Catch the Customer's Eye with 360-by-360-Degree Virtual Tours
By Joseph Ortiz President, IPIX InfoMedia | January 27, 2012
While two-dimensional photos can simply highlight areas of your properties online, virtual tours bring your potential guests into the center of a scene where they can interactively scan entire areas within one image. Studies have shown that interactivity on websites increases satisfaction and keeps visitors on your site longer. Virtual tours have proven to facilitate property promotion and reflect a more professional and sophisticated brand. Once created, a virtual tour serves as an evergreen online presentation of the best your facilities have to offer. The atmosphere and style of travel accommodations are a major determining factor, in addition to price, location and availability. Further, a virtual tour can better communicate the value and feel of a property than a written description or a two-dimensional photography.
Capturing high quality virtual tour photography requires special set of skills. Even though the technology behind virtual tour photography would make it seem like something your web site administrator or your marketing programs coordinator could do, quality virtual tours require the eye of the photographer. Hiring a photographer, with both a technical understanding of photography as well as the aesthetic eye, will help you get the greatest value and reuse from your virtual tour photography. It is also important to find a photographer with knowledge of the different types of virtual tour technology available. Many photographers will have a preference for a specific type of virtual tour technology. Ask them why they chose the technology and equipment they use and if it can provide complete 360-degree-by-360-degree virtual tours with only two camera shots. This type of technology will maximize the flexibility of your tours while minimizing the shoot time and therefore overall cost.
According to Arnold Machtinger, President, ANMPIX (www.anmpix.com), the things to make sure you consider when shooting virtual tour photography are numerous. Before a single virtual tour photograph is shot, take special care that each scene setup is aesthetically compelling. Make sure the property marketing manager is involved in the planning and setup to ensure the appropriate flavor and presentation in each image. Include details like flower centerpieces for conference room shots, or food table preparations for dining room shots. Due to the wide angle view provided by virtual tour photography, including these types of details close up to the camera are important to a quality shot.
Never underestimate the importance of camera placement within the room. The camera should be placed where a guest could stand and best survey her entire surroundings. Make sure there are no obstacles blocking the 360-degree field of view, such as pillars, trees or even people. It is usually best to photograph rooms without people in them. Exceptions to this rule could include instances when you might want to show community or action, such as in a pool area, a childcare room or an important event. Remember that the ceiling and floor will also show up in full 360-degree-by-360-degree shots, if you choose this compelling option to display details such as beautiful carpets or chandeliers.
Technical details are just as important, according to Mr. Machtinger. One of the trickiest parts of virtual photography is lighting. Lighting will make the difference between a room that is naturally colored and brilliant in tone, versus a room that is off-balance and visually unappealing. Rooms with many windows pose a special challenge, especially in promotional photography with a virtual tour, as you will want the viewer to see not only what is inside the room, but also what is on the outside. Smart photographers such as Arnold will time the shot to coincide with the best time during the day to achieve optimal lighting. This option relies 100% on natural lighting to get the perfect shot. Alternatively, multiple shots can be captured, alternating between an underexposed and overexposed image to capture the detail inside and outside the room. As part of the image creation process, the two images are composited (or put together) to form a single image that keeps the best quality parts of each image. Composited images do not need to be timed according to the natural lighting coming into the room, but will increase the time needed to create the final image and possibly increase the cost.
To get the most out your virtual tour professional photography, carefully lay out a broad range of locations to capture. Many properties shoot only a virtual tour of the lobby and guest room. In order to effectively market your property, you should consider shooting virtual tour photographs of key areas of your property. Include images of the hotel exterior to show the context the building to its surroundings. Shoot the lobby, but from several locations including the front desk, the lounge area, and bar area. Showcase your on-site restaurants, exercise facilities, swimming pool, business center, and conference rooms. Each of these areas will be important to potential guests and there is no better way to sell your self than by showing off your property. See http://www.marriott.com/epp/tour.asp?MarshaCode=YULCC for a great example of how to showcase your entire property.