During a time when a huge numbers of people are facing restrictions in their movements and most businesses are closed, many are turning to virtual tours. Virtual tours allow businesses to promote their activities and potential customers to get an immersive browsing experience. Lucky they’ve never been easier to make.
Businesses such as real estate agents, museums, construction companies and hotels are rushing to create virtual tours of their properties so people stuck at home can still engage with them. If you’re reading this article you may be someone who thinks a virtual tour could help them but you have no idea how to make one.
The process is actually quite easy and by the end of this article you’ll know everything you need to know about creating a virtual tour and sharing it with the world.
I created a video based on this post in case you prefer to watch rather than read.back to menu ↑
Creating a virtual tour used to be a long and fairly complex process requiring a DSLR and specialist equipment, however recent advanced in camera technology allow us to shoot full 360 images in a single shot with no extra equipment. Here’s everything you’ll need to create your virtual tour.
You’ll need to get one of the all-in-one 360 cameras. These range in price and capability with more expensive cameras allowing for higher quality. Most businesses tend to go for the higher end cameras as higher quality tours are much more well received by the viewing public.
My recommended camera is the Ricoh Theta Z1 which is perfect for shooting quick virtual tours at the highest quality. If you choose this camera then it’s highly recommended to also subscribe to Adobe Lightroom as the camera has a dedicated plugin for that program that allows for a very efficient workflow.Buy from Amazon
A cheaper option is the Insta360 One R which can also shoot great quality virtual tours but it’s not as impressive as the Z1.Buy from Insta360
Both of these cameras can shoot full 360 degree images in just one shot and are just as easy to use as any other digital camera. You can see a full comparison of all 360 cameras here.
You’ll need a specific type of tripod or monopod that works well with 360 cameras. You’ll need one with a very thin base and no protruding parts near the top. A great option is the Bushman 360 Monopod Kit which comes with various accessories that make shooting virtual tours with a 360 camera very easy. The Bushman is a pretty expensive option so for those looking for something cheaper a standard light-stand will also work well.
These types of tripods will be mostly hidden from the camera when it shoots 360 images.
Each 360 camera comes with its own phone and desktop app, download both. This may be all you need in terms of software however to get the best images possible I would strongly suggest investing in a desktop editing program like Adobe Lightroom.back to menu ↑
Attach your camera to the tripod and place it at the average height of a human, around 1.7m or 5’8. Make sure the camera lenses are completely clean using a microfiber cloth, these are usually provided with your 360 camera.
Place the camera and tripod in a central position in which ever room you are in making sure there are no objects or walls within a metre of the camera.back to menu ↑
Camera Settings: HDR vs RAW
You’ll need to go into your camera settings and select which type of image you want to take. Most 360 cameras will have the option of shooting HDR mode; you’ll want to select this as it greatly increases the quality of your image by shooting 3 separate images and combining them together.
The other option you have is to select RAW mode. Shooting in this mode allows you to capture the highest quality image possible, however it requires editing in a program like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. I would recommend learning how to do this (it’s not difficult) as it results in a might higher quality virtual tour.
Benefits of HDR: Automatic, requires minimal editing
Benefits of RAW: Highest quality, less light glare but requires more software
You may also want to adjust some of the other camera settings such as shutter speed, ISO and exposure. Keep ISO to a minimum (100-200) to avoid creating a noisy image. If you find the images are too dark then lower the shutter speed, if you find ou images are over exposed then raise the shutter speed. Experiment till you find the optimal setting.back to menu ↑
360 cameras capture the entire environment at the same time so you can be in the room when the shot takes place. You can either connect your camera to our phone (all 360 cameras have their own app) or set up a timer on the camera so you can go into a different room while the camera take the shot.
If you are shooting a large room of space move the camera to different positions so you capture every part of it. You should try and move the camera around 2 metres every time; if the room is small you will only need one or two shots.
Repeat this process till you’ve captured every room or envirnment you need to.back to menu ↑
360 images require an extra editing step compared to normal images called stitching. This is where the images taken on each of the cameras lenses are stitched together to create a seamless 360 image. This is done via your cameras phone or desktop app. I prefer to use a desktop app as it’s easier to manage the images.
Open your cameras desktop app and drag the images from your camera into it. You’ll now be able to view your images in the 360 mode. Select all the image and export them to a folder in your desktop. While exporting the program will stitch them
Depending on which setting you select you may need to do more editing. For a HDR image you’ll likely only need to stitch your image into a jpeg using either the mobile or desktop app that came with your camera, these are free. You can also do some editing on the final image in Photoshop however your capacity to change the image without losing quality will be limited.
If shooting in DNG RAW then you’ll be able to undertake more editing to greatly improve the quality of your 360 images. The workflow to achieve this will be different depending on which camera you use.
If you use the Z1 then you’ll need to download Adobe Lightroom and a free Plugin developed by Ricoh. You can edit each RAW image from the Z1 on Lightroom and stitch the final image using the plugin. This is one of the quickest and most efficient workflows but requires the paid Lightroom program. Here’s a video on how to use Lightroom with the Ricoh Theta Z1
If you are using the QooCam 8K then you’ll need to download two programs; Kandao Raw + and the QooCam studio, both are free. Drag the 8 individual images that the QooCam 8K shoots into Kandao Raw + and the program will combine them together into a single jpeg. You can now drag this file into the QooCam studio which will stitch it into your final 360 image.back to menu ↑
Creating Your Tour
There are many options for uploading your 360 photos to create a virtual tour. There are both free and paid options but be aware that any free virtual tour creator will have its limitations. In this example I’ll be using Kuula, an online virtual tour creator that has both a paid and free option.
Once you’ve signed up to Kuula select the upload tour option. You can now drag your images into Kuula where they will be uploaded. Make sure to give each image a logical name to make it easier for yourself to identify each one. Once your images are uploaded you already have a rudimentary virtual tour, however there are many more options to improve the quality of the tour.
You should first make sure your images are in a logical order. You don’t want an image from a kitchen to lead to an upstairs bedroom. Order the images to that when people click through them it takes them through the space as if they were walking through it themselves.
You should also add hotspots to each 360 image where people can quickly choose a specific area to view. Label the hotspots so that viewers know where each option leads and place them logically throughout your images. You can also create hotspots that link to videos, photos or ever play a sound recording. Adding these elements makes your VR tour much more dynamic and interesting.
Once you’ve added all necessary hotspots and ordered your tour correctly you are ready to share it. Kuula allows you to embed your tour on your website with premium users able to add their own branding.
Embedding is done via a code provided for each virtual tour which you’ll need to integrate into your website. Once you’ve done so it will be visible immediately to anyone who wants to see it. You’ve just completed your virtual tour! I recommend practising the whole process a few times at home or in your own business so you can get the hang of every step.