Romin Lee Johnson is a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Minnesota. He also shoots weddings and portraits. On a beautiful summer day in St. Paul, Minnesota, we asked this pro photographer to try out the Giroptic iO and share his thoughts on the experience.
What are you favorite mediums/formats for producing images?
I travel extensively, so I prefer using compact rangefinder cameras for most of my work. My workhorse cameras are my Leica M2 and M9, with 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses respectively. I love shooting 35mm black and white film, especially Ilford HP5+ and Kodak Tri-X. I develop and scan BW film at home.
Was this your first time shooting in 360°? What were your impressions of the format before trying out the iO?
This was my first experience shooting 360. I’ve become increasingly curious about playing with the format. Two of my colleagues from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, Lakshmi Sarah and Melissa Bosworth, produced a moving series of VR stories about asylum-seekers in Germany for their graduate thesis. I knew that 360 had huge potential for immersing an audience into a story in a way that was not quite possible before. Last summer, the New York Times sent me a Google Cardboard and I’ve had fun with my kids checking out some of their more PG-rated VR projects—swimming with whales was our favorite.
What was your overall impression of using the iO/shooting in 360°? Did anything surprise you? Did it meet your expectations?
Since I use rangefinder cameras for most of my work, I’m used to utilizing frame lines. I love being able to frame a scene, and make very intentional decisions about what to leave inside or outside these lines. It took some time to get used to shooting without them in 360. Each time I used the iO, I had to get over the feeling that I was taking a huge selfie! It was about what I expected from shooting 360—a bit outside my comfort zone, but a nice challenge to try to keep the scene from looking too cluttered or chaotic.
Could you imagine incorporating the iO’s 360° image-taking technology into your professional practice? Is it something that would benefit your clients or your art?
I’m currently producing a feature-length documentary about Standing Rock. During my work trips there last fall and winter, I saw journalists for AJ+ and New York Times shooting VR. 360 excels in these sorts of situations that are difficult to adequately portray with words. The final eviction of the Oceti Sakowin camp in February looked apocalyptic, as you can see in this NY Times 360 video. I see regular requests for 360 livestreaming gigs on Storyhunter, a website for freelance journalists. I can certainly see incorporating the iO into these types of gigs when the story calls for it. Like an analog Leica or Tascam audio recorder, the iO is a storytelling tool, and I think it’s important to be mindful about which tool will best benefit the story.
What is your advice for taking great 360° pics and videos?
I had a lot of fun documenting my kids with the iO during a family trip to the Twin Cities recently. I think I had the most success when I got up close and placed myself in the middle of the scene. Robert Capa famously said, “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I think the same can be said about 360. VR photos and video are meant to be immersive, so don’t be afraid to get closer.