360 as a New Artistic Medium

As soon as I took my first shots and loaded them into my GearVR I knew I was going to have to go back to the drawing board as far as technique. I’m used to taking photos and videos on family vacation and editing them down into a palletable piece of history to remember. I’m also used to not being in any of the vacation photos, not ideal, but I had made peace with that fact.

I recently visited Beijing and after my first outing experimenting with the Gear 360, I quickly realized that I could actually be in every picture I took. When I took a look in the GearVR I was stunned to see myself as part of the scene.

So what does that mean? Means I need to remember to smile in pictures I’m taking of other people, places, and things. Otherwise I might be making zombie face in all my pics and then I’d be too embaressed to show them. Regardless, with this alone it’s pretty clear the game has changed.

360 Photos

Stretch Armstrong Selfies

I wasn’t entirely sure what the best way to take hand held pictures would be. I started with what I know. I held the camera as far as my arm would reach and snapped a selfie style pic with my wife. While this is kind of cool it produced a very long streched out arm radiating from the center of the photo all the way back to my body.

Weird and cool, but undesirable. As I kept shooting and experimenting it became clear that having tons of arm and finger in every shot wasn’t going to produce good photos. It’s just too distracting.

On Top of Head Environment Shots

I sent a video and photo to my friend Jan to get some feedback and ideas. I had tried shooting a picture or two holding the camera right on top of my head, but not many. When he checked them out he reccomended I double down on the over the head shots.

The over the head shot became my goto shooting method. If I took the shot holding the camera out in front of me I would definitely be in the photo and would basically block the rear camera with my body. The beauty of 360 is that you capture the entire environment you’re in. You want to be able to freely look around. It’s like you’re head becomes a tripod. Only by looking straight down do you really even see yourself. This is great… though I’m sure I looked really weird taking pictures with a weird orb camera on top of my head. Most had never even seen a 360 camera before so this coupled with being an out of place westerner in Beijing it took a little guts to take most of my pictures this way (especially videos since it’s not a quick snap but a sustained filming.)

Height of the Camera

Since you become the observer when viewing the photo in GearVR, whatever the height you take the photo at is where the observer will be viewing the photo. I know this sounds obvious, but it can be a bit disorienting to put the camera on the ground or hold it at your waist.

That’s not to say shots like that aren’t useful, I just find that they aren’t as pleasing as a shot over the head or at the very least at an average human height. Otherwise, the viewer won’t feel quite as immersed in the photo. Non-standard heights could be used as special effects though.

360 Video

When shooting video I utilize the same methods as with photos except there are a few more considerations to keep in mind. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 360 picture is worth a million words, and a 360 video worth a billion.

Camera Direction

If I were taking video on my cell phone with rectangle aspect ratio, I’m directing the shot almost like a flash light. Wherever I point the camera is what the viewer sees. If I was filming a person running by me I would follow them with the camera to keep them in the shot.

Not in VR. Keep in mind that the viewer can look wherever they want in this new medium. This means that if I follow the runner with the 360 cam and the viewer wants to look at something else, I will essentially be forcing their head to turn. This is incredibly annoying.

This means that you need to pick your starting shot direction by pointing with the front camera, but then never move it’s x-axis, or if you must, do it very gentlly and slow so the head tugging isn’t so exaggerated. Keep the camera straight and in the same direction as you began filming so that the viewer can decide where to look without being forced.

Imagine a scenario where as a viewer I want to look left while watching the video, but the video begins to swivel right. Now I’m actually fighting against the video turning my head even faster to the left to view the region I want to view. This gets even worse if the video randomly swivels left and right. Don’t do it.

360 Timelapse

My wife and I booked a private camping/hiking trip on the Great Wall. Knowing we had special permission to be there and there wouldn’t be any others I brought a proper tripod with me.

We woke up at 4AM and began hiking the steep steps in the dark, lit only by headlamps. After about 45 minutes and what seemed like a billion stairs, we had reached the summit of this section of wall.

I setup my tripod and started timelapse mode. I set the Gear 360 to take pictures every 5 seconds and hurried off to hang out hidden from the camera. Here are my results.

Editing 360 Media

After shooting about 80GB of photos and videos I wanted to edit them into a curated film. I knew not all the photos/videos would be good since I was experimenting and trying a variety of different kinds of shots.

I also shot a bunch of photos and videos backwards by accident. The default view in the GearVR was what I thought was the rear camera because I had been shooting with the camera backwards. I needed to reverse which cameras were considered front and rear.

In addition to this I wanted to add visual effects and transitions, and if at all possible I wanted to see what could be done about cropping out the tripod, my hand, or my head.