Planning/Producing 360 Video

SeeBoundless
Aug 23, 2016 · 8 min read
The Freedom360 Explorer rig filming the floods in Rosenberg, Texas. (Photo by Steve Johnson for Weather.com)

Some housekeeping first…

Make sure to read and before diving into this section.

Planning your Immersive Story

Shooting 360 video is actually quite easy. The stitching software () has a fairly intuitive interface and does much of the heavy lifting for you.

Many photographers might look at this and go, “oh, that’s basically point and shoot/auto mode.” They are correct.

But there is one thing that is worse than boring video — that is boring 360 video.

Note: Yes, you don’t need as many shots as a tradition production. Some 360 projects have only one () and many others have 5-to-6 shots for a 3 min video. The caveat of this is that one shot, or even 5-to-6 shots must be compelling, in all directions, and show both detail and scale.

To Go 360 or Not to Go 360

So before we get bogged down in the particulars of producing 360 content, let’s jump back to what makes a great 360 video.

You’re looking for a story that first a foremost should be told in 360 or have an element of spherical video. Some criteria for this includes:

  • Is there a need to bring our audience to place to get a better understanding of why this story is important to them?
  • Will the location explain the what factor of the story?
  • How can allowing the audience enhance their understanding of the facts?

A few reasons not to do a 360 video:

  • To increase time on page
  • To increase viewership because Facebook is automatically boosting posts
  • Because it’s cool
  • No one else has done this story in 360
  • This story has been done, but not yet in 360

Scouting

If possible, scout the location of your 360 production using a RICOH Theta S to take 360 photos of potential scenes to send back to your team.

These will help you look around your project’s scenes and start to build the order in which you’d like your audience to experience your 360 video.

Note: It is important to take detailed notes while scouting and when reviewing the test shots. You are building your story in a sphere and the order in which you show footage matters. If you are showing a scene where the audience might be looking far off in a direction, you want to make sure that lines up with previous scenes and subsequent scenes so you do not lose your audience when you transition.

Building Your Story

Normally with a journalism piece you wouldn’t block out your story scene by scene if you are in a breaking news situation, but with 360 video every project should be treated like a feature story. While there is a time and place for breaking news 360 video to get the audience to place as fast as possible, this lesson is in creating narrative features in 360.

Build out your narrative arc in script form. Even before you do your interviews, outline who is saying what and where they will be saying it.

Note: It is important to focus on the where they will be speaking in 360 video. In most videos you shoot A-roll of a person speaking on a topic and then show B-roll of the topic. With 360 video you produce a mix of A and B roll. Let’s call it C-roll for now.

Planning your C-roll for 360 video is vital to your story since you and your interview subject will act as guides for your audience.

A screenshot from an on-camera interview. (Steve Johnson)

You must decide the style of 360 feature video you want to produce as you are planning. Here are a few options:

  • Voiceover only — where you are narrating and telling the audience where to look (Example: )
  • On-camera guide— more traditional broadcast showing you introducing the topic on the location you are speaking about (Example: )
  • On-camera interview — similar to more traditional broadcasts by interviewing your subject on air showing both you and the interviewee in the 360 frame (Example: )
  • B-roll only — no voice over or interview. This is less of a story and more show and tell, but is very popular in early adoption of 360 video and when 360 video can be imbedded in a longer feature article. (Example: )

Once you have the structure of your narrative built it is time to write out your script, scenes and in your script notes, based on scouting, anticipate where the audience might be looking in each scene.

Production of 360

So you have your story, script and idea of where you want to shoot. Now it’s time to decide what equipment to bring and when to shoot with different types of 360 cameras.

Read for some reference to camera models.

The most important decision to make as you begin filming is to determine three factors for each scene:

  • How close is my subject to the camera rig?
  • How long am I shooting for?
  • How many sources of light will be exposing my scene?

The reason we ask these questions is because some 360 cameras have advantages over other.

Stitching Errors

For example: if you are shooting a 360 interview on camera in a close space you want to film with a two-camera rig to avoid stitching lines in your final product.

Stitching lines are the points where one camera’s field of view overlaps with another to stitch together to create the 360 video. Stitching isn’t perfect, and it is a good idea to avoid filming too close to these lines.

The Kodak SP 360 4K rig has one continuous stitch line around the vertical axis.

You can easy find your stitching lines by looking at your 360 rig and seeing where one camera lens ends and another begins. For example: on the Kodak SP 360 4K rig, there is only one continuous stitching line between each camera body so you would avoid filming anything close to each side of the rig.

On a more complicated six-camera rig like the GoPro Omni or Freedom360, the stitch lines are between each GoPro. It is important to make sure a GoPro is directly facing your subject if you intent to film something within five feet of the rig.

Shooting Time

You want to make sure you choose the right 360 rig for how long you intend on shooting, both an individual scene and length of time in the field.

Note: Most scenes should be at least two to three minutes in length to allow for voice overs, text/titles and as b-roll.

360 video cameras like the Kodak SP 360 4K and the Nikon KeyMission have easily replaceable batteries. While more complicated six-camera rigs require you to take out each battery individually, sometimes out of the waterproof case if you are shooting with a GoPro rig that is waterproof, and replace them.

Note: The GoPro Omni has an external power solution by Switronix that will charge all six cameras simultaneously.

There are also six-camera rigs, including the Omni, where you have access to the USB ports. In this case, bring large external batteries with multiple USB ports to charge six cameras simultaniously.

All of these factors come into play when planning your production. How long will it be between shooting scenes? Will I have enough time to charge or change batteries?

Right now, most rigs will continuously shoot for about two hours. This time drops when you are in extreme heat or cold just like any battery operated camera.

Exposure

The largest difference between consumer rigs like the Kodak, Theta and Nikon and the more expensive GoPro-based rigs are the number of cameras recording.

Most people think the more cameras equals the higher resolution and that is the only benfit. This is incorrect.

The more lenses you have filming in more directions allows you to blend the exposure much better than a two-camera rig.

Note: if you are shooting outside on a sunny day, you will have one camera pointed almost directly at the sun and the other pointed in the shadows. The auto exposure on most 360 rigs will make both exposures different and a line can be seen when you stitch the two files together. A six or more camera rig allows you to blend exposure across multiple cameras to reduce the exposure difference from adjacent cameras. This gives you a much richer and wider color variation for color correcting in post production.

Where to Place Your 360 Camera

The final part of planning your 360 production is actually shooting. Once you have your scouted images, you’ll begin to see what scenes are interesting and what might look like paint drying in virtual reality.

Generally, it is good to have a scene with a large amount of depth (distance from foreground to background) because almost all 360 rigs are shooting with wide or fisheye lenses. These lenses flatten your image and your videos begin to look steril.

Movement is also key in 360 video. The more you can show objects/subjects moving around your rig* the more the audience feels like they are experiencing a scene and not just a flat, static image.

A stitching error while filming with the Freedom360 Explore rig. (Steve Johnson)

Note: Be careful not to have moving objects too close to your rig otherwise they will have stitching errors.

While we are shooting in 360 degrees it is still important to have a front facing focal point in your video. The focal point placement allows you to plan scene by scene where you will guide your audience based on your script. Your audience is not always watching in a swivel chair at the office so don’t expect them to always see what is behind them.

Always be cognizant of the mounting point (what is holding your rig) and where it is. It is possible to mask out your tripod or monopod using , but this takes considerable time. You want to create as much space as possible between the mounting point of your rig and the monopod and tripod. Small studs to put between the mounting point and monopod are in the .

Have A Plan and Adapt

There is a lot to think about when shooting 360 video. It is much more complex than a point-and-shoot scenario no matter how “auto” the cameras might seem.

Make sure to have detailed production notes with you while shooting and bring extra everything (memory cards, batteries, mounts, clamps, tripods, monopods, rigs) to be able to adapt to the changing scenes you might encounter.

It is always a good idea, although not always cheap, to have spare parts with you. This might mean purchasing an extra Kodak SP 360 4K or an extra GoPro that you can swap out if one camera body fails. Remember, if one camera fails in a two or even six or even 10 camera rig, you don’t have 360 video.

Happy shooting!

Immersive Storytelling

Articles, how-tos and highlights of 360/VR storytelling

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Immersive Storytelling

Articles, how-tos and highlights of 360/VR storytelling