What can a 360 camera do and why should you use one? And how do you use a 360 camera? In this article, I discuss 5 key advantages of 360 cameras, and 8 essential techniques that every 360 camera shooter must know.
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360 cameras are incredibly versatile, but because they are so different from traditional cameras, they require different techniques. Before we discuss 360 camera basic techniques, let’s discuss why you would want to shoot with a 360 camera. Here are FIVE key advantages of 360 cameras.
5 Key Advantages of 360 Cameras
1. Super stabilization
Beginning late 2017 with the Rylo (reviewed here), we started to see 360 cameras with truly unbelievable stabilization. Here is a sample demo from the Insta360 One (reviewed here), which shows amazing feats of stabilization:
2. Third person view
360 cameras’ unlimited field of view and amazing stabilization have an unexpected effect: stabilized 360 cameras can capture a unique 3rd person view that would be impossible on other cameras, as if you had a cameraman taking a video of you. That’s why stabilized 360 cameras are also called 3PV (third person view cameras). It’s even possible to use a stabilized 360 camera to capture a 3rd person perspective in situations where a cameraman couldn’t follow you, such as on a bungee jump (this one was shot with Insta360 One X):
3. Cinematic shots
With a stabilized 360 camera, you can simulate movements that would normally require hundreds, if not thousands of dollars of equipment, such as shots that look like they were shot by a drone, crane, or slider.
4. Shoot without aiming; focus on what you’re doing instead of your camera
With a stabilized 360 camera, you don’t have to aim the camera. Instead of trying to frame the camera properly, you can enjoy your time with your family and friends, or stay focused on your sport or other activity. Back at home, you can reframe the video however you want. Some cameras even offer automatic object tracking.
5. Great for selfies and group shots
Asking someone to shoot a group photo often means that someone gets left out, or a stranger takes a photo that doesn’t look as good as you want. 360 cameras are the ideal cameras for selfies and group shots. With their wide field of view, you’ll be sure to capture not only the entire group but also the background, and no one needs to be left out of the shot.
8 Essential Techniques for 360 Cameras
Now that you know the advantages of shooting with a 360 camera, let’s discuss 8 essential 360 camera techniques that every 360 camera beginner must know:
Tip #1: Avoid the giant hand.
If you shoot a 360 camera by simply pressing the shutter, your hand will look oversized. To avoid a giant hand, use a selfie stick and self-timer.
Tip #2: You don’t have to pan the camera.
A 360 camera captures everything, so you don’t have to pan it. Instead, you can pan with perfect smoothness electronically (through keyframing).
Tip #3: Avoid the stitch line.
360 cameras can capture everything but they can’t capture the space between the lenses. This part where two photos or videos meet is called the stitch line. You need to avoid putting people or important objects within the stitch line, or their face will get distorted:
One of the most important rules when shooting with 360 cameras is therefore to avoid the stitch line. One way to be mindful of the stitch line is to visualize the 360 camera as a giant fan. If the fan is going to hit you or another person, you’re in the stitch line.
Tip #4: Make the selfie stick invisible.
Although the stitch line can distort people, it is actually not entirely a disadvantage. If you use a selfie stick that fits within the stitch line, it will appear invisible. To use this technique, you’ll need 2 things:
First, ensure that the selfie stick is narrow enough to fit within the stitch line of the camera. To see some invisible selfie sticks and monopods, see my 360 camera tripod buying guide. Note that thinner 360 cameras have fewer choices for monopods that will be invisible, but they have less noticeable stitching errors.
Second, you must also keep the 360 camera in-line with the selfie stick. Do NOT angle the ballhead to face the 360 camera toward you — the 360 camera can see everything so you don’t have to do that. Using the 360 camera at an angle would only bring the selfie stick shaft outside of the stitch line. Instead, always keep the 360 camera in-line with the selfie stick to keep it invisible.
Tip #5: How to get a third person view
To use a 360 camera for a third person view, use an invisible selfie stick (tip #4) and hold the 360 camera at a natural angle instead of holding it out the way you would with a regular camera. You also don’t need to aim the camera. You can just focus on whatever you’re doing.
Tip #6: Reduce postprocessing time by using forward-facing stabilization
In Tip #2, we discussed why you don’t need to point a 360 camera. But you can point a 360 camera if you want to, and in fact, it can save time in postprocessing. Some 360 cameras have a forward-facing stabilization mode (e.g. Insta360’s Direction Hold feature). In this mode, the video will remain stabilized, but will point wherever the camera is pointed. This is useful when you want to have the video aim forward constantly, or for vlogging, when you want the camera to remain pointing at you.
It’s also a shortcut way to use a 360 camera if you don’t want to do any editing. Just turn on this feature and point the camera the way you would with a normal camera. The camera continues to capture a 360 view, so anytime you want to change the view (e.g. for reaction shots) you can still show another view.
Tip #7: How to avoid uneven exposure; how to avoid glare
If you have a video or photo with uneven exposure (where one side is brighter than the other), it’s probably because of glare. To avoid glare, you should aim the stitch line toward the primary light source. You should also keep the lens clean, and you should avoid scratching it (never ever lay it down on a hard surface such as a table, and be sure to use a sufficiently stable tripod).
Tip #8: Best height and best distance
If you’re wondering what is a good position for the 360 camera, a good rule of thumb is to put the camera at around chin height or shoulder height, and for videos of people, put the camera at a speaking distance from the subject (i.e., around the same distance you would be if you’re talking to the person).
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