NYCDH Week Reflection: 360 Photo and Video Storytelling

On Tuesday, February 5, I attended the NYCDH Week workshop “Hands-on with 360 Photo and Video Storytelling” at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York. The instructor was Matt MacVey, who specializes in 360 video and immersive media at the J-School.

This was actually a great workshop that I was fortunate to fit into my schedule this week. As a journalist/journalism student, I’ve always been in awe of immersive journalism and anything that helps enhance storytelling, really, so it was an absolute privilege to experience 360 photo and video firsthand.

My biggest takeaway from the workshop was that it’s actually relatively easy and not too expensive to get started in 360 photo and video! Matt said the cheapest camera that does 360 photo and video goes for about $100, and another one he showed us can go upwards of $500-$600. I forgot the specific camera we worked with, but one camera Matt talked about a lot was the Samsung Gear 360 — the 2017 version goes for $85 on Amazon. What you’ll also need, of course, is a monopod, which after a quick Google Search, doesn’t seem to go for more than $20.

What’s most important, if you’re working with a 360 camera, is where you place the camera. This impacts the overall “shot” that you’re capturing in terms of what can actually be seen in the shot, and how “far” people/objects look in the “shot.”

For 360 photos specifically, you can actually take them with your phone using the Google Street View app. It takes some getting used to at first, but the images that can be produced from it are actually quite remarkable. Here’s one that Matt took at the Detroit Institute of Arts (I had issues embedding it, so below is a screenshot, and here’s also a link to view it interactively on Google Maps):

360 videos are where it gets more complicated, since this requires a lot more technique and is likely used by news organizations for enhanced storytelling. Using Google Cardboards, Matt had us view a 360 video produced by The New York Times, “10 Shots Across the Border,” which was about a Mexican 16-year-old who was killed by the United States Border Patrol. We had a brief discussion afterwards about how watching the video through the cardboard “almost made us feel like we’re there,” and something as simple as the height of the fence could be better perceived through the cardboard (rather than if we read or heard about how tall the fence was).

After this workshop, I’m considering working with 360 photo and video this semester for my capstone class, since I have to produce two stories for the class, and my professor encourages students to experiment with tools/techniques that they’re not necessarily familiar with. It’ll come down to what exactly the story I’d like to produce is about though, since using 360 photo/video has to make sense with the concept (and shouldn’t be added in as a tool just for the sake of it). Something for me to think about!

If anyone’s interested, Matt was kind enough to share his slides from the workshop. You can access it here.

Some other resources Matt shared:

Related newsletters that Matt recommended:

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