How Close Is Too Close?

Personal space matters in 360 Video.

Any headset-based immersive medium, particularly VR, has to deal with personal space. Either through "personal bubbles" (like AltSpaceVR) or Power Gestures (as proposed by the developers of QuiVr1), or another method.

With 360 cameras, it's very easy to invade the space of the camera. The short version is to imagine a head around the camera, and don't put objects in that area. We don't to put objects through the viewer's head. It makes viewer's uncomfortable!

I hope the logic here is self-evident.

Why Not, if the camera is a fly?

I make the case in this work to dissuade from the camera-as-agent; keep the camera removed enough from the idea that is is a present human in the scene, let the audience feel like observers, not participants.

If this is the case, then why follow this personal space advice?

The simple reason is that the audience member's reaction to the perception of something going through their head has nothing to do with the role they embody, the reaction is native. It's subconscious.

See the section on the role of the audience for more on this.

Leave Room For The Head

Placing camera's at a wall, right on a table, or otherwise too close to objects can be unsettling and unnerving. In addition to being uncomfortable, the viewer often gets the distinct feeling that they are a small object on a table or wall. Unsettling, although this can be used for effect.

Leave Room for the Body

When we position the camera at a location that would be impossible for a human to embody, we must distract the viewer from their present placement through spectacle.

Consider travel videos by DiscoveryVR. They often have no room for an individual to stand, but the effect doesn't bother the audience because they sure are not thinking about any of that. The audience's attention is completely on and about the spectacle around them.

Consider a scene where an actor looks directly at the camera. Narratively, they may be talking to somebody behind the camera, but eye contact is made to bring a level of intimacy to the role.

In order to support the intimacy; the feeling that the audience is being spoken to, we should position the camera such that the audience does not feel uncomfortable.

Uncanny Cinematography

  • It's tough to feel inside of something
  • It's strange to be at a new and unusual height.
  • It's odd to have things intersect where our bodies are

None of these things are necessarily negative; they are hurdles to get past while filming 360 video. So unless a specific shot has a reason to place the camera in an inhuman location, don't do it.

There are, like the discoveryVR shows us, many of these reasons. As a hypothetical example, A shot over the edge of a boat that let's one see the sailors work and the waves splash up is fascinating, and that far outweighs the uncanniness of being suspended over water.

Leave Space Between People and Camera

Similarly, it can be uncomfortable for viewers to be too near other humans - especially for extended periods of time.

This rule is fairly self-explanatory - our goal is to not make the viewer uncomfortable. So long as they are not uncomfortable, their attention is elsewhere - on our story. Perceived personal space is a large factor in viewer comfort. As is perceived privacy: it's important not to harass, assault, or grope viewers in virtual spaces.

So How Close Is Too Close?

Anything that risks making users uncomfortable is too close. One must beware the distance of actors and people first, things going through the viewer's head second, and things going through the viewer's body third.

In general, writeing about consumer cameras in spring of 2017, if you are operating outside of the 360 camera's minimum stitching and focusing distances, you are probably going to be alright.

  1. O’Brien, Sarah A. “Developer on VR Sexual Assault: ‘My Heart Sank.’” CNN, 26 Oct. 2016,