Guide to Producing Google 360 Virtual Tours
Comprehensive Guide to Shooting, Editing, Stitching, and Uploading for Producing Google 360 Virtual Tours
Now, if you follow our blog, you may remember that I did a brief (and somewhat uninteresting) summary about 2 months ago on the same topic. The purpose of this edition is to go a little bit further in-depth to give you more detail and guidance. I know the video is longer than you might care to watch, however, I try to cover every aspect of the process so that you can get a full understanding of Producing Google 360 Virtual Tours.
360 Tour Equipment
You’ll first need to start with a sturdy tripod. In the video I make mention of possibly using a mic stand when shooting in tight spaces, however my camera is pretty heavy and the mic stand probably isn’t the best option, as it requires absolute precision and steady hands. We use the Vanguard Alta Pro 263 AB, which at $180 is a steal for the type of quality tripod it is. Really any tripod will do, as long as its level and not too flimsy.
The tripod head that we use is an Acratech Spherical Panoramic head specifically designed for shooting 360 photos. I say this because it comes equipped with a lens ring support which holds the camera in a portrait mode (vertical) instead of the standard landscape (horizontal). There are all types of different heads that can be used. One of the biggest providers of such is a company called Nodal Ninja, which specializes in 360 panoramic photography equipment.
The lens we use is the Sigma 8mm EX DG Fisheye, with an EF mount that is compatible with most Canon and Nikon cameras. Once again, this lens is affordable but also very sharp. Some people choose to go with the Canon 8-15 mm fisheye lens, however I’ve found that they both produce high quality imagery, with the Canon lens coming in at double the price of the Sigma (gotta pay for that brand name).
I’m shooting with the Canon 5D Mark IV… an absolute beast of a camera!
Camera Settings for Virtual Tours
In order to have a wide depth of field, I like to keep my aperture at f/8 or f/7.1 at the least. This will ensure that everything is in focus when shooting large areas. These tours are not the time to get creative, we just want sharp, clear images. This is essential for producing Google 360 Virtual Tours.
Obviously, the ideal setting for ISO is 100, to limit noise in dark areas, however, you can increase this to 400 if shooting in a dimly lit area. I wouldn’t go much past 400, especially if you shooting on an older camera (newer cameras do a better job of maintaining clear images even in high ISO settings).
From there, you’ll just want to adjust your shutter speed as you see fit. Shooting indoors with a high aperture most of the time means your image will be very dark, so that means you have to slow down the shutter to allow more light to enter the sensor. I normally find that a ½ second shutter works best at f/8 and 400 ISO. Just remember, shutter speed is the variable that you should adjust last after setting the first two. Since the camera is on a tripod, you don’t have to worry about camera shake.
Most cameras have an option to select bracketed images or High Dynamic Range (HDR) capabilities, so I would strongly suggest using this function. If they do not, and you would still like to manually take bracketed photos, you will need to adjust your exposure by 2 stops in between each pictures. So that means taking photos at -2 Ev, 0, and +2 Ev. That’s a pain in the butt though so I hope it doesn’t come to that.
One more important tip to set your camera to a 2-second delay. This will ensure that you don’t accidentally move it when pressing the shutter button.
Before You Start
Producing Google 360 Virtual Tours is a process in itself, but it’s not overly complicated. Since these photos are going to be uploaded to Google Maps, it is a good idea to get a general sense of the space online before you go. I simply pull up Google Maps and either print a copy of the surroundings to take with me, or take a mental note of how the building is laid out. This may include where entrances lie, nearby roads, and also any other companies that are in the same building.
You’ll need to make sure you shoot in straight lines. This means no walking through walls, furniture, or cutting corners. Unfortunately, sometimes this leads to panoramas that are very close to each other, especially in residential real estate. Always go through the space and mentally map out your shots before you start shooting!
Once you have everything in order, this is the easy part! Simply pick your first location, set your camera according to my guidelines above, and start shooting.
You’ll want to be very careful not to bump or move your tripod while shooting, as this will shift the nodal point and cause MAJOR problems later in post production. If some sort of disruption does occur, it’s a good idea to start that set of photos all over again. Move from spot to spot and try your very best to move in straight lines.
Editing the Fisheyes
So once you’ve finished shooting each location (for this tutorial I shot from 6 locations in the main lobby) you’ll want to make sure the numbers add up. What I mean by this is that if you find any discrepancies in how many photos you shot versus what the numbers should add up to, you’ll realize you may have missed one. For example, I know each time I take a photo on HDR mode, my camera is going to give me four images (three RAW files and one JPG). Since we take photos in four directions, that means you should have 16 photos per location. I shot six locations, so that means I should have a grand total of 96 images. Now if I look and see that I only have 92, it tells me I accidentally missed one set of images. Hopefully this never happens to you, but it’s always a good idea to check before you get too far and realize you screwed up.
So once you have the numbers right, you’ll want to import the JPGs into Adobe Lightroom or some other sort of photo editing software. From here, you can make simple adjustments to exposure, white balance, highlights, shadows, etc. Now is not the time to get creative with tone curves and things of that nature. Just make sure the photos are well lit and there aren’t any areas (such as looking outside on a sunny day) that are way over exposed.
You can edit one photo, highlight it, go to the last one and Shift click on it to select all the photos. Simply hit Sync and the color correction will be applied to each picture. You may need to go back through and make sure this makes sense though, especially if shooting in multiple rooms with different lighting.
Once the coloring is adjusted to your liking, highlight all and go to File> Export. From here it is a good idea to create a separate folder titled “Ready for PTGui” or something like that, so that your photos are easy to find for the next step. You’ll also want to make sure you choose “Custom Name – Sequence” in the export window.
The software program we use is called PTGui. It is specifically designed to auto-stitch fisheye photos and create panoramas, without much stress on the user. Once you open the program it should give you the option to “Load Images.” Click that button and select the first four fisheyes from the folder you just exported them to. Once they load, select the Crop Tab and adjust the dashed circle so that it is positioned right along the border of the photo. It is a good idea to look at the values on the right hand side, so that you can input these into the next set of photos and keep the size uniform throughout.
Once you have cropped the images, simply click Align Images. If you were very careful while taking the initial photos, the software should seamlessly stitch the fisheyes into a panorama. If at any point, there was a shift in perspective and the stitching is not perfect, you’ll need to add Control Points… manually adding Control Points is extremely tedious and frustrating, so I’m not going to get into that right now.
To see if you have a successful stitch, you can go to Project> Optimize. This will bring up the Optimize Results window which gives you several values to determine whether or not you need to go back in and adjust any Control Points. For the average control point distance, a value between 0 – 1.8 is very good. You want to keep the maximum control point distance below 10. The Results should say “very good” if you performed the shoot correctly.
Once you achieve a “very good” result, select Create Panorama on the Project Assistant page. From here you can click on “set optimum size” and set the quality to 100%. You’ll want to create a new folder titled “Ready for GoThru” and select that as your output location. After you choose the output settings, go ahead and click Create Panorama and watch the magic happen.
Repeat these steps for each set of four fisheyes.
Connecting and Uploading
For this next step, you’ll need to create a Google account if you don’t already have one.
The software we use for laying out and uploading the Virtual Tours is called GoThru.co. Once on the site you’ll be prompted to sign into your Google account. On the Dashboard there are plenty of tutorials and added features that should give you a good idea of how to use the program. Under the Constellations tab you can begin to create your tour.
Click on Create New Tour at the top of the page. This will take to a page where you can enter a location or use a CID number. If the business does not have a Google My Business page, they will not show up here and therefore you cannot upload a tour. In this day and age, most businesses do have a GMB page. Pick a location, and click Create New Tour at the bottom of the page.
Once the page has loaded, select Upload Panoramas then click and drag the files from the folder “Ready for GoThru”. After you’ve finished the upload, you’re ready to start laying them out.
Next go to Moderate. This is where mapping out the location before you shoot comes into play. If you took the time to look at the business on Google Maps before hand, and you were conscious of that while shooting, you should have an idea of how the panoramas should be laid out. Select the first panorama and drag it into the Main window. Take the second pano and drag it into the Overlay window. Make sure geographically it makes sense how they are positioned in the top left window, which mimics Google Maps.
You can adjust the arrows by clicking on the small + sign by the pano in the Maps window, and dragging it to the point where it points in the correct direction. Simply click the arrow on the Main Viewer window to connect the two panos. Repeat this process for each location until each pano is connected accordingly. (Note: its is much easier to watch the video to understand this part)
You can click the little eyeball in the top right corner to preview your tour. If you’re happy, save your work and exit the Moderate window. Once you have finished Moderating, you’re ready to upload. Simply click the red Google button on the top right of the Tools page. This will take you to the Publish page where you can just click Upload to Google and you’re all done!!
It will take anywhere from 24-48 hours for your tour to show up on Google Maps, but after that, it’s there forever! It’s imperative to follow those directions above when Producing Google 360 Virtual Tours.