For better or worse, virtual reality is being put in the hands of the masses.
While much of this technology — and how people are using it — can be clunky (and may not even really count as virtual reality), these “plug-and-play” tools do offer a student or reporter a way to explore the potential and challenges of immersive journalism.
We have been playing around with some of these tools here at Rowan University and decided to write up this overview of Story Spheres, which adds audio clips to a 360 photo.
We liked Story Spheres because it is:
- Easy to use. All you need is a phone and a computer.
- Simple and clean.
- Cheap (or free if you have the right phone).
- Compatible with Google Cardboard, which are also cheap.
- Able to be embedded into a web page.
- A nice way to take the viewer to a location or place.
- A nice way to add multimedia to a feature story or profile.
Tips for Using Story Spheres:
-Pick locations and subjects that are both visual and have good sound. You need both for an engaging Story Sphere.
-Shoot 360 photos in a smooth circular motion. Changing the height of camera or moving too fast can create gaps in your image.
-Start your photo with the main subject.
-Watch out for motion. If someone moves while you are shooting your photo, it will create a blur.
-Simple is better. Story Spheres with too many audio clips or links are confusing to users.
Story Spheres Step-by-Step:
You need a way to shoot a 360 panorama photo with a 2:1 ratio. The ideal image size is 4000 x 2000 pixels. For Android phones, go to native camera and download more modes to get the 360 camera. For iPhone, you need a 360 photo app. We liked the 360 Panorama app because it is cheap ($1.99) and works well enough.
Shoot a 360 photo.
Record audio clips with your a voice recorder or your phone.
Import your photo to a computer. If you are using 360 Panorama on an iPhone, share the photo to your camera roll. Then plug your phone into a computer with your cord. On a Mac, use Image Capture, then import.
Resize your image to 40000 x 2000. (Note: 360 Panorama images aren’t exactly 2:1, but if you can resize it to something close (ie 4000 x 1800 pixels), it will still work.
Import your audio clips to your computer via email or with your cord. They must be in .mp3 format to upload to Story Spheres, so you can use a converter like Switch to change format if needed. (Here is a video tutorial for using Switch)
Go to Story Spheres. Log in with your Gmail account.
Upload your photo to Story Spheres.
Upload your audio clips to Story Spheres. Then continue to the Studio page to position each sound file.
In the Studio page sound files have their own widgets to control their settings, volume, distance, position on the image, name and type of audio file. Ambient sounds play in the background. A click to play sound plays when the user taps or hovers over the sound in a Story Sphere.
You can also link one Story Sphere to another – so that the user can click through multiple connected scenes. This is a nice option for giving a tour of a location, going room to room or building to building.
Embed the Story Sphere through share menu. Or view it with a Google Cardboard.
- Story Spheres overview explainer video (RJI Futures Lab)
- What I learned from testing Google’s Story Spheres at New York Fashion Week (Washington Post)
- Story Spheres FAQs
- How to make a Story Spheres tutorial: Part 1 and Part 2 (Mike Downs)