Virtual reality may not be quite popular yet, but you don’t have to use a VR headset to enjoy immersive multimedia! You can view 360-degree photos and videos on the flat screen, and with virtual reality headsets of any type and budget.
They are super fun and perfect to show people how beautiful your vacation spot was. However, you can use 360-degree media for more serious pursuits, such as creating virtual tours. What is a virtual tour, you ask? We will not only explain what they are, but also explain how you can create your own.
What is a virtual tour?
A virtual tour is what the name implies. It is a way to introduce people to attractions such as a museum, guesthouse, or other attractions. It is extremely popular in the real estate industry as it allows people to view homes from the comfort of their home. As you probably guessed, the scope of virtual tours is wide.
Virtual tours are created using panoramic photos or videos. Photos are by far the most popular choice. In addition, they can have sound, narration, hotspots and other enhancements to make the experience more convenient.
When the user starts the virtual tour, he is at the first point indicated in the tour. Depending on how the tour creator is configured, the user can then follow a fixed path, move freely between points of interest, or can choose between several guided routes. It all depends on what works best for the type of virtual tour you are creating.
Here’s what you’ll need
Creating a virtual tour requires a fairly lengthy workflow with a lot of moving parts. Different people have different decisions when creating these tours. In general, however, you will find that the following items will be part of the project:
- 360-degree camera or suitable â€œpanoramic headâ€ to adapt a conventional camera.
- Smartphone or tablet to control the camera.
- Software for stitching, editing and other processing of photos to make them suitable for publication.
- Tool for creating virtual tours.
- Solution for hosting virtual tours.
- Additional content such as storytelling, regular photography, etc.
More often than not, the creation tool and the tour platform are created by the same developer and integrated. At the top of creating virtual tours, you can find very sophisticated development tools that require programming knowledge, but for the most part, using the tour creation tools does not require more than a few days of training and practice.
Let’s talk camera equipment
The most important part of a virtual tour toolkit is, of course, the camera you are using. This sets the bar for the starting quality of the images you create. There are many 360-degree cameras on the market these days. None of them are cheap, but some are aimed at professional users and others for personal social media use.
Dedicated 360-degree cameras are a good option because they tend to be a one-button solution. In other words, you place them in the right place, apply the settings you want, and then hide around the corner before the camera’s shutter is released.
These photos can also be taken with the phone’s camera using software that creates a 360-degree photo from multiple regular shots. However, in terms of image quality and stitching, such photos are still inferior to specialized 360 cameras.
Recommendations? The Ricoh Theta SC 2 is widely touted as an entry-level option for professional results and is popular with estate agents and small virtual tour creators. However, the Ricoh Theta Z1 is considered a good novelty for professional writers.
There are many 360-degree cameras out there, and none of them are perfect. Someone knows better how to photograph, someone – video. Some have good in-camera stitching, while others need manual help.
This will be the biggest part of your research: mapping the camera’s quality and strengths to your budget, needs, and capabilities.
Truly high-end creators use DSLRs along with a special camera mount known as a panoramic head This allows you to rotate the camera around its optical center and then use a software package like PTGui to put everything together.
Virtual tour for editing workflow
The workflow for editing photos that are captured with a 360-degree camera depends a lot on the type of camera you are using, what settings you are using, and how much more needs to be done. So it is difficult to provide a specific universal workflow. However, there are some typical general steps:
- Take a shot using the correct settings and lighting.
- Import it into your editing program.
- Correct color, remove chromatic aberration, correct stitching problems, remove tripod, etc.
- Export the final image to the virtual tour tool.
- Build a tour from your images and other content using the development tool.
- Publish your tour to your chosen hosting platform
Obviously, this is just a rough and broad overview, but it covers the main steps in the process of creating a virtual tour.
Find the right authoring and hosting platform
When it comes to creating and publishing a virtual tour, there are tons of options. Some offer free account tiers, while others are quite expensive.
Kuula is a great place to start as they have a basic free tier to get you started. You can both create and publish your tour using this single platform and then upgrade to a paid account if you want features such as hotspots or custom branding.
There are also services like Metareal with amazing 3D mapping capabilities for your panoramic photos. It takes some practice and learning, but you can turn your 360-degree photo into a real 3D space, which can also be thought of as a 3D â€œdollhouseâ€ by linking multiple rooms into a single building or building section.
The choice depends on what you need, how much you are willing to pay, and which platform offers the right mix of features and capabilities.
Great online resource
The above information is only an overview of the virtual tour process. If you are interested in creating them, you will have to do a little more research on every aspect of their creation. Luckily, there are some fantastic resources online that specialize in this very topic.
We can safely recommend visiting the YouTube channel of Ben Clermont, an internationally recognized expert in panoramic photography and virtual tours. Ben also sells courses on his own site, but there is more than enough free content on his channel to get you started.
You should also check out 360 Rumors, a blog entirely dedicated to 360-degree camera technology and things like VR.
Virtual tours: hobby or profession?
Making virtual tours for fun is a great way to share with the community, document your favorite spots, and learn the ins and outs of creating 360-degree content.
However, creating virtual tours can also be a viable career or a big second earner. This is something to keep in mind as you delve deeper into art. Perhaps you will not only get a cool new hobby, but also start your next career!