Seven lessons for immersive storytellers from the RJI Innovation Series
Creating content for the leading edge of the immersive video world — virtual reality, augmented reality, 360-degree — can be challenging for many newsrooms both in terms of how to master the technology and what projects to try it on. RJI invited a handful of innovative folks who either use the technologies or write about them to discuss where things stand and what’s next.
Here are some of their highlights and recommendations:
Lesson 1: Camera placement is key to immersing the viewers in the experience, says Veda Shastri, video journalist and 360-degree producer at The New York Times. Cameras need to be placed in the middle of the action instead of in the back of the room. This avoids the risk of making wall space a large part of your shot.
“You need to get out of the media pen. You need to get off the sidelines,” she says. “It’s about being immersed. It’s about being in the middle of something.”
Discuss what coverage you want during the pre-production stage. Then talk to the team organizing the event or rally about your coverage plans and the placement you’ll need to see if that access is possible, she advises.
Lesson 2: Ask yourself if the situation lends itself to a 360-degree video, says Shastri.
Since the purpose of 360-video is to immerse the viewer, determine whether a situation works depending on various factors. There needs to be a pull, Shastri says, whether it’s a visually stunning scene or it gives them the feeling that they are meeting a celebrity one-on-one.
Check out the points in the slide below from Shastri to see if you’ve got a 360-degree worthy idea.
Lesson 3: Educate photo subjects about your 360-degree camera, says Shastri.
Take a moment to tell those around you that you are shooting a scene with a 360-degree camera and explain that it takes photos from every angle. Ask them if they mind if you leave the camera there for a moment while you step out of the shot.
“Most of the time people after a while are just normal around it,” she says. “Because someone’s not there, they kind of forget and you start to get that fly on the wall situation.”
Lesson 4: Consider these factors when choosing a 360 camera for your newsroom and workflow, says Thomas Seymat, RJI Fellow and former VR editor for Euronews.
- Easy to learn
- Easy to use
- Post-production time
- Compatible video format (MP4)
- Resolution (True 360 degrees, 4K+) — Look for a camera that provides at least 4K resolution to ensure good quality. Avoid any cameras that aren’t true 360-degree cameras. Some cameras only shoot 180 degrees, says Seymat.
- Frames per second (FPS) — Make sure the camera shoots a minimum of 24 frames per second. The higher the FPS, the smoother the viewing experience will be for the viewer, says Seymat. However, keep in mind that the larger the FPS, the bigger the files, which can slow down transference and make the edit and post-production process heavier.
Lesson 5: Before shooting 360 videos, consider this checklist of suggestions from Seymat to make sure you are good to go:
- Worth it in 360 degrees? (Refer to Shastri’s tip earlier.)
- Horizons leveled? Not all cameras come equipped with a gyroscope so make sure to look for one that has this stabilizing technology. Otherwise, if your camera is tilted, your video will be, too, says Seymat.
- Lens cleaned?
- Audio? If you want to capture a speaker at a podium, make sure you attach an external recorder. Any sound around the camera will drown out the speaker if you only utilize the camera’s built in mics, he says.
- Correct resolution?
- Light sources?
- Stable tripod?
Lesson 6: Check out the following resources:
- Journalism360, an immersive news initiative
- VR journalism tipsheet from Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California Annenberg
Lesson 7: Optimize VR experiences for the phone because that’s where most of the audience is now, says Pete Pachal, Mashable’s tech editor.
VR headsets are expensive and cumbersome. The ideal headset is a pair of regular glasses that can be worn all day and shows relevant information when needed, he says.
“It’s not something you need to sort of pick up and consciously engage in,” he says. “That’s the sort of hurdle we can’t really leap over now. It’s really difficult to change consumer habits.”