How to Compose Your Shot When Your Camera Can See Everything

Something to remember when shooting spherical video is that everything is visible in the shot.  Even if you think you are being clever by hiding behind a boulder or a tree, you might not be as well hidden as you think. This can make it a challenge if you only want your subject in the scene, or especially challenging if you don’t want anyone to be in the scene. If you need to be directing on-camera talent, this too can become difficult. There’s no traditional way to feed the subject their lines, or for that matter, know if it was even a good take or not. It is possible to view the talent by affixing a smart phone below the spherical camera and streaming video to another device. You may even try setting up a security camera in the rafters so you can monitor the talent’s performance from another room. If the camera is far enough away from the spherical camera, it may not even be noticeable.

Directing on-camera talent can be difficult when the director needs to hide for every shot.
Directing on-camera talent can be difficult when the director needs to hide for every shot.

Camera Angle and Placement

Something else to keep in mind when framing up your shot is that no matter what spherical camera you’re using, it will essentially be recording at a very wide angle. This means you will want to put your spherical rig a bit closer to the subject than you might think. A good rule of thumb is to place your subject 3 to 6 feet from the camera.  If the subject gets too close to the camera, the seams — places where the different cameras’ fields of view meet — will become noticeable. This can cause parts of your subject to disappear into the seam. If they get too far away from the camera, they simply become much too small to seem important in the scene, and the viewer will begin look elsewhere. By placing your subject at the optimal distance, the viewer will feel as if they are actually there in the scene.

A good rule of thumb is to place your subject 3 to 6 feet from the camera to avoid clipping or distortion.

You’ll want to set up your camera at about chest height. Otherwise, your shot will end up with too much headroom. Speaking of near eye-level shots, this is the most common shot type for spherical video because it makes the user feel as if they are there in the scene. Though it’s the most popular, the eye-level shot is by no means the only viable shot for spherical video. Another great alternative shot angle is an ant’s perspective.  Setup your spherical camera super low to the ground to give your viewers a feel for what it would be like to be really small. Conversely, raise the camera high up to make the user feel like they are a giant or a fly on the wall.

Camera Movement

Using some different shot varieties in your video is a good idea and easy to accomplish.  However, achieving camera movements in 360 video can be a bit tricky. If your spherical video is shaking and wobbling all over the place, this could cause motion sickness for the viewer — at the very least, it will ruin their experience. If you do need to move the camera during a shot, make sure it is stabilized and keep your movement at a slower pace. A slower pace will allow the viewer to take in their surroundings before they pass by. Some people are taking the next step in spherical camera movement by using drones and even remote control buggies with gimbals. These techniques are extremely effective and won’t detract from the viewer's immersion. Some manufacturers have even started designing small handheld gimbals for 360 cameras, so you can walk around with your camera and keep the footage stabilized. 

If you do need to move the camera during a shot, make sure it is stabilized and keep your movement at a slower pace.

Where do I look?

If you need to direct the attention of the viewer, there are a number of ways to go about doing this. One option is to have some kind of motion or movement occur. Have your subject use gestures in order to direct the viewer's attention to a certain area in the scene. Using gestures will cause the viewer to follow the movement, thus directing their attention to where you want them to look. For a less obvious way to direct the viewer’s attention, try having your actors utilize a high level of movement. This too helps ensure the viewer’s attention will be on the subjects — right where the action is. Other cues to draw the viewer's attention could be sound or lighting. Start off with just a portion of the scene lit. Revealing new sections of the scene by turning on the lights in a particular section is a good way to ensure your viewer’s attention will be directed to where you want them to look.

New Format, Same Goal

When creating spherical videos, much like traditional videos, think about where you’re placing the camera. In spherical video, the camera placement is key.  Remember to get some good shot variety, and even experiment with some camera movement. Try using different methods to direct the viewer’s gaze. After some practice, you’ll have a good understanding of where to place the camera. Pretty soon, you’ll be producing engaging and interesting spherical videos.

Watch: Basic Rules of Composition


Devin is a media production specialist and the founder of Aim High Media.  His work can be viewed around the world.

Devin Hujdic
Devin Hujdic
Devin Hujdic is a self-employed video producer with experience across the U.S. and internationally.

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