Fovrth Studios
Aug 20, 2017 · 4 min read
Photo Credit: Terry Goss

As part of the Fovrth Fellowship, we’ve launched a “Student Series” to explore what is working, and what’s not, in 360 video. These blog posts are their first impressions of the 360 landscape across various themes.


Shooting underwater with a regular camera is technical challenge. Shooting underwater with a 360 camera poses a new set of technical challenges as well as opportunities. The immersive nature of the medium opens a whole new way to experience underwater flora and fauna in very intimate ways. Unlike most other 360 film methods, the camera operator is generally in the shot with a camera mounted on a monopod — a rarity is almost all other forms of 360 video.

In this round up we examine five 360 experiences from National Geographic, Discovery VR, Curioscope and diver David Hseih as they swim among sharks, abandoned oil rigs and ships, and coral ecosystems. Each experience highlights editing and camera techniques useful in packaging underwater 360 experiences.

National Geographic | 360° Great Hammerhead Shark Encounter

Negative space easily shifts to action underwater

In many 360 experiences negative space consumes a large portion of the field of view; with water or sky. This experience effectively has many points of interest, rays or a divers, circulating around the camera so the viewer always has something to look at. With underwater experiences action fills the entire frame unlike a above water shot — like the opening scene on the boat. Much of news and storytelling is maintaining engagement with viewers. Even if the topic is extremely interesting, no one likes staring at mostly blank space. To avoid that, the editors included commands such as “Turn Around” to direct focus on upcoming action, like a shark grabbing for the camera.

National Geographic | 360 Dive Through an Oil Rig Ecosystem

Text can act as sole narrator underwater

This experience by National Geographic uses text guides in all four quadrants of the sphere. This is relatively simply, but acts as a narrator giving context to the underwater setting adding value to visual elements. Incorporating text also occupies negative space, ensuring the effectiveness of the video at engaging the audience. Without the text in this experience there would be no narrative as capturing natural audio is a difficult underwater.

Curioscope | Great White Sharks in 4K

Let the content guide your focus

Similar to the first National Geographic experience, this one by Curioscope keeps the sharks constantly in comfortable range of view. They swim in a way that allows the viewer to track their movement. Luckily, the camera is in the focal point of the circling sharks, so when they are about to swim out of sight, the viewer is able to see the sharks turn around an track them across the screen.

Letting the viewer act as cameraman is a crucial component of 360/VR. With that in mind, give them ‘something to film.’ Have something slowly move across the screen so the viewer has time to look where it’s coming from, then follow it until it moves out of sight.

David Hseih | Scuba Diving Short Film in 360° Green Island, Taiwan

Pacing and Quick Edits

Pacing is extremely important in 360/VR. If the camera moves too slow, it gets boring. If it moves too fast, people might miss something or get motion sickness. For 360 experiences, its better to err on the slow side. This allows people to scroll all around without feeling they missed something as the camera moves. Cutting to a new scene is also important, but it should only be done when a viewer has had the chance to explore everything that was going on in a scene. In this case, less is more.

Imagine a 360 camera almost like Google Street View. This application provides a static picture of a street, yet people are still able to gain information by looking around on all sides. If the street view published a video of what the truck saw, images would flash by much to fast to be of any use.

Discovery VR | MythBusters Shark Shipwreck

Vertical versus lateral movement underwater

The underwater experience from Discovery VR Mythbusters is shot during a downward descent and then during a lateral swim through a shipwreck. The experience for the viewer is better when camera is relatively steady when things move around the cameraman. Again, this is similar to previous videos however, this experience does the best job of keeping a camera steady while swimming forward, allowing the viewer to control focus. Most of the other videos keep the camera stationary with the cameraman treading water in one location.

The views and opinions expressed in this blogpost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the those of Fovrth Studios.

Austin Albert is a reporting and research fellow at Fovrth Studios.

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We are #VirtualReality + independent #documentary house. We remix highly cinematic techniques with new technologies like #ar #vr #360video

Go Fovrth

Go Fovrth

We are #VirtualReality + independent #documentary house. We remix highly cinematic techniques with new technologies like #ar #vr #360video

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