How To Shoot A Virtual Tour

The Virtual Tour! An emerging niche that a lot of photographers have been trying to exploit lately, and a lot more are trying to wrap their heads around. Well we’re going to spill the beans about the proper way to shot , stitch and deliver these panoramic career builders.

What we’re going to discuss is a true panoramic shot in a professional manner, not to be confused with the one shot lens kits that you can pick up for 150 on any number of sites. Those have their purpose I’m just not sure what they are.. just kidding..sort of.

Ok so we have a tripod that will accept a panoramic head, which most will as long as they have A 3/8″ bolt  rising from the flange atop the legs. Sorry the $30 versions from best buy and the like won’t accept heads as they have one built in. I recommend Nodal Ninja,precision 360 or manfrotto . These heads allow you to rotate the lens around what is called the entrance pupil or nodal point.What that means is you can spin your camera to fully cover the entirety of a room and when you output your panorama you will have little or no parallax errors. Little aberrations where objects seem to split slightly or develop strange joints.

So we have our tripod and our Pano head now we need an appropriate lens. I recently have begun to use a 10.5 mm fisheye and shaved the shroud off. This allows me to get a complete 360 both vertically and horizontally in as little as 4 shots! That being said I still shoot 6. You can also use a 16 mm fisheye or for that matter any number of wide angle lenses, you just have to take more shots to cover the whole scene with a non fisheye. I have used the nikon 14-24 zom and get wonderfully clear results with no errors  when used in combination with a properly calibrated pano head. It just wasn’t good for workflow when having to process 36 pics instead of 6!

Calibrating the head is also very important, if you use a precision head or an r1 from Nodal ninja they come with rings set for each lens so the calibration is much simpler. A fully adjustable head is more complicated and I will refer you to john h’s site  for a nice tutorial on how to accomplish this feat.

Moving on, we have our tripod and pano head, our lens and camera body, I forgot to mention this is all based on the idea that we are using a dslr and in the examples shown a full frame nikon d3 was the instrument of choice. now we move on to the actual shooting of the the chosen area. Im using the kitchen in the above shot as my base  but the principles apply to almost all locations.

Exposure!  Now this can be tricky, we are shooting a complete 360 and chances are that the light is drastically different from one side of the room to the next. we cant use the exposure we get on the window for the dark cabinets as no camera in the planet has that kind of dynamic range. So we have a few choices, I like to pan the camera around and find a nice middle ground for the scene in all directions, sometimes a little under exposed sometimes a little over exposed  depending on windows, furniture wall color and the like. We can live with this middle ground exposure and carry on from here or we can bracket and squeeze some more range into our panorama later in the stitching and post process. which is what I did here but thats a whole other lecture.So the examples shown have a blown out window.Note these are shot with the aforementioned 10.5 mm shaved fisheye on a fullframe camera.

Stitching! Not exciting enough to warrant an exclamation mark but oh well. The program of choice is far and away PTGUI. It takes your images and basically hands you an equirectangular blended panorama with very little effort from you providing you have followed all the previous steps.

From here we bring our image into Photoshop and work our individual wonders to adjust things like contrast, colorbalance, sharpness and the like. At this point we have essentailly a complete 360 x180 image but more than likely we have an issue with the very bottom of the image,The dreaded Nadir! No worries though there is hope, I  personally use a strange workaround. I now open another pano program,  I know its getting ridiculous but what can I say? Pano2vr is the one I like to use . In pano2vr we bring in our pano, and click convert , select cube faces and within minutes we have 6 files.Within these files we can find our nadir, which we now bring into PS and repair to the best of our abilities . Once repaired simply flatten , save and return to Pano2vr to reassemble.Simply click select input <cubefaces <enter and sit back and watch as your pano reassembles itself.

We can now output our pano as a qtvr and view our virtual tour in all its glory .Qucktime is kind of a dead way to display this interactive rich media and I strongly recommend you look into a flash pano player like fpp,or krpano but that will also require some in depth flash knowledge and not something we’ll get into here.

Unfortunately I cannot embed the final result into this blog but I can redirect you here for a full flash presentation of the kitchen above and the house that encompasses it. Just scroll down and click the Virtual tour button.

Check out my earlier aerial pano post and take a look at some similar shots except from 1600feet in the air! That one throws more than just a few curveballs!

Most of the links I included are also excellent resources for more info on technique and gear.

Thanks for stopping by.



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