Virtual Tours 101

What is a Virtual Tour?

That is a great question and one we are asked often. So, allow me to break it down. It will make more sense if I explain what makes up a tour and then show you some examples.

Photo Spheres

To explain a virtual tour requires me to first describe what makes up the heart of all virtual tours – the photo sphere. A photo sphere is a collection of photographs which are carefully ‘stitched’ together into a spherical representation.

The quality and processing of these initial photographs plays a big role in the quality of the finished photo sphere. We use industry leading software and hardware to capture, edit, and finally ‘stitch’ these images into what is then called a photo sphere.

As seen here, these images are actually a little funny looking when viewed as a flat image. However, this is not how these images are intended to be viewed. Special software is required to view these photo spheres in the way they were intended.

[vrview img=”/sample/Area8.jpg” ]

What you see above is a photo sphere. Place your mouse on the image then click and drag the image to explore. It allows you to look all the way around and in some cases all the way up or down (depending on the intentions of the photographer.) (If you only see a spinning box above, or if the photo sphere didn’t open, you can click here to see another example.)

Here is a key point: Photo spheres can be viewed easily on Facebook, Google Street View, and custom built web sites. Keep this in mind; we will come back to it.

Back to Virtual Tours

Since you now have an idea what a photo sphere is, we can talk about the original question: what is a virtual tour?

A virtual tour is just a collection of photo spheres which are linked together which allows people to explore, or “walk through” a space.  This is what we offer as a service!

Depending on your needs, we will create photo spheres of your business, then link those photo spheres into a virtual tour. For example, if you own a Bed & Breakfast, we might build photo spheres for the bedroom, living room, and dining room. Then, we would connect those three spaces into a virtual tour allowing your customers to explore those three spaces in a single easy experience!

Check out the virtual tour below. This is a custom virtual tour (versus a Google Street View tour.)

The custom tour above was not designed to be seen in such a small window. It was actually designed to fill the entire screen. I would really encourage you to see the full tour by clicking here!

Google Street View versus a Custom Tour

We are in the home-stretch of learning all about virtual tours. (Whew!) I mentioned Facebook earlier. They can host photo spheres which means your friends and customers can see individual photo spheres you upload to Facebook. We will provide you these files as part of our service on your request. Facebook, however, does not support linking photo spheres into a tour. So, we don’t use Facebook for “virtual tours”.

Google Street View

As you certainly already know, Google is the leader in online mapping which includes satellite images as well as their famous Street View. Chris Morris Photography LLC is a Google Trusted Photographer.

This was bestowed upon us after we proved to Google that we could create high quality photo spheres and then properly link them into a virtual tour using the Google Street View system. If you are not familiar with Street View, you can learn more here.

This is our basic service offered to all types of businesses that need to create a virtual tour within the Google ecosystem.

Google Street View is the obvious first stop for anyone wanting to create an online virtual tour. The instant exposure to millions of possible online viewers is fantastic! However, these tours are a bit limited in features. There is no customization to speak of. The only controls we have is the linking of the photo spheres. This is why we offer another virtual tour product.

Custom Virtual Tours

Custom virtual tours are a giant leap above what Google Street View alone can offer. These tours are based on the same photo spheres as those used in the Google products. The difference is how the photo spheres are linked as well as the tour environment with which the user interacts. For example, we can vary colors, tour controls, sounds, etc. Just about every aspect of the experience can be customized to suite your needs.

As an example, click here to see a Google Street View tour of a hotel room.

Now, click here to see the same hotel room as a custom virtual tour.

The two types of tours are completely independent of each other.  Most clients will opt for a Google Street View tour and many will also request a custom tour in addition.

We hope this helps to demystify the virtual tour world. Consumers are thoroughly researching businesses before they decide to visit in person. Chris Morris Photography can clear up the confusion and take care of all the details for you. Your tours will be online fast in whatever formats suite your needs.

If you would like to see some samples of both Google Street View and Custom Tours, see our Sample page.

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