VATICAN CITY - As cameras that shoot 360-degree photos and videos become affordable, curious users will face a new challenge: Figuring out how to take meaningful and compelling shots in what's effectively a new medium.
With 360, it's tough to stay out of the shot, as there's no hiding behind the lens. And old video habits — like following subjects as they move — will die hard. Whoever holds the camera no longer controls the field of vision. With 360, viewers do that in virtual-reality headsets, phones or computers.
Some phone apps can create 360-degree photos by stitching together images, similar to a panoramic shot, but a 360-degree camera is required for video. Ricoh's 360-degree Theta S camera sells for $350 and LG's 360 Cam costs $200. Samsung is also coming out with one this year.
Diving into 360 video means ditching traditional techniques that work well with smartphones and other cameras; doing otherwise means lots of dull 360 photos and videos. This is a new way of capturing the physical world, and it's as distinct from normal photography as television was from radio. It takes trial and error to create immersive clips that will make viewers feel as though they are there.
VIDEOS BECOME SELFIES
360-degree cameras work by stitching together images from two or more lenses. It's hard to stay out of the shot, even with the camera turned sideways, because the ultra-wide lenses are designed to capture everything, from top to bottom.
It's possible to minimize unintended selfies by holding the camera well overhead, although any viewer who looks down during playback will see a hand. A tripod helps — as long as strangers don't run off with the camera.
There may be times the shooter wants to be part of the shot. A 360-degree camera works well then. It can capture the shooter's reaction as a kid lodges water balloons . Roller coaster videos are also popular for seeing — not just hearing — riders screaming.
FORGET FRAMING, AVOID PANNING
With ordinary video, people are conditioned to move the camera to follow the subject. Do this in 360, and it'll make viewers dizzy. Folks watching the video will be moving their heads when using a virtual-reality headset or moving the phone with an app like YouTube. While shooting, it's OK to walk forward or backward slowly if necessary — just avoid panning to the left or right.
Sometimes, a traditional camera works better. At Vatican City, for instance, St. Peter's Basilica is the highlight, not the buildings to the side or the cars in the back. With 360, that boring stuff stays in the shot. (Panning the 360 camera in such a shot commits a double sin .)
Instead, reserve 360 for situations that call for that full perspective. It could give prospective home buyers a better sense of each room, for instance. Or with a shot of Rome's Pantheon, viewers can look up to see the dome that inspired Michelangelo and other artists.
EDITING OPTIONS ARE LIMITED
An app built for Theta cameras offers Instagram-like filters and allows trims to the beginning and end of videos. But there's no cropping to enlarge the subject or straighten the horizon, as some apps offer with traditional video or photos. The shooter needs to get it right on location, something that's tough to do because these cameras lack viewfinders. A smartphone app can act as a virtual viewfinder, but that's cumbersome, too; no one wants to see the shooter fiddling with a phone in the shot.
Although some apps offer zooming while watching, the camera itself doesn't offer this capability. The Statue of Liberty feels tiny when captured from a nearby ferry. Videos work best when what's being captured is close, such as the feeling of being part of a crowd . Otherwise, stick with a regular camera with a good zoom lens.
A tool is good only if it gets used. Sit near the stage at an outdoor philharmonic concert in New York, and a 360-degree camera would show off how close it was to the stage, with the rest of the audience in the back. Pull out a regular camera instead, and it's just a missed opportunity to brag. It takes practice to figure out not just how to take good images, but when.
Location also matters. For a play, a shot from the audience isn't as satisfying as one from the stage with the performers — though getting permission to shoot that way could take some arranging.
360-degree videos on YouTube, best viewed on YouTube's app or Google's Chrome browsers. Some 360 videos take longer to load.
Kid lodges water balloons: https://youtu.be/knFHHFxCGIw
Vatican City, with unintended panning: https://youtu.be/yCmR8KXCzZo
Look up for Rome's Pantheon: https://youtu.be/g1ho8l8VMbw
Statue of Liberty without zooming: https://youtu.be/riETE4Nhsy0
A crowded rush off a ferry: https://youtu.be/kcj_PMa0EJg