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Making a 360 Video: The Associated Press Covers the Chelsea Bombing in New York City

When a bomb went off in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, The Associated Press had a journalist in the middle of the scene within an hour filming a 360 video. That video was shot, edited and uploaded to Facebook within five hours. Made up of four different shots, the video gave users a unique perspective of the chaotic scene when little information was being reported.

We chatted with Nathan Griffiths, the AP’s interactive editor, about how he captured this video in Chelsea, what techniques he used and some best practices that others can take from this experience.

Event: Chelsea Bombing in New York City. September 17, 2016.

Shot With: Samsung Gear VR 360 Camera
Team Member: Nathan Griffiths
Uploaded to Facebook: 9/18/16

Equipment Used

Samsung Galaxy Gear 360 to shoot
Feisol tripod to stabilize the shot
Lavalier microphone for interviews
Adobe Premiere Pro with 360 Mettle plugin to edit

Key Takeaway: You don’t need extra, expensive equipment to make high quality 360 videos. If you have a basic 360 camera and the right plugin for your editing software, you can start creating these immersive videos on your own.

How the Story Came Together

Griffiths got a message that a bomb went off in Chelsea while attending a meeting just north of Times Square. With the AP office just a few blocks away, he grabbed one of the company’s 360 video kits and a tripod and went to the scene. “I knew going in that I wasn’t trying to do more than just convey a sense of what was happening on the ground,” he says. “I was testing a simple goal: Can I go down with a 360 camera, give people a sense of what it’s like, publish it within the time frame of breaking news and have it be effective?”

Key Takeaway: Any reporter with a good eye and a 360 camera has the tools to create a 360 video at a moment’s notice. The AP doesn’t have a team specifically for 360 but dozens of its journalists receive 360 training.

How It Was Shot

Griffiths took 14 shots over the course of an hour and a half. He focused on getting behind the barricades and finding an angle in the middle of the action. “I wanted to get the camera past the tapes so that 180 degrees of the shot wasn’t just people observing the scene,” he says. “On one side of the shots I got the chaos and flashing lights, but if you look behind you see a city going about its normal business. People are late, drivers are honking and getting angry. I wanted to capture that mayhem and confusion on one side, and on the other show a ho hum normal city night.”

He set up a tripod with the camera at eye-level, hoping to get shots of emergency responders in action. Each shot was left running for two to three minutes, giving Griffiths enough time to get out of the way and allow for something interesting to happen.

Key Takeaway: Find a unique perspective. The shots within the barricades put viewers directly in the middle of the bombing’s aftermath. It offered a more raw, natural perspective than what you’d see in standard news reports.

How to Get the Right Light and Sound

360 cameras don’t deal well with high contrast light, making this night shoot a little tough. The flashing lights from ambulances and police cars also ruined several shots. Griffiths just tried as best he could to avoid the extremes of light, like he would with a normal camera.

For sound, he used a lavalier microphone to interview police officers but didn’t include that footage. For the ambient shots, he recorded using the internal microphone on the camera itself. “It’s not great, but I turned it low in post,” he says.

Key Takeaway: Follow the same principles of light and sound as you would for normal video shoots. Dealing with spatial audio is more complicated, but the AP has started to experiment with that.

How it Was Edited

Griffiths needed to use an app that comes with the Samsung Gear 360 camera to render the footage into the right format. That took about 40 minutes. The AP now primarily uses the Nikon Keymission, which doesn’t require that rendering. “It saves a significant chunk of time when you’re publishing breaking news,” he says.

He used Adobe Premiere Pro with a 360 Mettle plugin to edit, and placed text on two sides of each shot so viewers didn’t have to turn 360 degrees to see important information. “I always work on the assumption that people might not turn their heads and have the focus on the shot be in the center,” he says.

He edited each shot to last for around 15 seconds, giving people a chance to take in the whole scene. “Editing is the easiest part,” according to Griffiths, noting it’s usually just six shots then a fade to black.

Key Takeaway: Edit shots to be at least 10 seconds long. This gives viewers enough time to look around and explore the surroundings.

Why This Story Worked in 360

Griffiths believes this video worked so well because he was able to get it up so quickly. “For any medium, the faster it gets out the better,” he says. “And this one put people on the scene quickly and in a unique way.”

Key Takeaway: The best 360 stories put viewers in a place they couldn’t otherwise get to. With so much confusion around the bombing as it happened, viewers wanted to see what it was like to be there. It was raw and authentic, and enabled viewers to look around the entire scene, giving them a more comprehensive perspective.