Will a virtual tour be a substitute for actually visiting my museum, gallery, or heritage site?
No — the goal of a virtual tour is to impress potential visitors with an accurate depiction of a place, so that they are more likely to choose to visit it in person. It is above all a highly effective marketing tool that piques people’s interest by giving them a fuller understanding of an experience, but not by substituting that experience. Although there may be people out there who will see a virtual tour and consider it a substitute, such a person is likely not your target market.
These days, consumers simply want to know as much as possible about an experience before they even leave their home, and this is especially the case when choosing an activity — say where to go on a weekend, or how to spend a vacation.
These sorts of decisions are made nearly entirely based on whatever information is accessible via a cellphone or a computer, and it is therefore imperative to give potential customers as much accurate information as possible, as efficiently as possible.
Conventional photography is an invaluable tool for this, but conventional photography’s narrow perspective does not show how different parts of the experience fit together, it doesn’t allow the viewer to explore based on their own interests, and it can even mislead with carefully selected perspectives.
A virtual tour does not have any of these problems. It shows the entire space, it allows people to explore, and there is no forced perspective.
For this reason, both customers and web platforms place a high amount of trust in 360 imagery. Google places will place your tour front and center on all map listings, and statistics show that people spend more time exploring your website if there is a virtual tour.
What else are these 360 images useful for?
A virtual tour is not the only way for a business or nonprofit to use 360 images.
Google places a huge amount of emphasis on immersive photography, and it will place a 360 image front and center on any business listing. This means that whenever anyone searches for you on google maps (desktop or mobile), the first thing they will see is a dedicated button to go directly inside your establishment (it replaces the street view module — see the attached screenshot of the Louvre’s google listing for an example). This is a proven way to increase engagement, which will in turn increase exposure on Google Maps because Google rewards businesses with a higher ranking if they have quality photography and high levels of engagement.
A virtual tour is also a useful tool when pitching to potential donors, or attracting people who would like to rent out your space for an event. In both cases, the ability to see the entire space is helpful in both cases.
I bought a 360 camera at Best Buy — can’t I just use that and make my own virtual tour?
Much like anything else in photography these days, the answer to this question comes down to quality. Some consumer oriented 360 cameras are indeed capable of producing impressive images, but they can only do so under ideal conditions, and the results will always be inferior due to the physical limitations of any system that uses such small sensors and lenses.
Consumer cameras rely on a pair of tiny imaging systems that struggle to gather sufficient light or convey accurate color, and the use of ultra-wide lenses to cover the entire field of view in only two snapshots leads to inevitable distortions and aberrations.
It’s true that a lot of these differences are subtle, and in many cases they won’t really matter. For instance if you just want to add a virtual tour to your real estate listing, to be frank, what we provide is probably overkill. But if your real estate listing is for a multi-million dollar mansion with unique architecture and great interior design, then you would definitely want to emphasize the subtleties of that space with someone who produces imagery to much higher standards.
This is the reason that we chose to focus specifically on museums, galleries, and heritage sites. So much of an art piece’s or historical site’s beauty is tied to the subtleties of lighting, color, and detail, and we believe that only the highest quality photography can convey these things.
How exactly does your camera system compare to consumer level 360 cameras?
|Professional Gear||Consumer Gear|
|High end lenses are sharp across the frame, and large sensors capable of resolving fine details.||loss of sharpness due to small sensor and loss of detail at edges of ultra-wide lenses.|
|Full control over accurate color reproduction.||Small sensors encompass less incoming light, which in turn results in less information about tonal variance. Consumer cameras artificially compensate for this with algorithms, which which results in less accurate, muddier colors.|
|No Stitch lines due to rotation of camera around no-parallax point.||since the image is taken from two slightly different perspectives, software must compensate and warp the two images to create alignment, resulting in stitch lines.|
|No loss of detail in either highlights or shadows due to HDR bracketing and wide dynamic range of modern full frame sensors.||Small sensors have considerable difficulty resolving details in shadows, resulting in muddy colors and loss of details.|
|No chromatic aberration or smudging of details at the edges of the lens’ field of view — due to use of extremely high quality lenses.||Hyper wide lenses that can cover a full 180 degree field of view always have significant distortions at the edges of their field of view, resulting in significant chromatic aberration and smudging of details.|
|The virtual tour can be shot at any time during the day or night due to a large sensor’s ability to take pictures even in low light conditions. This means that the photography can be accomplished after opening hours, resulting in minimal disruption of normal operations.||Small sensors and lenses require that there be considerable light available, limiting possible photo shoot hours to times that would compete with the normal operating hours of the establishment.|
What kind of camera setup do you use?
Each 360 image is color corrected and stitched together using professional grade software that combines 13 HDR images into a full sphere.
The only way to accomplish a completely seamless stitch between different images is to rotate the camera around the precise point where the light crosses over inside the lens (as seen in the GIF below). Any two images not taken in this manner do not share the exact perspective, and will rely on some degree of software warping in order to compensate. This is especially important for objects that happen to be closer to the camera, where these distortions become especially noticeable.
How do I post this on my website?
You will receive a simple snippet of code that can be easily integrated into any website. Most of the time this is just a matter of copying the snippet and pasting it to wherever you want it to display. But if there are any issues, we have extensive experience with the major web platforms (WordPress, Squarespace, and Wix), and we are pretty good at figuring out anything that is new to us. We will work with you until the tour is up and running on your site.
Where do you work?
I am currently dividing my time between the USA and Europe, so anywhere in either of those places is possible. If there is no urgency, then costs can be significantly reduced by scheduling photography sessions to take advantage of pre-existing travel schedules.