In photojournalism, it’s all about using pictures to tell the story. I approach every assignment the same way, asking myself, “What tools will I use? Will I use still or video? How am I going to tell this story?” More recently, I’ve been asking myself new questions: “Will I use the Ricoh Theta? Will the story benefit from a 360-degree view?”
For a photojournalist, there’s a kind of magic that happens when you know you’ve got The Shot. It’s when everything just comes together — the composition, the colors, the light, the exposure. Years ago, it was much more challenging. We used to have only 36 frames of film in our still cameras to get that shot. Today, I have an entire 32GB card. I have more opportunities with my digital cameras to get that perfect image.There is no “typical” day. It may start with me shooting a local parade, and end with a press conference with a governor, with many assignments in between. The only similarity between days is that my mantra is always “shoot-edit-sendnext.” Technology has had a major impact on photojournalism. We’re now able to truly capture the moment and then share it in nearly real time. The immediacy of everything is paramount.
I started using the Ricoh Theta S right before I traveled to New Hampshire for the presidential primary coverage in 2016. Gannett purchased a suite of cameras for its photographers, and I decided the primary was a good test bed. I immediately realized that the Theta S is a powerful tool for a pro, putting your viewers in control of what they see. And it puts them in the center of the action. It especially lends itself to photojournalism.There is no viewfinder, just a simple device with a button. I control it using the Theta S app on my iPhone, and mount the Theta S on my video camera or hold it with a monopod so the point of view is not so much my own, as it is when holding the camera. I have a monopod with feet, so I sometimes set that up in the middle of the action.
Mastering the Theta S takes a little practice, and you’re only going to figure out what works by trial and error. Almost from the start it became clear that I had to be in the middle of the action. This can be counterintuitive for a photographer used to shooting from the sidelines. It also helps if the action is happening within a foot or two of the camera, especially if the end product will be viewed on a smaller device like a phone. That’s a huge learning curve. But having the subject matter in close proximity makes these images that much more impactful.With a regular still or video, I’m fixated on focus. With the Theta S, I’m thinking of everything around me: I have to put myself in the scene, and then spin myself around to see if it’s interesting. It’s not just about what’s in front of me anymore. It makes it tougher to fill the frame, which I take on as a challenge of sorts.
The Theta S is always in my camera bag, and I take it out when I want to bring people into the middle of a scene, and allow them to look around. The resulting 360-degree image or video allows the viewers to use a finger or a cursor to pan totally around a scene, as well as look up or down. They can see so much more than in a flat photo. It’s a lot of fun for our readers, and it’s also been a lot of fun for me to experiment with a new medium.
A few assignments that come to mind where the Theta S absolutely made sense were the balloon drop at the Republican National Convention; the St. Patrick’s Day Parade; a college basketball game; and a horse race called the Haskell, where I mounted the Theta S on my video camera’s hot shoe and used the Theta S footage to produce a “behind-the-scenes” video while I was shooting the event.
A major side benefit to 360-degree imaging is that viewers will spend time on that photo or video when it’s posted online. For a media outlet in today’s web world, we want our readers to stay on the page as long as possible. With a regular photo, they’re on it for a second or two. With a Theta S image, they’re looking for much longer.
A lot of the pictures I’ve gotten have been surprisingly cool. It’s something you wouldn’t imagine; for example, the flag image was edited out from the video I shot of the St. Patrick’s Day parade. Because the image shows a 360-degree view of marchers holding a flag, when posted as a simple still, it becomes a really interesting symmetrical scene. When I was shooting the parade, it wasn’t even in my mind that it would work out that way. But the Theta S was absolutely the right camera for that picture.
I am looking forward to more experimentation with Ricoh’s Theta series of cameras and especially to shooting more video with it, as new, higher resolution models come to market. The resulting imagery is a powerful complement to my “traditional” stills and videos, allowing our readers to immerse themselves in a newsworthy moment. I consider Theta a critical tool in my photographer’s toolkit.
To view 360-degree still images related to this article, visit https://theta360.com/ users/184431.