Unless you’ve been living in seclusion for the past few years, you understand the emergence of virtual reality and the new avenues it has opened for business owners (I think a lot of people don’t know what it is and that’s where we come in – to educate) That’s where Google 360 Virtual Tours come in.
Many industries from gaming, to real estate, and even retail have been impacted by this surge in demand for augmented reality. Static images alone will no longer suffice as businesses turn to dynamic, 360 degree panoramas in an attempt to attract customers. Google Street View was the first platform to really feature these all-encompassing panoramas. I’m sure most of you have seen the little circular arrow in the bottom left-hand corner of Google images and opened it up to view the outside of a business or restaurant. If you haven’t, click here to see an example of Street View.
Now with Google Business View, you can virtually see inside the business without leaving your couch. Imagine, if you will, owning a restaurant with unique decor, or a real estate agent showcasing a house with a newly remodeled kitchen. Now think about how much the user would benefit from being able to explore each corner and crevice at their own pace. Still image photography just doesn’t cut it anymore. Static images don’t offer any continuity, are often taken from poor angles, and do not provide the customer with a true sense of space. The Google Trusted Photographers at Momentum Digital will bring your property to life with 360 Virtual Tours. In the next section I will take you through the steps we take to shoot, edit, stitch and upload these stunning panoramas.
- Sturdy Tipod
- DSLR Camera – We Use: Canon 60D
- Panoramic Tripod Mount – We Use: Acratech Spherical Panoramic Head
- Fisheye Lens – We Use: Sigma 8mm f/3.5 EX DG
*If you don’t have a fisheye lens, a wide angle lens will suffice. However you will have to rotate the camera 60 degrees per picture (6 total) instead of 90 degrees.
This is what it should look like once assembled.
Shooting the Photos
The first step in shooting successful 360 virtual tours is mapping out your photos, and picturing uninterrupted walking paths that will provide the best user experience. This means no jumping through walls or anything like that. It’s normally smart to start with one panorama outside the premises, unless the business is located inside an office building and therefore would not provide any visual assistance to the user. Make sure the camera is on a two-second delay in order to avoid camera shake. When shooting in natural light, we always use the bracket function, or HDR, to ensure proper exposure.
This function takes three photos, which we later merge to achieve optimum exposure:
You’ll then rotate 90 degrees to the left and repeat the process (our panoramic tripod mount is specifically designed for shooting 360 virtual tours so it snaps into place in 90 degree increments). If you’re using a fisheye lens, you’ll have to take four photos to complete a full panorama. The number of photos you’ll need corresponds with the field of view your lens can capture.
After completing the first panorama, you’re ready to move to the next location. Remember to maintain clean walking paths. The number of panoramas you’ll need depends on a few factors. Most importantly you want 360 virtual tours to have the proper flow for when the user is “walking through” the location. That means no cutting off corners. Sometimes the client will simply want two or three panos to embed on their website, without linking them. In this case, we would just shoot the number of panos they specify.
Editing and Stitching
Import the panos into Adobe Lightroom. If you bracketed the photos, you’ll need to merge them here. You can do that by selecting the three pictures with different exposures by holding down Command (or Control on PC) and clicking the photos. Then at the top of your screen select Photo> Photo Merge> HDR. This should give you the optimal exposure. Export the images to a folder on your desktop, saving them under a name like “photo1/readytostitch.”
The best program we have found to stitch the individual photos together is a software called PTGui. You have to pay around $80 to download it, but it’s a necessary one time fee. The software will ask you to load images, so you’ll select the first four pictures in the catalog. Then select ‘Align Images’. The software should seamlessly combine the four images to create the panorama. Simply select ‘Create Panorama’ and save it as something like “pano1/readytoupload” in a new desktop folder separate from the last one you created for the Lightroom export.
Now we are ready to use the GoThru software to align the multiple panos and upload them to Google. It’s important to have a general sense of direction when shooting the panos because it will help immensely when you lay out the tour on GoThru.
Under the Constellations tab, select ‘Create New Tour’, enter the address and click ‘Upload Panoramas’ to access the folder on your desktop with the panos you just stitched.
You’ll then be taken to the screen pictured below. This is where you lay out and connect the panos to create the walking tour. This part can be a little frustrating, but it’s crucial for the upload.
(You have to figure this part of for yourselves. We can’t be giving away all our secrets!)
Connecting the panos in GoThru, allows the user the ability to “walk” from one point of view to another. The larger the property, the more difficult it will be to properly link the panos and avoid any undesired jumps. The final version that’s ready for upload to Google should look something like this:
Just hit the red button that says ‘Google’ and your 360 virtual tour will begin uploading to the company’s Google My Business page. It takes anywhere from 24-48 hours to show up, but the end result should look like this:
Customers can now virtually tour the facility, which provide a unique and customized experience. There’s no doubt that virtual and augmented reality are going to big players in the future. Momentum Digital is excited to bring this new and exciting feature to our current and future clients. Watch the video to check out our portfolio.