fact not just a single tin of custard. Oh no. We had to produce a panorama of a range of custards, jams, sauces and soups. Oh, and a few bags of flour. Creatively inspired we set to work. We arranged them in a circle with the camera in the middle, and using a macro lens produced a 360 panorama in the traditional way, by capturing a number of images as we rotated the camera, and stitching them together in a panorama software package.

It was so long ago that the software doesn’t work on modern browsers, so here it is displayed as a Swiftspin (not the best quality I’m afraid):

As luck would have it, the client was really impressed. But like all good clients they pushed us further. “Can you make the tins spin around so that you can see the ingredients on the back?”, they asked.

Our silent response was kind of embarrassing until our technical director blurted out that yes, he could do it. At the time he admits he had no idea how, but like all the team members at Swiftspin, he likes a challenge, and took himself off to ask Jeeves.

ask jeeves screengrab

He was looking for examples of products being spun in 360 degrees. Guess how many he found? Correct. Loads. All of which were incredibly poor and produced on what looked like a BBC Micro from the 80s. They took forever to download and were certainly not to the standard we were hoping to produce. This meant we had to find a way of photographing and animating the images ourselves. Our technical director knew Adobe Flash inside out and managed to write a very simple 360 rollover template. We used this to animate a few pictures for our very first 360 spin sample.

Sadly, we still have it:

Unfortunately, if you’re viewing on an iDevice you won’t be able to view this historical landmark in 360 spin photography. But, here’s a sample of what our 360 spins look like today. A bit different, eh?

Anyway, the sample we produced was far better than anything Jeeves could find so we knew we had the makings of a very good way of displaying products online. We set about producing the custard can spin and then conducted a survey to see what other retailers thought. It seemed a hit as very quickly word got around which led to commissions from retailers of all kinds of products including bicycle pumps and fishing nets. The more we spun the better we became as did our animation templates.

One thing which wasn’t too hot was our turntable. We built all types, and eventually decided the best was a manual turntable using a very cheap bearing which we still use. We also built an automated turntable, similar to the ones being sold today, but it wasn’t flexible enough for our needs, so we stuck to working manually.

360 photography turntables

We’ve built 12 different turntables for spinning everything from a wedding ring to a sofa

Back then our website was very basic with no SEO, but it was easy to get to the top of Google with the keywords ‘360 product photography’. There were probably 3 or 4 pages containing around 40 listings. Not quite a Googlewhack but close. Do a search today and you’ll get 20,400,000! It’ll probably be more tomorrow.

examples of swiftspin websites

As technology has improved, so has the Swiftspin website

From those humble custard covered beginnings Swiftspin has developed into a leading 360 studio working for world-famous brands as well as continuing to service smaller bespoke retailers. We shoot thousands of products every year and the numbers are growing.

swiftspin clients

A very small selection of clients we are proud to have produced 360 product spins for

We’ve been proud to have worked for some fantastic clients and hope to work with many more in the future. Long live the 360 revolution!