Spherical video and VR are suddenly popping up on everyone’s Facebook timeline and all over YouTube, but what are they and how can you use this new format to tell a story?

We’re entering the age of spherical video. Everyone from National Geographic to Netflix, real estate agents and vloggers are using spherical video as a way to deliver their content — and why not? It’s a fantastic way to immerse your viewers in the scene.

Why spherical?

While spherical video and VR technology are relatively new, they’re already popping up everywhere. While Google Street View has been around for a while, the rise of spherical content seems to have happened over night. This sudden abundance of content is the result of a perfect storm of technology.

First, the technology needed to produce spherical video has rapidly become affordable and accessible. The Ricoh Theta S, for instance, starts at just $350, less than a GoPro HERO5 Black.

Vlogger Mark W. Gray has experimented extensively with the spherical video format, even claiming to have posted the first spherical video to Youtube (top) back in March 2015. Since then, he’s uploaded a variety of spherical content to his channel, including an immersive tour of Wondercon 2015 (bottom).

Second, there are already existing networks that can distribute spherical content on the web.YouTube and Facebook have become not just platforms for the technology but also its advocates. Both YouTube and Facebook see spherical video and VR as important parts of their future business model, so much so that Facebook even dropped two billion dollars acquiring the VR company Oculus, makers of the Oculus Rift.

Lastly, over 90% of the US population has a device in their pocket that will allow them to view spherical video. Virtually anybody who wants to view spherical content now can.

Spherical video, easier than ever

The user experience with spherical video and smartphones feels very natural and intuitive, and uploading the content is just as easy. Both YouTube and Facebook do all the heavy lifting for you. With many consumer-grade spherical video cameras, all you do is transfer the video wirelessly to your smartphone and upload. It’s crazy simple. In the past, if you wanted to edit your spherical video, you needed special software, but recently Adobe released updates to Premiere Pro that allow you to edit your spherical footage without additional plug-ins or programs.

Ricoh Theta S

Gearing up for spherical

We aren’t going to go deep into the cameras available because it seems like every week there’s a new one coming out. However, over the past year there have been a couple standards. For the enthusiast who only wants to spend a few hundred bucks, the Ricoh Theta at $350 is a great choice. Now the video isn’t going to impress you with the quality — in fact, it’s kind of poor. If you want clear, professional-quality video, the cheapest solution is a multi-GoPro rig like the Omni, which will set you back around $5,000 when equipped with the required six HERO4s. The image quality for this rig is sure to impress. There are also several companies that produce GoPro rigs for purchase and rental. If you have deep pockets and want something that records crazy high quality spherical video, take a look at the Nokia Ozo — though for $45K most people will probably pass.

Spherical video gives travel vloggers entirely new perspectives to share.

Creating spherical content

Shooting spherical video is very different from any other type of videography. With traditional cameras, the perspective is fixed, and cinematographers use this to draw focus or emotion to specifics in the scene. With spherical video, that is not the case. The viewer sees the entire set as if they are standing there. It is important to keep this in mind when shooting.

The placement of the camera should be motivated by where an actual person in that scene might be experiencing the action. It is not the right tool to get really creative with camera placement — keep the camera at the eye level. Also, because spherical video cameras shoot with very wide angle lenses, there is serious distortion close to the camera. Unless you want that effect, it’s important to keep a distance between the subjects of your shot and the camera.


What to shoot

It’s not hard to imagine who would get excited about spherical video cameras. The format is perfect for horror enthusiasts who want to put their viewers in the middle of the terror, travel vloggers who want to take the viewer to the location and real estate agents who want to offer immersive property tours.

Several publications have embraced spherical video, including National Geographic, who uses spherical video to take viewers to remote and beautiful locations. Hit Netflix show “Stranger Things” also used spherical video in an online promotion to give a creepy tour of a house that may or may not have a monster dwelling inside. (By the way, if you haven’t watched that show, you may want to reevaluate your life choices.)

Spherical video technology is really great for anyone who wants to give their viewers an immersive experience — even if it’s just a tour of your set that you post on social media to promote an upcoming video. There are plenty of ways to have fun with this new format.

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