Soooooo... you love the complexities of telling a story in a new way? Fun stuff! While some of the skills traditional cinematographers and photographers have translate there’s still enough difference to start a conversation and, most importantly, train your mind in a way to work on a new canvas.
The 2 Main Types of Camera
The example pictured is a monoscopic 360 camera. What this means is that the camera only has 2 lenses to stitch together. The camera used here is a Samsung Gear 360 and it is basically 2 4K cameras with fisheye lenses placed butt-to-butt.
("butt-to-butt" is a technical term. Now go impress your friends)
Let's just call them entry level cameras and they range between 200 and 500 dollars.
Stereoscopic cameras start at around 800 dollars and go up to the 10's of thousands of dollars for professional grade cameras used by studios like ours. Stereoscopic means multiple cameras (at least 4) giving the added depth. The cost is definitely justifiable for large engagements or for the very serious but I think the lower barrier entry cameras like the Samsung Gear 360 and the Theta S are at great price points for creators that are interested in just starting out.
Even if you do upgrade this camera can be your traveler or your companion or even your drone 360 camera.
This photo is "prestitched".
Think Frankenstein. These two photos will be automatically "stitched" together by software within the app. As this is monoscopic it's a simpler example of the two photos being put together.
"Autostitching" is becoming a more common practice but with many rigs you're going to see lots of work going into getting it just right. While you have more to manipulate and better quality footage as the end result it still requires more time and this complexity can end up making your footage completely useless.
Alright folks, here's the big win. Starting out, the less gear you have the better. Shooting in 360 basically begs you to not have anything that the camera can see soooooooo... you'll travel light. I usually only bring my phone, camera and a monopod for the majority of shoots. There are tons of good monopods on Amazon and you can search for them by hitting "monopod with stand" or (even better) "telescopic monopod with stand." My favorite is this Smatree.
I have a few little cheap tricks I use for special shots but my favorite is monofilament. The laymen’s term for this is “fishing line.” I deeply believe in a world where 360 cameras come with an eyelet to tie fishing line to it because to keep realism the more invisible any type of gear is the better off you are. For shoots I’ve fashioned ways to hang my cameras from rafters, bridges… whatever.
I always ask this simple question whenever someone approaches me about a project: "Why VR?"
It's the major pitfall of new creators in 360. They're trying to shoot the same things in the same ways on a new medium. Remember that you have a new canvas that is larger and can interact more than anything you've ever worked with before... and then try to push it.
The big problem is that we've been trained to look at flat screens and flat pictures for well over a year so it's a bit hard to reset the way our minds have thought about film for such a long time. At the moment we are looking from within (nudge nudge). This sphere mentality is what's prominent now but we also have to prepare ourselves for the experiences in which we'll be looking at things from outside as though they are 3 dimensional sculptures.
Is there movement within a piece that justifies looking around?
Is there a reason to convey something specific to an audience that is somewhat a part of your creation?
How are you seeing the camera? Is it a character/POV or is it a viewer?
Now that the world IS a stage we have to take all rectangular ideologies out of our minds. By treating the camera-as-character or camera-as-audience we must recognize focal points and how they are allowed or not allowed to move about the space. It is not two stages, four stages or even eight stages although they can be sectioned off. It is better to think of it like the pin in a map and the direction that said pin should be going.