10 tips to make you a Ricoh Theta S master in 30 minutes (or less)
Until September, I had never held a 360 camera in my hand. Just a few months later, here I am writing a blog post on how to shoot journalistic 360 footage with a Ricoh Theta S. To be honest, it says more about Theta S and its simplicity and usability than my abilities.
I am currently getting my master’s degree in specialized journalism at USC Annenberg. The school’s shiny new Media Center with its state-of-the-art gadgets is a candy store for someone like me who has worked as a professional journalist for more than 10 years and knows the economic constraints of work life. The beauty of studying journalism in a place like Annenberg is the chance to experiment without those constraints.
In that spirit, I tried using the Ricoh Theta S last semester. Here are some tips and tricks that I learned so you can produce proper 360 photos and videos from the very first time you take that Theta S in your hand.
1. First, the basics: Make sure the battery is sufficiently charged. You might want to connect the Theta to your computer with a USB cable to charge the device while you’re working on step two.
2. Download the Theta S app. I recommend using the mobile app when shooting 360 videos and photos. That minimizes the chances of the lower part of the picture being a fleshy mass, aka your hand showing up in the shot. Another option is to use a selfie stick or a gorilla pod. The app also allows you to stand up to 10 meters away from the camera while using the controls on the app to trigger the camera. In addition, you will be able to see what the photos and videos look like after you’ve shot them. That minimizes the chances of screwing up the shoot.
3. Play with the thing for a while. Take both photos and videos. Get a hang of what works and what doesn’t.
Click or tap here to see one of the first 360 photos I ever took. That’s me standing at the heart of Annenberg’s student newsroom. My index finger is huge, but otherwise the photo is surprisingly OK.
4. Plan. Think about your subject. It should be visually compelling or otherwise interesting so that people want to scroll around to see all of it. Does it have sound or enough action going on to make the video compelling? If not, you might want to go with a 360 photo. Notice that the quality of photos is better than that of videos.
For example, I tried shooting both 360 photos and video at USC’s Doheny Memorial Library during finals. There was not enough movement or sound in the study room, so a photo worked better. Click or tap to see what you think.
5. Position the camera correctly. When you arrive at the spot, take a good look around you to see where you should position the camera. Is there enough going on everywhere, including behind the camera? If not, try moving the camera a bit.
For example, if you are trying to capture the beauty of a creative crosswalk, do not stand on the sidewalk and showcase the nearby parking lot. Check out the correct positioning from the Thinglink example in tip eight.
6. Think about your own place. If you do not want to show up in your 360, use a tripod and the remote control option on your phone app. Another option is to just deal with it and be a part of the 360 experience. Remember not to put on an awkward face because everyone will see it 😳.
7. Keep the audio in mind. Theta S does not have great audio. If you need to have good sound, you might want to consider taking a proper audio recorder with you and adding the audio track to the 360 video on Adobe Premiere Pro. Recordings from, for example, concerts will probably sound quite bad.
8. Decide which is the right editing tool. You can edit your footage with Theta’s own apps or in Premiere Pro. If you want to add hotspots with photos, text and video to your footage easily, you can do that with, for example, Thinglink. Here’s a piece I did on the creative crosswalk in Santa Monica.
If you want to edit in Premiere, load your 360 video first to the Theta app on your computer. It will convert the .mov file to a .mp4. Now import this video to Premiere Pro. Right click on the Program Monitor, choose “VR Video” and “Enable” to see how it looks.
9. Share it! Post the final product on Facebook or Twitter. You might also be able to embed it on your own web page depending on the platform. (As you can see, I had difficulties with embedding 360 photos here on Medium.)
10. Have fun! Your own imagination is the only thing limiting you.