12 tips for shooting and editing 360-degree video for journalism
Recent grad Jamie Stark shares the ups and downs of immersive video production
By Jamie Stark
December 7, 2016
The first challenge of 360 video journalism is where to put the cameraperson.
Traditionally, she is behind the camera. In immersive video, there is no behind. There is not focus, pan, zoom or flash. There is set it and flee, or set it and stay.
I was lucky enough to take advantage of the equipment and experts at Stanford to film my master’s thesis, an immersive video following one homeless individual in the different outdoor spaces he slept over years.
When filming scenes over many months for my piece “In Plain Sight,” I made sure that once filming was underway and I saw the six blinking red lights of the GoPro camera rig, I got out of the shot. I took my bags and belongings out of the 360 field, far off and behind a wall or corner.
Later, in editing, I would cut out any footage of me briskly walking away from the scene.
Aside from local TV news or a columnist’s headshot, journalism uses third-person grammar. I felt that tradition should carry over to virtual video, where the subject should drive the narrative, the journalist guiding in placement and editing, but not obvious presence in the frame.
This doesn’t mean 360 video is more stenographic simply because you set the camera and walk away, recording what happens. You’re still editorializing reality, choosing camera placement and people in the shot, and answering their questions of how to act naturally with six cameras blinking away to their right. You, Madame or Mister Journalist, are still editing the story into the essentials and the narrative that brings a viewer into your story. Your technology has changed, but your role in telling the story has not.
A few tips from filming and failing:
1. The Golden Rule of Immersive and 360: Ask yourself, does this story need 360? If you are taking the viewer somewhere they otherwise could not be, perhaps you are telling a better story with 360. But more often than not, you can stick with one camera and save immersive technique for another story.
2. Place an audio recorder under the 360 camera rig tripod, so it is automatically edited out of the scene by the editing software, and sound comes to the listener from the same location as the visuals.
3. For your audio recording, try to use something with 360 capabilities, like the Tascam model I used. In immersive shooting, you never know where sound may come from.
4. Tripod height: best to set at eye level with your subject so the viewer feels comfortably aligned.
5. Don’t forget video portraits of your subject(s), most likely from 4–8 feet away from the camera(s).
6. When using a multiple camera rig, like six or more GoPros, ensure your cameras are all on the same settings. If not, you will be sad in the editing room when one frame won’t stitch with the others.
7. Find a VR/immersive journalist friend. Google doesn’t yet have answers to some of the questions you may have for troubleshooting, and it can be more fun and professional to struggle through the ethical and editing conundrums together. (Shout out to Anna Yelizarova and Naomi Cornman from Stanford.)
8. I would edit in Adobe Premiere over Final Cut Pro, since Premiere has native support for VR, and seems to produce higher quality exported clips in my case. You can also do color correction in Premiere if needed.
9. For titles or end credits, make sure the words are at a natural eye-level height for viewers and placed near the last place they will have looked (or placed twice). Keep the font below 35 pt. for most text, so that it is big enough, but not so big it curves.
10. Lean toward audio narration over text on screen. Reading is harder in this medium. Narration is part of the experience.
11. In stitching, AKA editing, ensure you have the syncing correct before you proceed with the other steps of editing. Re-sync if the stitching doesn’t fit on the first try. I had to do this dozens of times for the same clip to find the best fit (tip courtesy of Anna Yelizarova).
12. Make sure you label your clips well when saving and uploading into editing software. With six times the clips, six times the level of detailed organization is required (Thanks Anna Yelizarova, again)
Check out my immersive video, “In Plain Sight,” published on the Peninsula Press website in 360-video, best viewed on a smartphone with a cardboard viewer.
Jamie Stark is a freelance reporter. He earned his M.A. in journalism from Stanford University, and his B.A. in journalism and political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He lived and freelanced for two years in El Salvador. He has reported across Latin America to cover stories like child migration in Guatemala, news-gathering drones in El Salvador and internet access in Cuba. He founded the video desk at his undergraduate newspaper, and worked with the Virtual Human Interaction Lab while at Stanford to produce immersive video. This past summer, Stark was an intern at the multimedia desk of The San Francisco Chronicle.