Chapter 19: Spherical composition

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Excerpt from Chapter 19: Spherical composition, page 92:

As I describe in Chapter 2: Location, location, location, one of the most special aspects of watching VR is the experience of being transported to a different place. The degree to which your piece achieves that transformative feat depends on your decisions about what is visible to the user, and how environmental elements are revealed over time. Composition is a way of thinking about how and where the objects in the image appear in relationship to each other.

The notion that there’s an ideal way to compose an image first emerged centuries ago with the advent of painting as an art form. Than, as now, composition was largely predicated on there being a frame around the image. Common composition techniques like the rule of thirds, leading lines, directing action inward and many others depend on the presence of edges around the image. In fact, a common synonym for composition is framing. But in VR, there are no clear frames, edges, or borders. When there’s no frame, how do we decide where to position objects in relation to the camera (and vice-versa)? 

Well, for one thing, while 360˚ video is filmed without any frame lines, it is nevertheless viewed within a frame. But that frame is dynamic, determined by the field of view of the viewing device (and beyond that, by our peripheral vision). If you, the VR director, can identify a point at the likely center of the viewer’s gaze, then you can extrapolate an effective frame around that point. 

Even though the VR frame is dynamic, shifting as your viewer turns her head and looks at different things on the screen, it can help to think about your basic composition...


The rule of thirds: The concept that divides a traditional film or television frame into nine squares to guide the optimal composition of subjects.

Leading lines: Subtly stimulating invisible lines that direct attention or convey meaning in a frame’s composition.

Directing action inward: Framing’ a subject with action, people or objects that draws your attention to the center of the frame.


Field of view: The angle of space viewable from a given lens position.