Photography Virtual Tour

Virtual Reality for Real Estate

Virtual Reality for Real Estate

Before putting your home on the market, consider having a high-quality virtual reality tour created to showcase the property. Particularly, if your home is large or you are selling to international buyers, a virtual reality tour will help sell the property. Here’s why. With a virtual reality tour, you open the doors of your home to potential buyers wherever they are. They take a look inside and form an attachment to your property before they even visit it in person. Compared to the average photos used to promote most properties, your virtual reality tour will catch the attention of potential buyers and draw them in.

You might be wondering why more homes aren’t promoted with virtual reality tours. If you were to ask, you’d probably be told it’s the realtor’s fault. But let’s stop for a minute and consider the situation from the realtor’s point of view. For realtors, a virtual reality tour is yet another expense they may not recover. If the home doesn’t sell, or the owner decides to take the home off the market, the money that was invested by the realtor in a virtual reality tour is lost.

But there’s a better way that works for both the realtor and the homeowner. A serious homeowner can pay up front for the virtual reality tour and then negotiate with the realtor to have the cost removed from the commission once the property sells. The advantage of this approach is that the homeowner owns the virtual reality tour. They have a keepsake of their former home and a powerful selling tool. The realtors I have spoken to said they would not mind paying for the advertising advantage of a virtual reality tour after the sale has been completed.

Why not show off the great view or the chef’s quality kitchen on your property? With a virtual reality tour, everything appears in context. It’s like a personal tour. Make your listing stand out. Bring buyers to your door and let them step inside. They will take a virtual walk around the property and with every step they will come closer to wanting to call your property their new home.

Google Street View Photography Virtual Tour Visual Storytelling

What is a photosphere?

A photosphere is a panoramic image that covers 360 degrees horizontal and 180 degrees vertical. In other words, it covers an entire sphere, which is where it got its name.

But the real question is how is it created? Images are shot with a camera on a special mount made specifically for the task. The details of how the mount works are very technical. If you’re interested in exploring them, here is a good article: Entrance Pupil Alignment. Using the special mount, four or more overlapping images are captured. The number of images varies depending on the lens used and the resolution required for the final image.

Images required to assemble photosphere

Capturing the images

These eight images where shot in two rows of four. Each image overlaps four other images. I also use a technique called HDR for capturing the dynamic range of the scene as explained in my previous blog. I take eight positions with five images each for a total of 40 images. The 40 images are fed into PTGui, which is a panoramic stitching program used to assemble the images. The resulting image is called an equirectangular projection and it has an aspect ratio of 2:1 or 360:180 degrees.

Resulting image from the 40 images

Stitching the images together

The bottom of the image includes an area that was obscured by the camera head and tripod. I bring the image into the program Pano 2 VR where a patch for the area lost to the tripod is cut out. A replacement image is created in Photoshop and used to replace the patch. There is also an option for creating a mirror ball that reflects the image onto a sphere.

Equirectangular image with nadar patch

You can see in this image that the brickwork has been cloned in. The image is ready for publishing.

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Creating the tour

This isn’t the end of creating a virtual tour. Once all the images have been uploaded to the server, they need to be connected and placed in their proper position on Earth. The moderation process is a science in itself. Each image is moved and rotated until it lines up. This ensures that the perspective doesn’t change as viewers move from one photosphere to another. For quality control, Google inspects each tour. If all the requirements are not met, the tour is removed from public viewing until the errors are fixed. This is one of the reasons why you need to be a hire a Google Trusted Photographer. Google wants the photographers who create virtual tours to be trained and capable of creating tours that the public and business owners will enjoy without any intervention required on the part of Google. Yes, you can get photospheres shot and hosted on other sites. But why not put your business in front of Google Maps users by working with a Google Trusted Photographer like Story In Focus?

Google Street View Photography Video Marketing Video Production Virtual Tour Visual Storytelling

Bending the rules to save you money

Cowichan Regional Visitor Centre

Google Maps only hosts tours for storefront businesses or attractions. If you’re a contractor with a business that does not involve a storefront, this leaves you out, right? Not necessarily. Have you ever heard of co-op advertising? With co-op advertising, compatible businesses work together to increase their marketing potential. They select marketing materials that work for both of them, and share the costs.

If you’re a contractor, you can use co-op advertising on Google Maps to promote your services. Suppose you have a construction company and you recently built a local restaurant beautifully situated in an ocean bay. I’m sure your client is as proud of their new restaurant as you are. Why not join forces to have a virtual tour shot of the new restaurant and split the cost?

Once the tour is on Google Maps, I can provide you with the embedded code which you can use on your website to show off your work. If you really want to highlight the skills of your company, I can add an interface to the virtual tour. Visitors can click to obtain supporting information, detail photos and even testimonial videos. And you don’t have to do all of it at once. You can add each of these features as your budget allows.

You don’t have to have a storefront business to benefit from creating a virtual tour. What better way to convince potential clients of the quality of the services you provide than by taking them on a tour of the finished product?

Google Street View Photography Video Production Virtual Tour

What is HDR

When shooting virtual tours, we take three to nine images, each at a different exposure. Then we combine these images into one image. Yes, we use the M setting on our camera. And no, it doesn’t stand for missed another one. The reason we take multiple exposures is so that we can achieve what is called High Dynamic Range (HDR). HDR gives us expanded capabilities which enable us to capture the entire brightness range of the scene and adjust the final image to look just right.

HDR Exposures

In this image, the five exposures are each one stop apart. On the far left, you can see detail in the sky. On the far right, you can see detail in the shadows. When combined these images can have various outputs, depending on the editor.

High Dynamic Range HDR output

We prefer the photographic look of the center image. Although the image on the left is useable, it doesn’t look realistic because the shadows are boosted too much. The image on the right is an art project, which is fine if that is the intent.

Where a single exposure gives a reasonable image most of the time, an HDR makes a good exposure possible in places where there is a high dynamic range. Imagine having to get the same exposure when shooting photos all the way around in a circle. Facing one direction, the photos would be directly into the sun. Facing the other, the sun would be lighting the scene. This is why HDR is important. It prevents the images from being a complete disaster. When we combine the HDR images into a panorama by careful adjustment, the entire scene becomes viewable. Special software also helps blend the exposure from one direction to the next. No one likes skies that are so blown out it looks like a blizzard is coming, or shadows that obscure large portions of an image.

Google Street View Photography Virtual Tour Visual Storytelling

Virtual tours – A new way to answer questions

Virtual Tours - A new way to answer questions

Where should I go on vacation? Which store has what I need? Travellers and shoppers have questions. Brides have even more. They’re looking for a range of suppliers and venues.

It used to be that these questions had to be asked in person or over the phone. Not anymore. Nowadays people find most of the answers they need online by using search engines. But it’s up to you how you answer. You can give them an address and a still photo. Or, you can let them explore all you have to offer with a virtual tour. People like to know what they’re buying. A virtual tour shows them.

Travellers get to wander through their room, checking out details and exploring the view from the balcony. What better way to show them all of the comforts your suites provide. Give them confidence that your accommodations fit their needs.

Does your establishment have a romantic atmosphere? Can couples rest in the hot tub while watching the sunset over the ocean? Does your establishment offer a place to kick back and enjoy a craft beer while watching the game? Does the banquet hall open up to stunning gardens where the wedding guests can cool off after dancing in the ballroom? All these questions can be answered and shared amongst friends through virtual tours. Don’t you want your customers to brag about how much they enjoyed your accommodations? Give them a first class virtual tour and that is exactly what they will do.

You know your clients and what they look for. Is it exquisite art, jewelry, quality furnishings or the wedding dress to die for? Show them that you have what they need. Answer their questions. Bring them inside with a virtual tour and soon they will be on your doorstep. All over the world people use phones, tablets and computers to search for what they want. Social media is a hotbed of reviews and recommendations. Give your customers something they want to share.