Perspective is a beautiful thing, and when you can give true perspective to your viewers, it can engage them like nothing else. With 360 video, you can make your audience feel as if they are doing more than just watching a story.
Xanti Alcelay, director of photography at KTVB in Boise, Idaho, says that when 360 video is done well, it’s as though the viewer is actually in the story. “We’re still looking to see what the best stories are,” he says. “What I’ve found so far is the best stories are the stories where you’re leveraging the power of the 360 camera to put the viewer in a situation that they wouldn’t find themselves in. ”
For instance, KTVB used its newly acquired GoPro Omni to capture a base jumper trying to set a record jumping off the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls.
“We’ve seen base jumping with a traditional camera but you didn’t get that gut punch of standing on the edge of this bridge that’s 400 feet up over a river until you put the 360 camera right on his head or in his hand and then you kind of get the vertigo feeling of being right there on the edge of this massive drop,” Alcelay says. “And so those are the types of stories where you want to be that person rather than just show that person. And that’s what we’re trying to find.”
Alcelay, who’s been a videographer at KTVB for 20 years, says the station just got its 360 gear in December 2016 and admits it’s been challenging to use.
“It is more technically advanced and complicated,” Alcelay says. “Six cameras are shooting in a 4:3 frame. They’re shooting in a circle, a sphere, and you use a program that GoPro provides to stitch them together.” He says GoPro has a lot of tutorial videos but little more.
“I learned by just trying things out and I also learned by just going online and reading whatever articles there are from people who have created this stuff. It’s very new. There’s not a lot of resources out there for you to find if you have an idea or a question.”
Alcelay insists, however, that he’s a firm believer in the value of this new technology. The first story KTVB did with the Omni was about a goose that fell in love with a family’s car.
“It ended up being the perfect way to debut our 360 storytelling because you could shoot that with a traditional camera and you could show the goose following the car but really you got to know what this woman was like driving with the goose. And I think the 360 camera really did the best job of doing that—to actually put you in the driver’s seat, put you in the car while this goose was being crazy flying right next to where she’s driving and other cars are coming. And so once we saw the power of the 360 camera on that story we started looking more for those types of stories.”
Creating that 360 experience takes a lot more time than editing footage from a traditional camera. The Omni’s six cameras combined capture an 8k image and the file size is huge, Alcelay explains. “So the time it takes to render all of that out, the time it takes to color correct it, the time it takes to stitch all of that, it’s like eight times more than just regular HD video.”
And Alcelay says that can be a tough sell in any newsroom where resources are stretched thin and 360 videos can’t be used for broadcast. Right now, Facebook and YouTube are the only platforms that support the spherical scenes in a way that makes it easy for the public to view and share.
“You’ve got to pick and choose there and that’s the hard part with the newsroom,” Alcelay says. “If they want more content and you’ve got a crew that’s doing something only for YouTube or Facebook, if they’re not all in, then somebody might think, “well, this is a waste of time.” But I think as crews become more efficient and viewers become more accustomed to going and watching this type of content, it will become more of a daily part of a newsroom.”
So far, the fastest turnaround time has been three days, and that was with a reporter who’s been doing this with him since day one, Brian Holmes, the reporter on the goose story. “We are getting a workflow where we started to be able to trim a lot of the fat and the time it takes to do these types of stories. We’re working on getting faster and we hope to be able to turn a breaking news story someday, but you really have to have a good plan in place and you have to have your reporter who knows the process as well as you do.”
Alcelay advises anyone just getting started with 360 video to be patient, experiment and play with it, don’t give up and, most importantly, don’t forget to be a storyteller first.
“We’re using the 360 just like we use our drones—with integrity. We don’t just do the 360 for the sake of the 360,” Alcelay says. “We always keep the viewer in mind and we always try to think, ‘How is this helping the viewer? How are we helping the viewer get more information? How are we helping the viewer get more perspective?’ And so, we want to use the 360 camera to help elevate all of those things.”
Alcelay is certain that 360 is here to stay and will only get easier to navigate. “I have no doubt that they’re going to come up with a better way to do everything,” he said, “because there’s going to be an increased demand for this type of journalism and this type of photography.
“But it’s so quirky right now that you have to have somebody that’s kind of dedicated to learning it and dedicated to, I call it, pushing and pulling—where you’re trying something and it doesn’t work, then you try something else and then you eventually hit on the right combination to make that video look good.”
This story has been published previously on NewsLab.org.
Deborah Caro Goldman has worked as a writer-producer at WTTG in Washington, D.C., and as a news producer at WSOC-TV in Charlotte, North Carolina, and at WTEN in Albany, New York. She was an anchor, reporter and producer at WAGM in Presque Isle, Maine. A 1990 graduate of Syracuse University, she has degrees in policy studies and broadcast journalism and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She has a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism, finishing her program in Washington, D.C., as a correspondent for WDAY in Fargo, North Dakota. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.