Immersive Storytelling: Tools and tips

Here are five lessons learned from our time creating an immersive narrative story with a 360 camera

1. The viewer sees everything.

When filming in flat video we control the frame and we direct the viewer. We shape the story by presenting a detail or an establishing shot or a portrait. In 360 video, the viewer sees everything in the frame and they control how they experience it. They can look beyond the subject or into another part of the frame, which means they might miss the action you included in that particular shot because they’re looking elsewhere. 

2. You have to either be in the frame or be able to control your camera from a remote location. 

In 360 video we set up the camera on a tripod and run out of the frame — or be OK with being inserted into the story. This puts us in a different position than with flat video, where we can erase our presence by being behind the camera. When Meg was filming in a bus or van, she had two choices: be in the frame as inconspicuously as possible or set up the tripod and camera and leave it alone with the source for the duration of shot. In a moving closed vehicle, it was hard to not be in the frame while also making sure the camera didn’t fall down or get jostled by the movement of the vehicle. You must plan ahead and be aware of the challenges you’ll face when using a 360 camera. 

3.Give the viewer time to explore. 

When editing, the pacing in a 360 video is different than the pacing in flat video. With 360 video, you want to give your viewer time to experience the immersive content. Your b-roll pieces will most likely be longer to allow the viewer to see the action and move around within the frame. This changes the pace of your story and how you would usually edit it. 

4. Your camera is a person. 

We talked to many 360 storytellers and they all said the same thing: set up your camera like it’s a person, thinking of the lens as a person’s eyes. The camera should be set up at the average height of a person, which will allow the viewer to experience the story as if they were standing there in real life. Putting the camera on the ground or too high up makes the 360 story harder to consume because you are skewing the perspective. Of course, this is a rule that can be broken when in a unique situation, but often this advice helps tell the story in a way that people understand. 

5. Lower your expectations.

One of our greatest pet peeves about 360 cameras is the quality of the image. As journalists we’re used to crystal-clear frames of beautifully detailed video we shoot on our advanced DSLRs or video cameras. When you switch to a mobile 360 camera (unless you are investing thousands of dollars in an advanced rig), you have to adjust your expectations of video quality. For now, it will not be as clear or beautiful as flat video. With time this will change, but that’s the reality of the mobile tools right now. 

Here are the pros and cons of two tools we tested

1. Ricoh Theta

  • Pros: The Ricoh Theta is one of the easiest cameras to use on the market. It’s affordable, portable and the app self stitches. It’s easy to set up on a tripod and control from a remote location.
  • Cons: The image is still not great quality, especially in low light. It’s a little more work to get the images and-or video onto your phone to share instantly but it works fine for a long-term story when the clips don’t need to go online right away. 

2. Insta360 Nano

  • Pros: The Insta360 Nano takes nice quality 360 photos and self stitches. It plugs directly into your phone while you shoot, so it’s easy to upload these images and videos straight to social platforms. It’s a great tool to shoot single shot 360 in the field and get it online right away. 
  • Cons: Since it plugs directly into your phone to work, it’s almost impossible to not be a part of the frame while shooting. We had to resign ourselves to being in most of the images and video when using the Nano. It’s great for single shots, but not great for advanced storytelling where you’re trying to be invisible while building a narrative. 

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