The importance of exposure in 360 video

In typical photography or video, creators have a lot of control over what their camera picks up. A key aspect that can help or hurt a final image is exposure.

With the field of virtual reality and 360 video expanding rapidly, it is important for budding videographers and photographers in this area to take care to properly expose the images they will capture.

Flattened 360 photos taken at different exposures with the RICOH Theta V.

For this tutorial, I will mostly talk about controlling exposure with the RICOH Theta V. This model is RICOH’s newest 360 camera and allows users to capture high-resolution photos and videos in 4K/30 fps. The Theta V retails for $399.95 and has some accessories, such as a spatial audio microphone, that can be bought separately. I believe that this camera is easy enough for beginners to use, but has enough quality for advanced videographers to use as well.

A videographer could manually control when the Theta V records, but he or she should download the mobile app the works with the camera. The app, called “Ricoh Theta S,” can be found for free on the App Store and the Google Play Store.  From the app, users can not only turn the camera on and off, but they can preview what the camera sees and adjust ISO, shutter speeds and white balance as needed. Theta V users should note that in order to adjust these setting, the camera must be connected to the phone over Wi-Fi.

A screenshot of what previewing an image looks like in the Theta S app.

To adjust the exposure, a camera operator needs to open the preview viewer within the app. From there, users can press “EV” in the lower left-hand corner and use the slider to allow more or less light into the camera. The shutter speed, ISO and white balance can also be fine-tuned from this screen.

According to 360Rumors, “the correct exposure is the one that shows a real world object at the same ‘brightness” as in real life.” The previous hyperlinked article, which also gives a pretty general overview about exposure itself, said that with most 360 cameras on the market, users have limited exposure control but these types of cameras also are less susceptible to getting the wrong exposure because it can evaluate the whole scene around the camera.

As someone who has just learned how to create 360 videos, I did not personally take exposure into account as I should have until was presented a challenge in my recent video that I made with classmate Paidin Dermody.

Last month, we decided to film the University of Kentucky’s MacAdam Student Observatory as a 360 video project. The facility is only open on clear nights, which does not allow for much light for starters. Also, some white fluorescent lights were also available within the observatory, but most of the research and study done within the observatory is completed under red lights, which allow person to preserve their night vision.

We wanted to be able to authentically capture this uncommon lighting, as we are both journalists and wanted to show what a typical experience is like in the observatory. Thus, we had to learn about controlling the settings on our camera while in the field.

Check out our final project below. It can also be viewed on


How to Watch VR Videos BEFORE Uploading Them

I like for things to be the best they can, especially before they are published. When starting this Virtual Reality storytelling class, one of my initial questions was “Are we going to have to upload all these videos just to test them and see if they worked?” The answer is no, thankfully. This post looks at an app that allows you to view your 360 video (and regular media) within a virtual player for free.

The application is called “Mobile VR Station” for iOS by Michael Fuller. The app is free with in-app purchases available, but they are not required. Basically, it allows you to view media (in your photos app) within this kind of virtual world. When first opened, it is very crude and has a decent learning curve, but if you sit down and devote 5-10 minutes going through the settings, you will get the hang of it.

You can choose your media to play from the home screen or within the VR environment, whichever you prefer. I usually like to select my video with my hands before putting my headset on. When you play a video, a bar across the top/bottom (customizable) appears. You look at the button you want to select for a certain period of time and then its function is activated. So when you look at the play button for 3 seconds, the video starts playing. You can visually see how long you have to look at the button because there is a loading graphic that play over top of the button. You can also change how you are viewing the media. For example, sometimes the player will default to a 2D screen. You can go into the settings (with the headset on) and change it to be 360 degrees.


Straight forward; it does exactly what you tell it to. You can have a video playing in under 20 seconds if it is on your phone.

Reliable; I haven’t had to force restart this app once yet.

Customizable; Any and every detail of this app experience is customizable. Timing, phone orientation, visual aesthetics, you name it.

Free; For everything I use it for (testing VR videos before uploading them), I had to pay zero dollars.


Rough; It is kind of ugly and needs some fine tuning. It could be more user friendly, but it gets the job done. There is definitely a learning curve. It takes some getting used to.

No DRM; This app can only display personal media. Anything that is protected by DRM (iTunes movies, etc.) cannot be displayed. Not a big deal if you are just using to testing out your own content.

5 Minute Limit; You can only play videos up to five minutes long (without an in-app purchase of $2.99 or an Ultimate Edition purchase of $5.99). You can buy the ability to watch longer videos, but in my experience five minutes of VR is pushing people’s attention span. Most of the videos I have watched/made have been closer to 2.5/3 minutes, which feels more appropriate.

So what is the purpose of this app? Why do you need it? Truthfully, you don’t. If editing in Premiere Pro, there is a VR viewer built in. You can upload it to YouTube and watch it as soon as your done editing if you want. I just like being able to see what users will experience when they put the headset on before putting it out in the public. Plus, it’s free. I know it is very confusing to read about an app like this, so below is a video demonstrating how to watch a 360 video using the app.

But the best way to learn is to try it yourself.  You can download the app yourself by clicking HERE. Thanks for reading!