Joe Steel's passion for 360° imaging was ignited ten years ago in his first year at university while studying for a degree in visual effects, and with the burgeoning interest in 360° his skills are increasingly in demand, including for films and commercials. He has worked with Microsoft, Virgin Atlantic and the Royal Navy – for whom his point-of-view, 360° immersive video was a world first – alongside the Invictus Games, Sherlock, Black Mirror, Assassin's Creed and the new Kingsman film, The Golden Circle.

One of Joe's most recent projects was using eight Nikon KeyMission 360 action cameras to capture a fully immersive, 360° video of Scottish rock band Biffy Clyro playing a one-off acoustic set at London's intimate Omeara venue, for the Nikon Presents the VO5 NME Awards Nominations Party. Find out how the KeyMission 360s performed, and why they are ideal for making the most of this increasingly popular medium.

How did you get the Biffy Clyro gig at the NME Nominations Party?

I was recommended for the job by my friend Paul Bugler who is a video producer for the NME – I've shot 360 for him before and I guess I'm now his go-to 360 guy. I was really excited by the freedom and challenges of filming a live performance. It's similar to wedding photography: you don't get another chance, so everything has to be meticulously planned.

What was it like filming the band?

It was quite complicated. Filming such a high-profile band like Biffy is quite hard anyway – the band themselves are great and really friendly, but you have to get through a wall of people to get to them. Then there's the fact that 360 cameras require a lot of light because they are so small – in such an intimate space where the band don't want to be dazzled by lights, lighting becomes tricky. We compromised by hanging festoon lights around the venue to give a bit of atmosphere and light up the crowd, who otherwise would have been pitch black. For the band, sound was a key aspect, but you can't record pro sound on such a small camera, so we hired a pro 360 audio engineer who used the latest technology to record every instrument separately and then mixed them together later in the studio.

Why did you use the KeyMission 360, and how did it perform?

Nikon was sponsoring the event so it made sense to use their new 360 camera, and they had offered to supply as many as we required. We ended up using eight in total and they outperformed what I was expecting, especially considering they are so small. I mounted three around the stage – one next to the singer, one by the bassist and one centring on the whole band. Then there was one above the crowd attached to the lighting gantry, which I controlled remotely from my iPhone using Nikon's SnapBridge 360 app – which worked really well – and we had two in the crowd on monopods, being hand-operated, plus two for shooting outside the venue.

What's great about them is that normally with 360 you have to stitch the image together in post-production, but the KeyMission handles all the stitching itself in-camera – which, as far as I know, is a first – so you can watch the video straight from the camera. Then there's the form factor. Other 360 rigs I work with are massive and look like the Death Star, which means they're not so easy to hide away, but the KeyMission 360 is ultra-discreet so you can use it without it being intrusive. That was really important, as the band didn't want to have cameras in their faces while they were on stage.

What else is in your kitbag?

Self-standing monopods, lots of them. You need to be able to quickly place a camera in the scene then go and hide out of shot. I've also got a lot of general grip equipment – super-clamps, weights and safety chains – plus a ton of micro SD cards and lens cloths. I also use drones for larger productions.

How did you get into filming and videography, and why 360?

I've been working as a senior effects guy for three years in film and commercials, but it all started with my interest in photography. Before going to university I worked in a photography studio which concentrated mainly on babies and portraiture, and I also shot reportage at weddings, but I realised it wasn't really for me, so I studied visual effects for my degree. I then did a masters in 3D stereoscopics, which gave me a lot of fundamental knowledge for the 360 work I do now.

I actually started doing 360 stitches ten years ago in my first year at university, and since then I've always enjoyed the 360 medium, but until recently no one really got it. Now it seems everyone wants it and I've adapted my photographic skills to tackle common 360 video challenges.

So what are the challenges and advantages of 360° work?

360 is how we see the world: it gives limitless story-telling opportunities and possibilities, and it also puts the viewer in control, encouraging their engagement by giving them a say in what and where they watch. It's a very interactive and immersive experience. There's a lot of interest in 360 video right now. It's a fun medium and the story-telling language for 360 isn't set in stone yet, so you can get very creative without fear of making mistakes. And for visual effects it's key for creating photo-real assets in 3D.

The main challenge for me is that the 360 camera sees everything – there's no hiding from a 360 camera! So where you put the camera operator and how does the director review the footage while you're shooting without ending up in frame? While filming the Biffy Clyro interview, for example, we had to leave the cameras rolling and hide out of sight in the next room, so we had no way of knowing what was happening. After 20 minutes we all started sweating quite heavily, and there was a huge sigh of relief at the end of the interview when we could see it had all worked!

What’s the editing process for 360 video?

It's similar to a regular edit, but every clip has to be the same scale and aspect ratio; if you crop, move or alter the image, the final 360 video won't be seamless. For my edits I use Adobe's Premiere Pro and After Effects, and Mettle's Skybox Studio plug-in suite for After Effects. You also have to choose which way you want the viewer to look – you can anticipate that they'll follow the action, or you can put the action in the same direction each time, but there will always still be someone who ends up just watching the floor because they don't realise that with 360 they can change what they're looking at.

Which project are you most proud of?

Unfortunately I can't talk about that one yet, as it hasn't been released – it's top secret! But I am really proud of a 360 point-of-view Royal Navy recruitment campaign which I shot, supervised the on-location visual effects for, and stitched in post – which was particularly difficult due to the point-of-view rig we'd used. For the viewer, it was as if they were out on the ship, in the helicopter, on the rescue boat, doing all this stuff we'd filmed, and I think it was a world first for the Google Cardboard virtual-reality viewer.

Where do you see 360° going?

It needs to become more consumer-friendly. In post-production consumers need to be able to edit their 360 videos more easily, just as they would a regular video – so they can add titles, transitions and cut different clips together. It's currently next to impossible to edit a 360 video in iMovie or other similar basic editing suites – you need to be an Adobe whizz-kid to do it, and some shots can be hard even for the pros – so it would be great to get a dedicated consumer editing suite.

What are your future plans?

I want to film more 360 videos, create VR content for games and experiences – I want to get involved in as many projects as possible. I also run a aerial drone company called Visual Skies, and I plan to use drones more often for 360, too.

What advice would you give to people who are new to 360 filming?

Remember that with 360 there is no up, down, forwards or backwards, so you can mount the camera any way you choose. Sideways often works better than upright. For selfies, mount the camera on a monopod and hold it at a 45° angle, and the monopod disappears in the blind spot, so it looks like the camera is floating in front of you. Don't be afraid to try something new – thinking outside the box generally gets you the best results in 360. And to improve your '360 eye', shoot as much as possible with a 360 camera – I shoot the majority of my holiday photos on a 360 camera, and I'll be taking the KeyMission 360 to Lake Tahoe next week skiing. It's going to excel in extreme sports – it's much more robust, portable and wearable that anything else on the market. I'm going to be using the KeyMission all the time!

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