How to create a 360 degree panorama virtual tour

Prepare the scene

The location you want to show your clients should be in perfect condition. Throw away any garbage and repair broken items. Clean the floor and any surfaces; they should be shining.

Arrange all the objects appropriately. They should be placed so that they look natural and at the same time “waiting” for a viewer. You should consider what furniture placement is best from the position of the camera’s viewpoint. For example, if it’s better for a chair to be turned toward the camera, suggesting that the viewer sit down. Also you probably would like to remove some of the furniture to give the room a sense of additional space.

If you are shooting outdoors, it is best to walk around the location before shooting. Take a pencil and a paper with you and think about the placement of the points of view and the transitions between them. Having a map of the location is helpful. Think where you should make the viewpoints so that the transitions give the effect of natural walking. Really, walk around. Who lives here? How do they walk in real life? Which objects are the most important? Which points of view are the most interesting? What would you like to tell the viewer about this place? What is a person who wants to live here looking for? Which advances you want to show them?

If you want to shoot indoors, consider what lighting you need. Even if you don’t have special lighting equipment, think about local lamps. Which should be turned on and which should be turned off? Should you move some of the light sources?

If you are shooting outdoors, remember that sunlight changes fast, so you should capture one point of view in a small time period. Sometimes the clouds are also moving at a high pace. If you are shooting several points of view, don’t forget that a transition from a lawn at noon to a forest at sunset will look quite odd. If the sun is bright, try to shoot at noon so that the long shadow from your tripod does not mess up a shot (or Photoshop it later).

Think of how high you should place the camera. Probably, by changing the height, you can get rid of some objects in the window or eliminate some glare.

If you want to shoot a panorama without people, you should choose a time when the location will not be crowded. If you want to shoot people, think about what day and hour will be best. Also you should consider the mood the people will have at this time. Will they be happy or tired?

Think about what you want to convey with the panorama. What atmosphere should it have? At which time and under which light conditions should it be shot? Do you want to show your café full of businessmen at lunch?

Or do you want to show a couple in eveningwear dining with candles?

Think about what the viewer should see when they open the panorama: it shouldn’t be a boring wall.

The camera’s preferences

Choose the camera’s manual mode. Turn off the auto-exposure and auto-ISO or the shots will have different brightness. You can half-press the shutter release to measure exposure all around the scene and then make the value a bit less than the mean of the measurement. Choose the fixed focus distance for all shots. Don’t change the zoom while you are shooting. Fix the white-balance. You should use the small diaphragm (f\8 and so on) to make the panorama sharp.

Sometimes every shot is taken using multi-exposure (bracketing), which allows you to make an HDR panorama. This will be useful when you have a big difference in brightness for the same scene (for example, in a scene with bright, direct sunshine).

Try to avoid using flare: it will make the light different in each shot and you will have problems with panorama stitching.

It is better to shoot in RAW, not jpeg. It will give more opportunities for post-production, for example changing white balance without diminishing quality.

Use the panorama mode of the camera, if it exists. It shows the previous shot so you can match shots before shooting. Also it fixes the exposure for all shots.

Taking the photo

Look for the tripod legs: you don’t need them in the frame.

If you are shooting without a tripod, keep your elbows close to your chest. Don’t lean back and keep the camera close to your head. You can try to catch the lens somewhere between the lens’ front and the lens’ middle and then to turn the lens around the nodal point (which you caught with your fingers), but this is quite complicated. However, it will cause less parallax error.

If you have a tripod head with a level, set the tripod so that the bubble is in the middle when you are rotating the tripod head a full circle on the horizontal plane.

At the beginning you should shoot a full clockwise circle on a horizontal plane. You should take the shots after an equal rotation angle. If you need, shoot a second row of vertical photos. After this, take the camera from the tripod and shoot the sky (straight up) and the surface under the tripod (straight down).

Every shot should overlap the previous shot by around 30% for better stitching. Do not forget to overlap the last shot on the first. It will be easier if you keep in mind an object at the middle of the right side of the frame and turn the camera till the object is at the middle of the left side.

Be careful about people and cars who are moving so fast that they will appear in two spots of the panorama at once. Sometimes it looks like a transparent “ghost” on the panorama. The stitching software is capable of correcting the doubles, but still, why bother? Shoot a person only in one place (ask them to hold still or shoot fast) or shoot an additional shot of the empty landscape. Also be careful with trees and other objects that are affected by the wind. You can probably at least shoot the moving objects in the same phase.

After the shooting check all shots for quality.

Stitching

Now you should make a panorama from the photos. To stitch photos you can use Photoshop or PTGui.

How do you do it in Photoshop? Choose “Open File>Automate>Photomerge”. Click “Add Files”, choose your shots and select “Spherical” on the left. Press “Geometric Distortion Correction” and “Blend Images Together”. Then you can manually move layers if something is not going well automatically and crop.

Also in Lightroom you can choose “Edit In > Merge to Panorama in Photoshop”.

If you want us to stitch your panoramas, we can do it. However if you didn’t use a tripod, agreeing to stitch them will be too risky for us: we can’t guarantee good quality. If you are not a pro and used a tripod, we will probably be able to deliver the best quality of stitching possible with the provided materials. Write to us at contact@makevt.com to learn more.

Making a virtual tour

MakeVT will allow you to make a complete virtual tour from your panoramas. See a Tutorial where we explain the whole process step by step. In the Tutorial’s Quick Start section you can learn all you need to create a virtual tour, and if you need some extra features read about them in the Tutorial. Also you can start quickly with video help.