The emerging technology in 360 cameras has enabled photographers to capture scenes like they never have before. But to use this 360 technology to its full potential requires thinking about composition, exposure and some of the other fundamentals of photography and videography, in completely different ways. There’s a fair amount of trial and error involved in making 360 videos and photos, but hopefully these 360 camera tips and tricks we’ve gleaned from our experience testing the latest technology will help you start making spherical content you can be proud of.
Got some great 360 camera tips of your own? Drop us a line and we’ll add it to the list with a credit!
01 Does your scene warrant 360 treatment?
One thing they teach you about filming video is to ask yourself: does this warrant a video? The same can be said about 360 stills and videos. Does your scene warrant being recorded? Is there interest on both sides of the camera? Does your scene offer something beyond the default point of view?
02 Use a fast microSD card
The thing you need to know about memory cards is that read/write speeds will greatly affect your processing times. Most 360 cameras now shoot 4K video, so you need a memory card that can keep up with the demands of this resolution.
The faster a memory card can write data, the faster your processing times will be. Why? Well, strip away the numbers and nomenclature and just think about it in principle: your memory card is limited to a certain read and write speed, and your footage is locked in at these speeds for all time.
You can stick that card in a high-spec computer and top of the line editing software, but they can’t make up for the slower speeds at which the data was written if you opted for the cheap, but slow, memory card on an Amazon Lightning Deal.
But how do you know how fast a MicroSD card is?
The all-important write speed of a card is shown by the speed class, the speed class relates to the minimum sequential write speed. There are three speed classes which have been advancing as time goes on.
Originally there was the Speed Class 2, 4, 6 and 10. These classes dictated that the minimum write speeds were 2, 4, 6 and 10mb/s. As demands on write speeds increased, UHS Speed Class was released with U1 and U3, again with minimum write speeds of 10mb/s and 30mb/s.
More recently the V Video Class cards have started to appear with V6, V10, V30, V60 and V90 at 6, 10, 30, 60 and 90mb/s minimum write speeds.
Class 2 is the slowest and is pretty much obsolete, V90 is the fastest and latest release so hard to find and incredibly expensive. Worry not, a Class 10 or anything above is ideal for shooting 4K 360 video.
Before we leave MicroSD cards it’s also worth noting that not all cameras can read all cards’ capacities. So while your 360 camera may be able to read the latest V90 card, it may not be able to recognise a 1TB card.
Each 360 camera will highlight the capacity range that it recognises somewhere in the specs list; take the Garmin Virb 360, which accepts a maximum card capacity of 128GB.
And 128GB is what I’d recommend in terms of capacity, if your budget affords it. This will give you a bit of storage flexibility so you’re not constantly having to delete files from your card before you have a chance to edit them.
03 Put your subject in front of the lead lens
There is a lot to look at in a 360 scene, and unless you’re filming a space battle or something equally foreign and intense, it’s unlikely that every single corner, nook and cranny of your scene will contain strong visual interest.
So because every great video should entertain, think about grabbing your viewer’s attention early. Most 360 cameras and companion software allow you to adjust the point of view of a video file. Centring on the action or emotional interest locks someone in straightaway.
If you look at heatmap data from 360 videos you’ll see that people don’t often swipe all the way through a spherical scene. They’ll swipe until they find the most interesting thing and stay there, then maybe swirl slightly around it to see what else is going on.
Find that interesting thing in your footage and change your POV to place it front and centre. Your 360 videos will get more views, and longer watch times.
Framing your POV
I use ‘frame’ for the lack of a better word. In a 360-degree scene we’re not really framing in the old sense. The best 360 photos and videos are those that have a lot going on. And like a good header image for a blog post, you want to think about that initial point-of-view shot in the thumbnail that lures people in.
If you’re at a landmark or recognisable location, make sure that’s in the frame of the lead lens. Or if there is action going on, make sure that’s the first thing people see.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know which lens is the ‘lead’ lens. You can usually tell quickly by opening the app and looking at the live preview.
If your 360 camera’s app doesn’t have live preview, or if you’re not using it with the app for whatever reason, what I tend to do is shoot the video with the camera turned one way. Then I turn it around 180 degrees and shoot the same video again, switching the lenses. One of those will be correct.
You can often switch the POV in your editing software, as well.
04 Embrace the selfie stick
There was a point in time just a few years ago when the selfie stick represented vanity and everything that depressed us about pop culture. But over time the selfie stick, like the touchscreen LCD and even video itself, has proved its worth and become a respectable photographic tool.
For 360 photographers and videographers, the selfie stick is even more than that. It’s an essential camera bag stalwart that enables you to record from unusual angles and make more dynamic spherical footage.
Good selfie sticks, such as the Manfrotto Aluminium Extension included in its PIXI EVO VR kit, can extend quite high and give pseudo aerial views that immediately make a spherical still or video more dramatic.
Selfie sticks can also be used as the antithesis of their name: to keep you out of a shot. I’ll explain more about this in the next tip, but let’s just accept the fact that you, we, all of us together, we’re not interesting. Not usually, at least. And certainly not when we’re shooting 360 videos amid a stunning landscape or striking architectural wonder.
05 Stay away from the camera
Nothing spoils a 360 video or image like the sight of you, huddled over your phone pressing the shutter control, distracting from an otherwise interesting view.
It’s not entirely your fault. Or my fault. Our fault. We’re working with nascent technology, and the WiFi range of some 360 cameras is a bit limited, meaning you can’t get too far away and still be able to control them remotely.
To remove myself from the footage, what I tend to do is find something I can hide behind. A cabinet, or even inside a car, for instance. I’ve even crouched under a fallen tree and covered myself with brush. The things we do, eh.
But the key is really knowing where and when you belong in a scene. In a pristine landscape where you’re capturing waterfalls and endless bluebells and birdsong on your spatial audio, the sight of you jabbing at your phone is going to spoil the mood. So hide behind that tree trunk.
If you’re shooting a busy city scene, though, the sight of you there stationary amid the throngs of commuters could make for a nice juxtaposition.
06 Be selective with your shots
In some ways shooting 360 stills and video has reminded me of the old days of shooting film. For a couple different reasons. For starters, some cameras are launched before their companion apps are fully developed, and this means that sometimes you’re shooting without the aid of live preview on your phone. This was the case with the Vuze camera, which I recently re-tested with its updated app.
Shooting blind means going on gut instinct and past experience, and in these instances I’ve founder fewer files is better until you establish a routine that you know works.
The main reason for selectivity with 360 video, though, is file size and processing time. My go-to 360 camera is the GoPro Fusion, which has fabulous image quality, but its 5.2K video files take up a lot of space on your microSD cards. They also can take an age to render.
Because of the size requirements and processing times, being more selective with your shots means that you’re spending time and space only on those clips that are important to you.
Being selective will also make your battery last longer.
07 Do you need 5.7K? Do you need 4K? Is Full HD enough?
With this selectivity in mind, ask yourself… do you really need to shoot in 5.7K or 5.2K? For that matter, do you even need to shoot in 4K?
Personally, I often shoot in Full HD. For my personal stuff, HD quality is good enough for sharing with friends and family. And it renders in a fraction of the time. And I can store it a whole lot easier.
Also think about your scene here when choosing your resolution. Are there a lot of fine details that you want to broadcast in crisp clarity? Well 4K or higher might be worth the extra investment of time and space.
If your scene is more about ambience or remembering a shared experience than fine details, shoot Full HD and you’ll have more time to share experiences!
08 Even light is your friend
360 camera technology is still improving, but one of its Achilles Heels is purple fringing in high-contrast scenes. If you can avoid them, do!
Many 360 cameras also have trouble capturing detail in heavy shadow areas because they don’t have the dynamic range that cameras with bigger sensors have.
Scenes that offer the best exposures are those with flat, even lighting. Depending on your subject, look for an overcast day to film that clip you’ve been wanting to capture.
09 You need a mini tripod
A lot of 360 cameras either don’t stand up on their own (the Fusion) or can do so but are susceptible to a slight breeze (the Ricoh Theta V).
A mini tripod not only keeps your 360 camera stable, but it opens up a world of creativity. I’ve stuck mine on the edge of a waterfall, the dash of a car with Blu-Tac on the feet, the roof of a chicken coop and other odd places. I also use mine as a grip and selfie stick.
Manfrotto’s PIXI range is very good, and GoPro provides a really nice tripod/grip with the Fusion, but my favourite mini tripod these days is the 3 Legged Thing Iggy, which comes with the standard screw mount and a GoPro mount, meaning I can use it for all my 360 cameras. I have too many 360 cameras.
10 Where to share your 360 photos and videos
One of the downsides of shooting 360 video and photos is that the web really hasn’t fully caught up with the functionality. Until recently you could shoot these amazing images and videos, but you could only post them on manufacturer’s dedicated sharing platforms, which none of your friends and family are one.
It’s gotten a bit better. Google Photos now supports 360 functionality. So does Facebook. And YouTube will play your videos in all their 360 glory provided they have some crucial metadata added to the file. Your camera’s 360 editing software typically does this during a render. Otherwise, Google has a free tool you can use to do the same job.
If you want to display your 360 images on your blog, I find that Kuula is a great resource. Simply create a free account and upload your 360 photo, then copy the shortcode and place it in your blog text. Job done. It’s what I use for my 360 camera reviews on this website.