What is a 360 Virtual Tour?

A virtual tour is a composition of media like photo, video or CGI to create a digital tour that allows the viewer to visit a remote location with their computer or mobile device. Most commonly referred to are virtual tours that use spherical panorama and provide interactivity, complete 360 degree view around and up/down. Although with the recent emergence of 360 degree video cameras and special brackets for popular cameras like GoPro, 360 video is becoming a very popular creative and promotional tool throughout the internet.

How to create a Virtual Tour and publish it?

You will require a combination of things to complete a virtual tour project thoroughly. Here is a basic list of thing you will require:

  • Equipment - If you are planning to take your own photo or video, you will need the right equipment. If you are not planning to make a 360 video, you will need a decent camera and a strudy tripod to get you started. For a detailed review of the recommanded equipment, read the "What equipment do I need to make a panoramic photo?" section below.
  • Stitching Software - There are couple of decent stitching software that are used by most. First is PTGui which is the industry standard for accomplishing the best result in stitching. There is a decent learning curve to PTGui as it is quite advanced and packs and enormous amount of features and tools. Other software commonly gets bundled with the Tour Building software. Some noteworthy publishers of stitching software worth checking is Kolor and Easypano. Both have been in the industry for a long time.
  • Virtual Tour Software - There is a reasonable selection of options for software out on the market. Some are packages straight out the box that allow simple tour building with many features and minimal expertise. Others, more complex software, offer the all around flexibility and customization but require coding and design skills. You can find more detailed information about Virtual Tour Software later in this post.
What equipment do I need to make a panoramic photo?

Essentially, anyone can make a panorama with any camera or even a smartphone by taking a series of overlapping pictures from the same position and then stitching them together. It might be challenging to create a 360 inside small spaces because the nodal point will not align and the stitching software will not be able to detect the alignment. Therefore, to properly shoot a panoramic photograph you will require the following:

  • Camera - Any Camera can work, but an entry level DSLR with a decent lens advisable. Obviously if you are willing to invest in equipment, you will be able to produce better pictures. Therefore if you are starting try using a camera you already have or if you have to buy one, we recommend Canon or Nikon as they have a large selection of lenses that you might require later to speed up and ease your work.
  • Tripod - Any brand is fine as long at the tripod is sturdy/stable. From experience some video tripods with a center column are more suitable as they have center column lock. Being able to lock the legs will make it easier to position the camera flat or lessen the visibility of the legs in the photos.
  • Panoramic Head or Electronic Time Laspe Head - A Panoramic Head allows the camera to be rotated around the same nodal point, which is essential when stitching the images. There are many Pano Heads available on the market and some stores even carry the more popular brands, but in most cases it's easiest to order online. If you decide to go ahead with a manual Panoramic Head, we recommend the Nodal Ninja as a great entry level head.
  • Fisheye Lens (Recommended) - It is not required but if you wish to take pictures faster, spend less time stitching, it's better to have a Fish Eye or a Wide Angle Lens. If you are not planning to make GigaPixel panoramas, we recommend the Sigma 8mm F3.5 EX DG Circular Fisheye Lens.
  • Remote (Optional) - It is not required but we recommend it because clicking the camera manually can move or misalign the camera. Anyhow remotes are fairly inexpensive so even having a spare is worth it.
How to make a panoramic photograph?
  1. Start by setting up the tripod and the Panoramic Head while making sure it sits on the ground sturdy. Any movement of the tripod in between the pictures will shift the nodal point and make the stitching process a nightmare or even impossible.
  2. Secure the camera to the Panoramic Head and configure it properly to ensure the nodel point of the lens is position right above the nodal point of the Pano Head.
  3. Tighten the Pano Head components to ensure minimal looseness yet still able to rotate the head freely.
  4. Now start taking pictures while in-between shots rotate the head in equal increments. Depending on the field of view of lens make sure that the pictures are overlapping enough not to have holes in them after stitching.
  5. Copy the image files from the camera to the computer and drop them into the stitching software. This can be done easily or hard, depending on the software. For most advanced control and best results we recommend PTGui stitching software.
  6. When you finish stitching, check for misalignments and if your software gives you the option, try to correct them by adjusting control points.
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