360 Video Production Tactics: What We’ve Learned So Far

April 12, 2016

Chris Lavigne

Creative

Here at Wistia, we’ve been having a lot of fun producing 360 video content. While we wouldn’t call ourselves experts, we’ve already learned a handful of new production tactics for this immersive, unforgiving medium.

Spoiler alert! With 360 video, everything is in the shot. It’s the very thing that makes the medium so powerful, but it’s also the reason I’ve had to rethink everything I know about how to make a video. In this post, I’ll walk through what we’ve learned so far.

Framing the shot

360 video essentially limits you to a wide angle shot. This has some implications for camera placement that I’ve learned the hard way. Mainly, you’ll want to keep the camera closer to key action than you’d think.

In this video, Lenny ended up being way too far away from the camera. Since shooting this “Lenny Eating Peanuts” video, I’ve learned to keep key subjects roughly 3 to 5 feet away from the camera. This distance feels like the sweet spot for an optimal viewing experience.

You know how you like to frame people on screen with the lens pointing at their eyeline? Well, throw that out the window if you’re shooting 360 video.

This framing will yield a shot with way too much headroom. If you’re shooting folks on-screen for a 360 video, place the camera at chest level.

Just like different lenses can tell different stories and show different perspectives, 360 camera placement will drastically affect the viewer’s experience. Put the camera low, and you’ll make viewers feel like they’re two feet shorter. Heck, you could even showcase what it’s like to view the world as a mouse. Put the camera up high, and you can make people feel like they are 10 feet tall.

If viewers are watching with a VR headset, this effect is accentuated tenfold. Playing with perspective is a simple trick to communicate a new worldview or feeling in your 360 video.

Everything is wide angle

Gone are the days of wide-medium-close shot sequences. Whatever camera you use to shoot 360 video, it’s essentially going to be wide angle. This means that it’s more important than ever to get creative and be intentional with camera placement.

If you’re using a dual 180° lens system like the Theta S, you can move the action closer to the lens. But if you’re shooting with 360 GoPro rigs that require stitching a bunch of cameras together, you have to be careful of how close you get to the rig.

As you can see here, if the subject moves too close to the GoPro rig, they’ll disappear into the dark side of the lens — the parts that are out of the camera cluster’s field of view.

Shooting with a GoPro rig is the same as shooting with any fixed lens, in that you have to physically move the camera or the action to change focal lengths. And even after you do that, you’re still left with what’s essentially a 15mm fisheye lens. The viewer can pinch to zoom in and get a better look at something in the frame, but as of right now, the lower-than-optimal resolution limits of 360 video make zooming in from the player a bit disappointing.

Lighting

The general rules of traditional video lighting no longer apply when you can’t place lighting gear just out of the shot. For 360 video, it’s all about practical lighting and embracing ambient light.

One thing I’ve learned from shooting with the 7 camera GoPro rig is that flat lighting is your very best friend. In an ideal situation, each camera will expose for each part of the scene equally. This will have the highest likelihood to produce a seamless stitch.

“Flat lighting is your very best friend.”

As an experiment, I wanted to see what would happen if I used studio lights for the shoot, then rotoscoped them out in After Effects. This was the result:

The extra lighting helped brighten me up! It’s a simple process to pull off, as long as the subject doesn’t move too much and the ambient light stays the same. All in all, I’m just not sure how practical this technique is.

Takeaways for lighting a 360 video:

  • It is possible to rotoscope out studio lights, but arguably impractical.
  • Try to find a location with pleasant, practical lighting.
  • Avoid positioning your talent directly under any overhead lights.
  • Use high CRI bulbs in existing lighting fixtures in your shot.

Audio

For the record, I’m a shotgun microphone fan through and through. So this one makes my heart hurt. For capturing your talent’s audio with 360 video, it makes the most sense to use a lavalier mic.

Use a combination of a lavalier mic on the talent and 1 or 2 stereo microphones near the camera rig for realistic, natural sound.

In the future, we’ll have 360 sound capture, so that when the viewer turns their head, the audio will shift accordingly. This could be a really fun way to elicit a reaction down the road.

Directing

Everything is in the shot, which means every_one_ is in the shot. In other words, the crew and director have to get lost! For the few scripted 360 videos we’ve made so far, kicking the crew out of the room has proven to be pretty challenging.

“Everything is in the shot, which means everyone is in the shot. In other words, the crew and director have to get lost! ”

On-camera line readings have also been a bit tricky. Obviously, we can’t make our teammates memorize whole scripts for our videos, and we can’t use our normal laptop teleprompter, since it will be included in the shot. For the time being, we created a gimmicky workaround to this — cue card holders.

Luckily, our brand lends itself to showing behind-the-scenes video production, but obviously that’s not always the case.

If you want to get sneaky for those on-camera line readings, you could just hide a laptop with a script in the shot somewhere. You could also take it one step further by hiding an iPhone along with the script, so you could direct the talent over FaceTime or Skype!

I’ve learned that using voice-overs can be super helpful when it comes to scripted 360 videos. Although it kind of feels like a cop-out, narrating the video with a voice-over solves all of the on-screen line reading problems.

Pacing and editing

In the past, we’ve worried about how the pacing of a video will affect engagement. With 360 video, we have to make sure there’s enough time for people to explore the scene. These concepts are essentially at odds with each other. To be totally blunt, editing and pacing for 360 video is something I just don’t know much about.

Am I leaving enough time for the viewer to digest information and take in the scene? Maybe I should be using cross dissolves on camera cuts? We just don’t know yet. Hopefully, a combination of experimentation and video analytics will be our guiding light here.

“Am I leaving enough time for the viewer to digest information and take in the scene?”

I recently learned how to change the starting point of a 360 video. With the stitching software I use for the GoPro rig, this is a super simple process. When shooting with the Theta S, however, I can’t control the zero point after the shoot.

To get around this, I’ll bring the footage into After Effects, take my equirectangular stitch and duplicate it twice, then put a copy to the immediate left and right of the shot. Then I’ll parent both duplicates to the center shot. From there, I can move the center shot to adjust the zero point of my equirectangular stitch. Whatever is centered in the frame will be the starting vantage point in your 360 video player. Thanks to Maurice Powers for sharing this tip!

In my 360 adventures, I’ve also been messing with basic effects and editing. This green screen experiment worked out better than I expected.

It turns out it’s pretty easy to chromakey 360 footage! I used Keylight for the key and a simple mask to remove the area of the shot beyond the green paper. One important note: you have to use 360 equirectangular footage as the ’plate’ footage to put behind the key.


We can’t wait to keep experimenting with 360 video, but in the meantime, teach us about your own production tactics for this new medium. We’d love to hear about anything you’ve learned in the comments below!

April 12, 2016

Chris Lavigne

Creative

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