Shooting 360º Video at the South Pole

A friend is traveling to the South Pole to shoot 360º video for a VR experience, and he asked me to share my “best practices” advice…
Robert Swan, O.B.E., first man to walk to both the South Pole and the North Pole and return safely

Robert Swan, O.B.E., first man to walk to both the South Pole and the North Pole and return safely

Based on my own work, and after speaking with friends and colleagues who have produced 360º video, we condensed our wisdom into a few bullet points:
  • Expect batteries to fail faster at low temperatures — and 360º rigs have many cameras, so again the batteries may die faster than you would expect from a conventional rig.
  • If the rig is in the sun, then some lenses will have direct sun in them, while others will not. This creates a less-than-ideal situation in post-production.
  • Consider placing the rig in shadow to get a clearer shot, if there are any available — maybe from a building, the shady side of a cliff, or even the mast of a ship! (Best if you can do this without breaking the “distance guidelines”, no objects within whatever distance the vendor recommends, probably 3’ or 5’.)
  • Getting sun in a few lenses definitely doesn’t “destroy” the shot, and it can even be beautiful, but if shade areas are available I’d suggest getting at least some of your footage without the direct sun in the lenses.
  • The small-sensor “action cameras” have lousy dynamic range, which means that they’re not good at simultaneously capturing bright detail and dark detail. Therefore, don’t let yourself be backlit. This is a basic rule of photography, but I’m re-stating it because the issue becomes more severe in 360º.
  • 360º video post-production is extremely time-consuming, compared with conventional video.  Your post-production team will be happier with a smaller number of long clips, rather than a large number of tiny clips.
  • I believe your camera rig will have 8 cameras, arranged in a square with two cameras on each side – spaced like human eyes. 360º camera vendors love to say that the system will “stitch perfectly”, or that “everything will be fine as long as you’re 5’ away”, but these statements are optimistic exaggerations.  If the cameras face N/S/E/W, then at least try not to cross the lines.  That is, if you want to speak into a camera, don’t stand NE of the rig facing one of its corners, but think of it like four 90º fields of view and choose one.
  • If you have people standing in a circle around the camera rig, again try to be mindful of the 90º fields of view, and don’t have anyone’s arms or equipment crossing those imaginary lines.
  • The “diagonal lines” rule is not absolute, but the closer you are to the camera, the more significant the issue becomes.
  • For “near and far objects in the same shot”, you really must observe the cardinal directions. If you want to show nearby rocks and distant mountains, for instance, in the same image, use the N/S/E/W directions.
  • Think about the camera operator’s “escape path” — whoever sets up the camera can’t simply stand behind it while it’s rolling (because they’ll be in the shot if the viewer looks backwards).  Therefore, each of your shots will involve setting up the camera, starting it rolling, and then the camera operator needs to go hide somewhere. If you’re in the snow, then footprints may be a consideration.
  • All shots will take longer than you think, because the operator needs to hide.  The sequence always goes “(1) start camera recording, (2) operator goes and hides, (3) get the shot, (4) operator comes back, (5) stop camera recording”.  If the nearest hiding place is far away, then going to-and-from the hiding place can take a considerable amount of time. Even if the camera operator stays nearby, they should still back up and get a few feet away from the camera.

Best wishes, Sir Robert Swan, for safe passage on your spectacular upcoming voyage!

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