Posts Tagged ‘just’

How Seasaw Filmed a Music Video in Just 6 Hours, and You Can Too!

23 Mar

We love it when our friends do cool things, especially when they’re cool photo or video things. And we love it even more when they tell us all the secrets to how they did it.

Our friend Meg is in the band Seasaw and she recently used a few Photojojo products, an app, and an iPhone to make their latest music video – a cover of Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So.”

The entire video was shot in just six hours, in a kitchen. Say whaaaat? Just how did they do it?

Below you can find Meg’s steps to music video magic, and try one or all of these tips when filming your next flick!

Read the rest of How Seasaw Filmed a Music Video in Just 6 Hours, and You Can Too! (703 words)

© Meg for Photojojo, 2017. |
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Just Pull Some Strings: 8 Easy Transforming Furniture Designs for Lazy People

21 Mar

[ By SA Rogers in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

gesture controlled transforming furniture

When you’re lazy, even the most intuitive transforming furniture isn’t easy enough to operate unless it’s on the same level as clapping your lights on and off. Luckily for those of us who fall into this category, some furniture makers are creating multifunctional designs for small spaces that work their magic at the push of a button, the pull of a string, a flick of the wrist or even a mere gesture.

Retractible Ollie Chair by RockPaperRobot

ollie chair gif

ollie chair flat pack

ollie chair

ollie chair

You really have to watch the video of how this chair works to fully appreciate its brilliant simplicity. It starts as an entirely flat panel of slatted teak wood with a slight curve at the top. Pick it up, pull a string and the whole thing unfurls into a seat in a single fluid motion that’s very satisfying to watch, and it works the same way in reverse. The slats are affixed to a textile canvas to make the seating flexible, and the rest takes folding inspiration from origami.

A-Board Flat-Pack Shelf


a-board 2

This bookshelf starts as a flat piece of laser-cut plywood. Yang the orange ribbon on the back, and it will pull the shelves down perpendicular to the face so you can rest the whole thing against a wall and use it as a bookshelf. Designer Tomas Schön used a laser-cutting technique to bend the wood instead of hinges, and there’s no other hardware or even glue involved.

MIT Media Lab CityHome

MIT cityhome

MIT cityhome 2

MIT cityhome 3

Still not easy enough for you? How about commanding your bed to slide out with a gesture of your hands? MIT’s robotic ‘home in a box’ can pack a full, spacious-feeling apartment into 200 square feet of space, including a bed, workspace, dining table for dix, storage and a mini kitchen. The box uses built-in sensors, motors, LED lights and low-friction rollers to respond to your voice commands or gestures.

Ori Robotic Home Controlled via Smartphone App

ori robotic home

ori robotic home 2

ori robotic home 3

There are all sorts of complex transforming furniture systems designed to fit maximum function into small spaces, but how many of them are operated through a smartphone app? The Ori system (taking its name from the prefix of ‘origami’) runs on robotic technology, featuring an on-device user interface as well as an app for your handheld device so you can press a button to initiate various configurations, like the bed sliding out, the table folding down or the entire unit moving to tuck itself against a wall to open up the floor area.

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Just Pull Some Strings 8 Easy Transforming Furniture Designs For Lazy People

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[ By SA Rogers in Design & Furniture & Decor. ]

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Posted in Creativity


Rugged Fujifilm XP120 arrives just in time for winter

09 Jan

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It’s snowy season here in the Northern Hemisphere, so Fujifilm’s release of its XP120 is well-timed. The XP120 has a 16.4MP BSI-CMOS sensor and a 28-140mm lens, and is waterproof to 20m/65ft, shockproof to 1.8m/5.7ft and freezeproof to -10C/+14F. 

Other features include a 3″ LCD, unique ‘Cinemagraph’ feature, which ‘produces still photos with moving elements’, 1080/60p video (with a wind filter) and Wi-Fi.

The XP120 will come in four colors – blue, sky blue, green and yellow – and will be available in February for $ 229.


Valhalla, N.Y., January 5, 2017 – FUJIFILM North America Corporation today announced the new FinePix XP120, with a 16.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor and a large 3.0 inch LCD monitor in a compact body. The new FinePix XP120 is waterproof to 65 feet \ 20 meters, shockproof to 5.7 feet \ 1.75 meters, freeze proof to 14°F \ -10°C and dust proof. The XP120 is equipped with a FUJINON lens that provides unique color reproduction technology and advanced sharpness to deliver outstanding image quality, making it an ideal choice for a wide variety of shooting situations in rugged environments.

Also announced are the new FUJIFILM X-Pro2 Body with XF23mmF2 R WR Lens and Lens Hood Kit, Graphite Edition, and the new FUJIFILM X-T2 Body, Graphite Silver Edition.

FinePix XP120 Delivers Four-Way Rugged Protection
The XP120 is waterproof to 65 feet \ 20 meters, shockproof to 5.7 feet \ 1.75 meters, freeze proof to 14°F \ -10°C and dust proof and is designed for ease of use in outdoor activities. The XP120 features an improved grip design for firm one-handed holding and a double-locking mechanism for the battery compartment. There is no need to worry about water, sand or short drops, making it the perfect first camera for children when on a fun adventure.

High Performance Sensor and Lens for Sharp Images

The XP120 is equipped with a 16.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor and FUJINON 5x optical zoom lens that includes a 28mm wide-angle setting for sweeping landscape and scenic shots. The optical zoom range can be doubled to 10x with Intelligent Digital Zoom technology, while the camera’s optical image stabilization function ensures that any effects from camera shake are minimized.

Compact and lightweight design with a large 3.0-inch 920K-dot LCD monitor

The new compact XP120 has a large 3.0 inch 920K-dot high definition LCD monitor with anti-reflective coating in its lightweight body making it perfect for outdoor activities. The monitor inhibits light reflection so you are able to comfortably check composition and pictures taken under bright daylight or underwater. The operation buttons on the new XP120 were created in pursuit of optimal size and position, enabling smooth operation even while wearing gloves or holding with one hand. And, the battery compartment is designed with a double-locking mechanism that requires two-stage operation to lock and unlock the lid.

Extensive Shooting Functions with an All New Cinemagraph for Artistic Expression

The XP120 offers an all-new Cinemagraph mode that produces still images with moving elements. Cinemagraph is a novel photographic approach that creates an image somewhere between a still and video, which makes a stark contrast against the rest of the still image so that it appears as if time has been frozen. Additional features that aid versatile artistic expressions include Burst Mode of up to 10 fps, smooth full HD video recording of 60 fps, and time-lapse recording which is useful for fixed-point observation of scenes such as sunsets and flowers opening.

FinePix XP120 Key Features:

  • 16.4MP back-illuminated CMOS sensor and FUJINON 5x optical zoom lens with 28mm wide-angle setting
  • Four-way protection
    • Waterproof up to 65 feet/20 meters, shockproof to 5.7 feet/1.75 meters, freeze proof to 14°F/ -10°C and dust proof
  • Compact lightweight design with 3.0 inch 920K dot high definition LCD monitor with anti-reflective coating
  • Scene Recognition Mode quickly determines the scene before optimizing focus, exposure and shutter speed for best possible results
    • Underwater and underwater macro functions available
  • Remote Shooting function: Allows for wireless connection from the XP120 to a smartphone or tablet for remote camera operations such as releasing the shutter or zooming in and out
  • Interval Timer Shooting: Automatically shoot any number of images in set intervals
    • Interval can be set to either 5 or 10 minutes, or 15, 30 or 60 seconds
  • Burst Mode up to 10 fps, and Advanced Burst Mode capable of shooting at up to 60 fps
  • Time Lapse Video: Automatically converts images taken with interval timer to video
    • Frame rates of 10fps, 30fps or 60 fps can be selected along with three different types of movie size, including full HD. Allows for capturing transitions in nature from a stationary point, such as sunsets or opening flowers
  • Wireless LAN connectivity, Smartphone Transfer and the FUJIFILM Camera Remote app
    • Transfer photos and videos from the XP120 to your smartphone or tablet, or directly to the Instax Share SP-2 Printer for quick, high-quality prints
  • Cinemagraph mode: produces still images with moving elements
  • Motion Panorama 360° function for superb panoramic shots, and the Advanced Filter function to create advanced artistic effects with ease
    • Select from 11 filters when taking pictures or 7 filters during video recording
  • Records smooth Full HD video at 1080/60p with a dedicated movie button
  • Wind Filter Setting: reduces wind noise which is often a problem with outdoor movie recording 

Availability and Pricing

The FinePix XP120 will be released in late February 2017 in the U.S. and Canada for USD $ 229.95 and CAD $ 239.99.

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4 Tips to Leverage Natural Light Using Just your Camera and One Lens

29 Nov

In photography light is everything. Without light, whether that be artificial or natural, there is no photography. The problem is that sometimes there is just too much or too little, and in both cases, artificial light may need to be added. But what if you don’t have any artificial light available to you? And what if all you have is literally a camera with a lens and nothing else? This article focuses on how you can leverage natural light using just one lens and working without a reflector or a speedlight.

#1 Position your subject in relation to the light

Let’s take a look at these photos below. It was a very sunny day and I wanted to capture the blueness of the sky and the sea as well as the people in the shots. I had a D700 which has a base ISO of 200 and the 50mm 1.4 lens. I have provided the settings below for each photo.


f/5.6 ISO 200, 1/2000th


f/5.6 ISO 200, 1/1250th


f/6.3 ISO 200, 1/2000th

These settings are okay on a very sunny day if you shoot with the sun positioned behind you shining towards your subject. In this case the sea and sky, which also illuminated the people that I wanted to be in the photo.

Lighting position

While these photos are fine, there are a few issues. First, put simply, when this is the lighting position, anyone, and any camera can take these types of photos. You can shoot in automatic mode and the photos would look the same. Mobile phones nowadays can take even more amazing photos in this situation where there is a huge amount of light hitting the subject and the background directly.

I love these types of photos for travel photography, high contrast shots and snapshots that would make me remember such scenes. But if I am after portraits, would I hire a professional photographer who would give me photos that anyone can take? Definitely not! Sure, the occasional lifestyle snapshot in this lighting is acceptable such as this one directly below shot at f/2.5 ISO 200, 1/2500th. But I would not want proper portraits of my family to be taken in this lighting situation.




Harsh shadows

The second issue is the harsh shadows. As a professional photographer, this would never be my lighting position for people or portraits. Even if the sun was coming in at a side-angle, undiffused sunlight directly hitting the subject still produces harsh shadows and hotspots. I would prefer for the sun to be behind the subjects, also known as backlighting, rather than directly in front of them.

If your intention is to take nicely lit portraits with a background that is not blown out, for backlighting to work, you would need to have a big enough flash or reflector to illuminate your subject to avoid silhouettes. Conversely, you can simply expose for your subject but you will have to blow out (overexpose) the background. Therefore, you end up with a white sky rather than a blue sky.

An example of backlighting is this sunset photo below. The houses and the boats were not illuminated. I was too far away for my pop-up flash to be of any help, and I didn’t have a tripod for a long exposure and smaller aperture. But I still wanted to capture some of the soft sky color along with the sunset. Balancing the exposure was tricky and I ended up shooting this image with the following settings; f/5, ISO 200, 1/320th. While the ambient light of the sunset was captured, the other elements in the photo were too dark and ended up almost like silhouettes.


What if you have nothing else but a camera and lens with you? You do not want all your photos to be silhouettes when shooting backlit, or too dark when shooting in the shade. So what you can do is leverage your surroundings by positioning your subject carefully in relation to the light. If you have to shoot backlit portraits in a situation similar to above, shoot an intentional silhouette or use your flash for fill light (more on this below).

If you’re doing portraits where you want to focus on well-exposed faces, avoid positioning your subject where they are facing the sun which results in harsh light and shadows. On a very sunny day, you may want to wait for the golden hour – the time shortly after sunrise or before sunset –  when the sun is much lower on the horizon and the light is much softer. This yields a light that is much more flattering for portraits. If it is a bright but overcast day, the clouds act as a huge diffuser and the shadows are not as harsh so it is easier to photograph portraits in those conditions.

#2 Look for ideal light

Ideal light is often indirect, reflected, or subtractive light. This can take various forms:

  • Indirect lighting can be the soft diffused light coming from a window.
  • Reflected light can be that bouncing off a white floor, wall, bright sand, or from white or light-colored clothing you are wearing.
  • Subtractive light can be achieved by blocking the light with a diffuser, umbrella or a flag (any flat black object large enough to block any direct light hitting your subject).

Get out of the sun

As this article does not involve any equipment other than your camera and lens, instead of blocking the light, I positioned my subject in the shade. So that instead of subtracting light from my subject, I subtracted my subject from the light and put her in the shade.

In this example below, it was a very bright day and I did not want any direct light falling on my daughter’s face. I put her completely in the shade but deliberately next to the caravan wall which was light beige. There is some reflected light from the side that helps illuminate her face and the generally shadowed area we were in.


In this photo below taken in the zoo, there was no natural light at all. A fluorescent light illuminated the box where the snake was. You can see this white light reflected on the top part of the snake’s eye (catchlight). I waited for the snake to get into this position and used the light which was bouncing from the ceiling onto him to get this shot.


In this photo below, there was no ideal light! We were in a pretty darkly shaded area and the enclosure was mottled with spots of sun and shade. I positioned myself where I knew I could catch a good close up of the tiger in complete shade and waited for it to pass by.  The contrast between the light and shade was so strong that had I taken the photo of the tiger with his body in half sun and half shade, it would not have come out well at all.


#3 Use your pop-up flash as fill light

Now I know that photographers are sometimes funny (and snobby) about using the camera’s built-in pop-up flash. I am one of those photographers, with good reasons. The camera’s pop-up flash blasts light directly onto your subject. It gives you a rather flat and unflattering light with a harsh shadow around the jaw and head to boot. Unless your intention is to shoot like this such as some fashion houses do (and they do it so professionally by the way), then this is a no-no in portrait photography. Ideally, you want the light bounced and angled – anything but aimed directly from the camera toward the subject.

However, I do use my pop-up flash quite a bit! In fact, I use it when I don’t have a flash gun (speedlight) and I’m shooting backlit, especially when the sun is strong. And I have no qualms using it as a direct light in this situation because the camera’s flash is not strong enough to overpower the sun anyway. So the most you get out of it is a little bit of fill light.

Take this photo of the monkeys below. Had I not used my pop-up flash, there would have been no detail captured on the monkey’s face at all. The sun was too powerful that the pop-up flash could never have flattened the face and created harsh shadows anyway, and I was also too far away from the monkeys for that to happen.


Using the pop-up flash is a fast and easy way to add light. Just be mindful of the caveats and be circumspect when using it.

#4 Try long exposures to capture natural light

Shutter speed has everything to do with ambient light regardless of whether you are doing long exposures or using on-camera, off-camera, or pop-up flash. In fact, with regards to the latter three, flash exposure is completely unaffected by shutter speed.

With long exposures, you can take photos even when very little light is available. You need a tripod, or something steady and flat to rest your camera on like a table or chair, and you’re good to go. So why would you want to slow down your shutter speed and when must you do it? Do it when you want to capture the ambient light.

Armed with just a 50mm and the camera placed on a steady surface, I slowed my shutter speed right down to a few seconds using the bulb setting. I may have captured the moon rising but the sky is pitch black and not enough ambient light was captured. My shutter speed might have been slow but not slow enough. Ambient light was very crucial here because there were stars in the sky.


In contrast to the above, the photo below is the same scene photographed with a much slower shutter speed so that the stars are visible.


Even with just the 50mm you can photograph the starry sky such as below. However, don’t go over 10 seconds as you would then start capturing the star trails.


Using shutter speed wisely and skillfully is a great tool for capturing mood, color, and ambient light, even when there is very little of it. There is some light you don’t ever want to kill such as the soft evening light just after sunset. These photos were taken simply with a camera with a 50mm lens at a slow shutter speed, a wide aperture, and a fairly high ISO (as I was on a slow moving boat). These images were shot at;  f/2.5, ISO 2500, 1/100th. A faster shutter speed would have killed this light and rendered the sky pitch black. Too slow I would have run the risk of blurry photos due to the moving boat.





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Just a Reflector: Upside-Down Mural Looks Right in the Water Below

18 Oct

[ By WebUrbanist in Art & Drawing & Digital. ]

mural painting actual

Designed to look right-side-up when reflected off the water below, this series wall murals features a series of nautical themes, including depictions of swimmers, rowers and swans. While the image above is accurate and untouched, a modified photo (shown below) shows a more idealized version that does not really reflect reality.

photoshopped reflective water mural

New York-based Ray Bartkus made this mural for the Lithuanian city of Marijampole, set alongside the river Šešupe, which flows through the city’s center. The artist is known for other works that rely on mirrors and reflections as well.

mural artists work

mural under construction

mural painting process

A bit like a trompe l’oeil illusion, the viewer’s position changes the composition, and their is an ideal spot for the optical effect in relation to the various vertical planes onto which the murals were painted.

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Posted in Creativity


Drone footage of aurora over Iceland is just what your weekend needs

27 Aug

Maybe it’s unreasonably hot where you live, like it is here. Maybe you just smashed your phone screen on a sidewalk (and you KNEW you should have paid for that Apple Care). It’s none of our business why, but if your troubled mind needs soothing, we found just the thing for it: this video of the Northern Lights shot from a drone soaring over Iceland. 

The footage comes from OZZO Photography and a Sony a7S II with Sigma 20mm F1.4 strapped to a DJI Matrice 600 (that’s a $ 4600 pro-grade drone, for those keeping score at home). It all adds up to one sweet, nerve-calming minute and a half.

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DEAL: $5000 worth of Post Production Tools for Just $79

13 Jul

It’s the 7th and final day of our 2016 Summer Sale… and we’ve saved the biggest deal until last!

The good people over at Photographypla have made their Ultimate Photography Bundle, worth a whopping US$ 5,000+, available to dPS subscribers for just US$ 79.


Yes, $ 5,000+, worth of resources for Lightroom and Photoshop for $ 79.

In it you’ll get:

  • 1,000+ Lightroom presets
  • 1,000+ Photoshop actions
  • 500+ actions for Photoshop Elements to apply a huge variety of different effects to your photos in no time.
  • 1,000+ photo overlays for weddings, engagements, graduations and more
  • 130+ print templates with announcements for births, graduation, weddings and more
  • 120+ digital frames
  • Collection of business and marketing resources (including contract templates)

Why buy presets or actions in small packs when you can get this MASSIVE bundle at an amazing price? Get it while it lasts!

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DEAL: Learn How to Take Beautiful Black and White Photos for just $6

10 Jul

NewImageToday is deal 4 of our mid year sale and you’re sure to love this one…

Our Essential Guide to Black & White Photography ebook – just $ 6!

We’ve never offered this best selling eBook at this price – so save 70% today only.

Grab your copy using this link:

Not only do black and white images have undeniable beauty, they can also bring added emotion, passion and drama to your photography portfolio. So if you’re looking to ramp up any of these things in your work, then this is definitely the deal for you.

Remember, each deal this week is open for 24 hours only. So get in early or risk missing out on this exceptional $ 6 price!

Snap it up here before it’s gone.

Note: as with all our eBooks this one comes with a money back guarantee. If you don’t find it suits your needs simply contact our support team within 60 days and we’ll refund your money – no questions asked.

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Not Just a Facade: 15 Dynamic Modern Exterior Treatments

09 Jun

[ By SA Rogers in Architecture & Offices & Commercial. ]

facades fish 3

The word ‘facade’ implies illusion, and that can be true even when it’s used to refer to the faces of buildings, as secondary structures wrap around them like veils, obscuring their true form and creating dazzling displays of light and shadow like a distracting sleight of hand. Some facades disguise the original building in a form of low-impact renovation, while others are kinetic, opening and closing or rippling in the wind.

Geometric Planter Facade

facades geometric planter 1

facades geometric planter 2

The exterior of the Firma Casa store in São Paulo, Brazil, which promotes young Brazilian furniture designers, gets an appropriately hip and modern look with the addition of a screen of geometric vases. 3,500 individual planters hold 9,000 seedlings and project slightly out from the exterior walls, keeping soil and water away from them for a relatively low-impact and low-budget green wall solution.

Roll-Up Facade Forms Canopy

Facade roll up 1

facade roll up 2

Incredibly simple, yet unusual enough to stop you in your tracks on the street, this facade uses ordinary materials with an unexpected twist. Tokyo-based studio Ninkipen! made this contemporary white home stand out from its neighbors with a peeling facade that rolls up slightly from the ground level to create an awning for the garage.

Undulating Facade of Fins Looks Like Swimming Fish

facades fish 1

facades fish 2

facades fish 3

The angled steel fins enveloping the Industrial Technology Research Institute at the Central Taiwan Innovation & Research Park is intended to recall the look of a school of fish swimming in synchronicity. Noiz Architects customized the opacity of the screen according to the function going on inside each particular area of the building, since some research areas, exhibition spaces, greenhouses, cafes and other programs require different degrees of sunlight. This veil-like screen is separate from the building itself, making for easy repairs and additions and occasionally stretching out to create indoor/outdoor spaces.

Kinetic Parking Garage Facade

facades kinetic garage 1

facades kinetic garage 2

118,000 suspended aluminum panels gently flap in the wind, creating textures reminiscent of flowing textiles and rippling water. Designed by artist Ned Kahn and fixed to the exterior of the Brisbane Airport parking garage in Australia, the kinetic facade reacts to its natural environment, constantly changing as it provides shade and ventilation for the interior.

Perforated Shutters on a Concrete Home

facade perforated 1

facade perforated 2

facade perforated 3

All street-facing and neighbor-visible windows on the ‘May Grove’ residence in Melbourne by Jackson Clements Burrows can be covered with perforated shutters integrated right into the facade, or opened when the inhabitants want a clear view. Not only do they control ventilation and privacy for this low-cost modern home, they create a play of light and shadow throughout the interior during the day.

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Not Just A Facade 15 Dynamic Modern Exterior Treatments

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Virtual Reality: It’s not just for gamers anymore

31 May
The Nokia OZO is a state of the art VR camera.

Virtual reality, or VR, has the potential to redefine the way we interact with images, including still images, movies, and other forms of visual storytelling. It’s already being adopted by major news organizations to take you deeper into stories, Hollywood studios that want to generate more immersive entertainment, and content creators who want to share experiences that don’t work as effectively on a flat screen.

VR is still at a stage where it’s mostly of interest to early adopters, but it’s an exciting time to get involved with this new medium. In particular, it’s great time for photographers and filmmakers to start thinking about VR as this technology will likely impact the way we share our work, tell stories, and even remain competitive in business over the next several years.

Timing is everything

My first VR experience came many years ago when a technology incubator next to the molecular biology lab where I worked asked for volunteers to test a new ‘human interface technology.’ I found myself standing in a room full of computers, wearing a large headset with wires hanging out, and with something that looked like a hockey glove on my hand. A nerdy grad student was on hand to guide me through a virtual world.

The graphics in this world consisted of nothing more than rooms full of poorly shaded spheres, cubes, and cylinders. There was no illusion of reality, but I could navigate through doors and wonder around. I later discovered that the grad student was actually from the psychology department and that I was, for all intents and purposes, a lab rat trying to find my cheese in a virtual maze. The grad student never revealed whether I did a better job of navigating the maze than the real rat, but the VR experience stuck in my mind. My gut told me it had potential.

“I was, for all intents and purposes, a lab rat trying to find my cheese in a virtual maze…”

As Mark Banas’ recent article discusses, and as my own ersatz rat experience confirms, VR has been around for a while and has even enjoyed some success, particularly in the gaming world. However, the technology behind VR may finally be sophisticated enough to give it a fighting chance of being useful to a wider audience, particularly photographers and filmmakers. When I discuss VR in this article I’ll be specifically referring to VR in this context – for photographers, filmmakers, and also visual storytellers.

I’m not a hard core computer gamer or a rabid VR enthusiast; it’s likely that some of you reading this article know a lot more about VR than I do. However, I suspect I’m fairly representative of the typical photographer/filmmaker who’s followed VR from afar with a healthy bit of skepticism, waiting for someone to make a convincing argument that VR is relevant to me.

VR has enjoyed some success in the gaming world, but as a visual storyteller I’ve been waiting for someone to demonstrate how VR is relevant to me.

That’s not to say that I haven’t experimented with VR, it’s just that until recently it never seemed terribly compelling to me as a content creator. Almost every VR experience I tried boiled down the same basic formula:

  1. Videographer places a VR camera in an iconic location and captures video from a single spot.
  2. Viewer puts on a headset and watches video until he or she gets bored.

At this point it seems like I’ve (virtually) stood around a lot of places: the pyramids of Egypt, next to the Eiffel Tower, Machu Picchu… you get the idea. But the key words are ‘stood around’. The experience can be interesting at first, but after about 30 seconds you’ve spun in a circle, looked up and down, and pretty much seen all there is to see.

But that’s not what you do when you go to one of these places, in real life. You want to explore, to learn something, to understand the story of the people or the place that you’re visiting.

Viewing an iconic place, such as Machu Picchu, using VR can be interesting. However, unless you show your audience something unique, help them understand the place, or immerse them in a compelling experience, they will quickly lose interest.

Virtual Experiences

For VR to gain any type of traction it needs to go beyond this ‘stand there and look around’ model – and, fortunately, it has. This was particularly noticeable at the NAB trade show in April where VR technology appeared to be everywhere. There was even a Virtual and Augmented Reality Pavilion that served as a hub for numerous VR companies, including makers of capture devices, display systems, and even content creators.

My personal VR epiphany occurred at a technology showcase run by Kaleidoscope VR, a VR studio. In a roped off area dozens of people sat in chairs spread across the floor, each engrossed in some virtual world. What set the experience apart from most other VR demos I’ve seen was that the focus was on putting viewers into immersive stories and experiences.

Visitors trying virtual reality at the Kaleidoscope VR showcase.

‘Content is King’ may be one of the most overused phrases in modern media, but it keeps getting recycled because it’s fundamentally true. Lack of good content is why VR always seemed dull or gimmicky to me in the past, but my experience at the VR Showcase proved that with the right content VR can be incredibly compelling.

The first ‘film’ I selected was a VR experience called ‘Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness.’ Based on the audio diaries of a man named John Hull, who recorded hours of observations about how he learned to ‘see’ the world through sound after losing his sight in 1983, ‘Notes on Blindness’ isn’t, strictly speaking, an actual film. (It is, after all, an effort to help the viewer understand what it’s like to be blind.) Instead, it uses audio and 3D animations that mimic the real world.

Each scene begins mostly in darkness, accompanied by Hull’s narration of where he is and what he’s hearing. As different sounds enter the space, he describes them and indicates directionality, using phrases like “Behind my right shoulder I hear a car starting,” or “To my left I hear somebody running,” in a way that prompts you to move your head around to look. In essence, he’s directing you even if you don’t realize it. After a while you discover that Hull is able to draw a mental picture of what’s around him based on subtle cues such as the different sounds raindrops make when hitting objects, like a window or a teacup. As he speaks, scenes are gradually revealed in a manner reminiscent of The Matrix, but also rely on your imagination to complete the mental image.

I hope I never experience real blindness, however for the first time in my life I feel like I might have a very basic understanding of what it’s like for a blind person to try to ‘see’ the world using their other senses. The experience was more powerful than I anticipated.

The trailer for ‘Notes on Blindness’ (above) will give you a rough idea of what I’m trying to describe here. The VR experience will be available for download on June 30 if you want to try it yourself.

I also viewed ‘Witness 360: 7/7,’ a VR film that follows the experience of Jacqui Putnam, a commuter on the London Tube during the terrorist bombings of July 7, 2005. Shot documentary style, you see the places Jacqui went that day, including riding on the Tube itself, and hear her vivid descriptions of what happened. When she mentions something like “The person sitting next to me,” you turn and, sure enough, there’s a person sitting next to you that roughly matches her description.

The experience was more tense than I expected. I knew what was going to happen, and yet as I stood there on the train next to everybody else – real people who just happened to be on the Tube – I kept thinking to myself ‘These people are about to die.’ The fact that I could look around and feel immersed in the situation, able to see the things Jacqui was describing, generated a visceral reaction that I’m not used to feeling while watching a documentary. It felt personal.

Despite very different subjects and creative approaches, both these VR experiences had one critical thing in common: neither one would have worked as effectively on a flat screen. They depended on a VR environment to achieve their impact. 

By now you’re probably asking how still photography fits into the VR world. Quite nicely, it turns out. Of course, the obvious applications are things like real estate photography, where 360º views can be critically important to attracting eyeballs. The real estate industry has been finding ways of doing this for years already, and new tools will only make the experience better and smoother. But it’s the creative possibilities that are really interesting.

One thing photography has always been good at is closing distance, i.e. taking you to a faraway place you may not be able to visit in person. It’s the reason we know what most of the world looks like despite never having been to most of it. VR has the potential to take this a step further. In the same way that color photography allowed us to see places differently than we could in black and white, VR will allow us to see places in an immersive way that we can’t experience with a two dimensional picture. I’m not suggesting the VR is better than a still photo any more than I would suggest that a color photo is better than a black and white one. My point is that they are different, and each allows us to experience the world in a way the others don’t.

Nice kitty. Imagine using a VR camera to put your viewer right into the middle of a pride of lions.

Photo: Jeff Keller

The key to VR still photography will be figuring out how to leverage the strengths of the medium. For example, most people enjoy a great landscape or wildlife photo. If you show me a beautiful Serengeti landscape with a lion in it I’ll probably love the photo. However, if you show me that same landscape in VR it might not be as compelling since I can’t see it all at once. However, if you let me stand right in the middle of a pride of lions eating a wildebeest you’ll get my attention, because that’s something I haven’t experienced in a normal photo.

What all of these examples highlight is how important it will be for artists to take new and different approaches to capturing, editing, and presenting their work. It’s an open canvas, and one that’s still largely undefined.

VR Requires New Grammar

As Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki told us a couple months ago, the grammar and language of VR have yet to be written. This is true in a literal sense. Words like ‘framing’ and ‘panning’ simply don’t apply to VR. New words are needed, and nobody has agreed on what those words are yet. The one thing they do agree on is that VR will require different approaches appropriate to the medium.

This can be seen in the films described above, particularly ‘Witness.’ For example, the conventional documentary formula is to intercut interview footage with b-roll, but that never happens in ‘Witness.’ The convention works in flat films because you can lock the viewer into a rectangular frame and demand their attention. But what happens when the viewer has the freedom to look anywhere they want? Maybe they will get distracted by a picture hanging on the wall, or something happening outside a window. ‘Witness’ solves this by relying entirely on voiceover while featuring a few location shots of Jacqui Putnam throughout the film. This is just one example of where traditional filmmaking techniques don’t translate easily to VR, and there are many others.

It isn’t the first time content creators have faced this challenge. In the early days of television, studios often tried to repackage shows made for radio into TV, such as American soap operas. Daytime soap operas on radio were aimed at homemakers who could listen while working around the house. Studio executives had reservations about whether soap operas would even work on TV since they would require the homemaker to actually watch a screen.

Early soap operas were produced for radio; when TV came along producers had to figure out how to take advantage of the new medium.

By Photo by G. Nelidoff, Chicago, for CBS/Columbia Broadcasting Company. (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Some production elements from radio didn’t translate well to TV. For example, producers had to re-think product placement and advertisements in shows – the very reason for the existence of soap operas in the first place – because having an actress pick up a box of laundry detergent and talk about its virtues in the middle of a scene just didn’t seem believable on TV. It took a few years before the industry perfected the formula.

The reason I point this out is because we’re still in the early days of VR. It’s easy to look at VR as it exists now and think of it as a gimmick, a tool for gamers, or a toy for tech nerds. And that’s OK – people thought similar things about TV at one point, but once content creators figured out how to effectively use the medium there was no turning back. I suspect the same will be true of VR: once the language of VR is fully developed, and hardware for consuming content becomes more convenient (it will), there’s a lot of opportunity to do creative things that may not work on a flat screen.

Why VR is not 3D Television

I mentioned above that VR seemed to be everywhere at trade shows like CES and NAB this year. That’s an encouraging sign, but it’s worth noting that ubiquity of a technology at an industry trade show does not equate to commercial success. I need only mention 3D television to make my point, and several people have dismissed VR to me as just ‘the next 3D TV.’

I believe VR is a much more promising technology than 3D television, and will ultimately be more successful, for a couple of important reasons.

One advantage of VR compared to 3D TV is that viewers can at least try it with an inexpensive viewing device, such as Google Cardboard, and a smartphone.

3D television struggled with a classic chicken-and-egg situation. Networks were reluctant to invest in infrastructure to produce 3D content without some assurance that there would be a critical mass of audience; consumers were reluctant to invest in $ 1,000+ devices without some assurance that content would be available. For studios, this was potentially a very expensive experiment that carried a lot of financial risk. Also, many consumers had only recently upgraded to HDTV, and it was a tough sell to convince them to invest in new hardware so soon. By now everyone knows how this ended.

The stakes around VR are different. First, most VR content is being distributed through platforms like YouTube or on mobile devices where production standards are less stringent than for broadcast television. VR also has the advantage that the lowest common denominator for viewing content is the smartphone, meaning that most consumers already have a screen on which to watch content (alone or when combined with an inexpensive viewing device).

The lowest common denominator for viewing VR is the phone most of us already have in our pocket.

Photo: Dale Baskin Photography

On the production side of the equation, low cost capture devices ranging in price from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars are easily accessible to content creators. It’s not an unmanageable risk for someone running a successful YouTube channel, or even an indie filmmaker, to invest a small amount of money to try the technology. Similarly, it’s easy to envision news media such as The New York Times, USA Today, or even your local TV station sending reporters into the field with a $ 1,000 VR camera to bring immersive experiences to their apps and web pages.

In one particularly telling move, last November The New York Times sent free Google Cardboard to all of their print subscribers – over one million of them – to insure that they could use The Times’ new VR app. The Times followed up a few weeks ago by announcing that they would also send free Cardboard to many of their digital subscribers as well. When the barrier to entry is so low that a content producer can afford to give all their subscribers a free device on which to consume their content it’s a great indication of how accessible the technology can be.

In November the New York Times sent Google Cardboard to all their print subscribers, and a few weeks ago announced similar plans for digital subscribers.

Are we there yet?

At this point I probably sound pretty enthusiastic about VR – which I am – but I’ll also provide a reality check and let you know that we’re not quite there yet in terms of the technology.

VR depends on belief; the belief that you’re somewhere you’re not. One of the things you figure out really fast with VR is that in order for it to be believable, every part of the experience must work. This includes image quality, the general viewing experience, audio, and even the space you’re in and how you interact with it. If any part of the experience is incomplete or breaks, then the experience becomes less believable.

As photographers, you’ll notice this immediately when it comes to picture quality. We’ve become spoiled by high resolution, high dynamic range sensors that are almost magic relative to what we had just a decade ago. VR cameras aren’t there yet. Resolution is limited (usually 4K, but spread across the entire 360 degree field of view), highlights may be blown or shadows lost, and the richness of color we’re used to just isn’t there. However, in the same way that early digital photographers managed to create great photos with 2MP and 3MP cameras, VR content creators are finding ways to work within the limits of their tools.

One of the most accessible VR cameras available today is the Ricoh Theta (above) which lists for $ 260. Alternatively, the Nokia OZO (seen at the top of the article) lists for $ 60,000. The one thing they both have in common is that neither captures the same resolution, dynamic range, or richness of color we’re used to with modern ‘2D’ cameras.

Viewing devices will need to improve as well. Not only are they large and unwieldy, but the thing that makes VR so accessible – your mobile phone – is also one of the bottlenecks to the experience. Magnified by VR lenses, video looks pixelated and low resolution by today’s standards, sometimes exhibiting a ‘screen door effect’ similar to looking through a mesh screen. When Sony introduced a smartphone with a 4K display I initially thought of it as marketing overkill. In retrospect, I don’t know if they had VR in mind, but VR is a case where a 4K phone really could provide an improved experience. Suddenly, I like the idea of a 4K smartphone.

Audio is a much bigger challenge. There’s an old adage in filmmaking, which I’ve discussed on the site before, which says that an audience will forgive a bad picture, but they won’t forgive bad sound. That’s actually more true in VR than on a flat screen because having an immersive experience is absolutely dependent on it. Audio for VR is in its infancy, and spatial audio that matches what you see, including directionality of sound as you move around, is critical to creating a believable experience. One studio executive I spoke with at NAB told me the biggest challenge in creating believable sound for VR is that 70% of viewers don’t actually wear headphones when watching VR, but instead rely on the speaker built into their phone, insuring a suboptimal experience.

Immersive audio, including directional audio, is crucial for VR experiences that include sound. One challenge for content creators is that 70% of VR consumers today use only the tiny speaker built into their phone.

Finally, there’s the disconnect between the virtual world and the real world. Its frustrating when you’re immersed in a VR experience at NASA Mission Control and you reach for the control panel only to find empty space, or when you’re standing in an open field but inadvertently bump into a wall. Some of this will be addressed through technology, but it’s also one of the challenges content creators will have to address through creative choices.

The good news is that all of these things are solvable problems, and smart people are working on them.

The Future is Now

As exciting as VR is, I’m not suggesting that it will replace traditional, two dimensional media such as photography or television. There’s plenty of room for both mediums to exist side-by-side.

I recently shared this thought with a friend, who thoughtfully responded “Then what type of stories are best told in VR versus other mediums?” After thinking about it I realized this was probably the wrong question to ask. After all, if you replace the word VR in that sentence with any other form of media, like TV or print, it doesn’t make sense. You can tell a story with any medium, but the challenge is figuring out how to leverage the strengths of each for maximum impact. In that sense, VR is no different.

Also, as much as I’m excited by VR, I really don’t want to have complete control over my viewing experience for everything. I want master filmmakers and photographers to craft a story in their image, or to show me the world as they see it, without necessarily giving me the freedom to mess it up. I can’t imagine how The Godfather would be any better if I had the freedom to look around the scene instead of watching it the way Francis Ford Coppola shot it. On the other hand, I look forward to as-yet-uncreated projects that allow me to participate more freely in the experience.

What’s potentially most exciting are the VR applications that haven’t been invented yet. I can’t wait for the day when NASA puts VR cameras on landers going to Mars or the moons of Saturn, allowing me to stand virtually on the icy surface of Titan, gazing out over a methane sea.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make my first VR film.

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