Blog Tag: panoramic photo

Virtual Tour Company Now Offering Dark Room Imaging

I remember when I got my first big screen high definition television.  It was delivered right before the Master’s golf tournament and I finally understood the hype about that particular golf course.  I watched the Master’s every year with a golfer who had played Augusta National many times and had told me about how difficult the course was.  Watching the tournament on a normal TV, I couldn’t understand what the big deal was compared to other courses but when I watched it in high definition, I could suddenly see all the undulations and variations in the greens and even though I don’t golf, I got it! 

A similar change has recently come about with our virtual tour business.  We started offering professional hotel photography services!!  We recently began shooting our images using our new Dark Room technique and the difference is unbelievable.  My husband Ben is a great photographer and has always captured beautiful images to create our 360 degree virtual tours but regular photography has certain limitations.  Our 360 panoramas are created using 12 individual scenes blended together to form one picture.  A full 360 degree spin might include a wall of windows on one side  of a room and a long hallway on the other.  Even a great photographer is limited in creating an image that is exposed correctly for these two extremes.  The result is that the windows were somewhat blown out and the hallway was somewhat dark.  The stitching software would then try to compensate for these extremes and the panoramic image lost some of its crispness and clarity.

Enter our new Dark Room photography package! With our Dark Room photography, each individual scene is photographed 9 times from the very same spot – using many exposures ranging from the very darkest to the very brightest.  These images are then blended together so that the best of each setting is highlighted to create one picture.  Now instead of 12 images making up a 360 degree panorama, we take 108 individual shots!  Greg then uses several software programs to create a single panoramic image that is exposed for both the light and dark areas of the expanse.  The results are simply amazing!

My favorite shot in this virtual tour is the panoramic view of the mountains and the lake off the back deck.  That one 360 spin really shows off our new Dark Room process.  You can clearly see the logs inside the outdoor fireplace AND the rain storm falling on a far mountain AND the detail of the bedspread through the bedroom window!  The picture of the front of the house looks almost like a painting! 

Panoramic Photo Workflow

We use Lightroom because it is a great place to organize your workflow.  Because we shoot in raw, it is important to us to be able to create a quick and and easily repeatable workflow that will allow us to maximize our end product and minimize the amount of time it takes to process.  This workflow is not a function of camera type, but rather the willingness to purchase products that free up time to earn more money or have more leisure time.  The software costs can be amortized very quickly as you have the time to shoot and process more homes.  Our entire workflow is compatible to Mac and PC.

    Our workflow actually begins with a product called Color Munki – a monitor calibration system from X-Rite (makers of the Expo Disk).  This works on laptop screens as well as computer screens and even if you don’t want to spend the $499 to purchase the color munki, you should make sure your screen is always recalibrated back to either factory settings or to the basic settings recommended by X-Rite. Each screen is different .  We recalibrate once a week, but with today’s monitors on iMacs we probably will be calibrating only once a month as soon as I feel confident that the monitor stays calibrated.  We use X-Rite products because they provide free easy to understand webinars that have not only improved our color calibration, but also our lightroom workflow!

    The second step is actually an X-Rite product as well called the Color Checker Passport.  We take this small pocket size device to the home.  Since we are using our Secret Weapon for shooting, and we are using auto white balance for the secret weapon, we do not do a custom white balance.  Instead, we take a photograph of the Color Checker Passport first.  You will need one photo for each lighting situation. (see free webinars for how to use this device).  Then we shoot our 9 shots.  With a Panoramic, we shoot 9×12 or 108 shots.

    After shooting the virtual tours and returning to the office, we download our photos direct from the camera into Lightroom.  We have preset our import criteria to include our copyright, basic sort of company stuff and basic keywords.  We then individualize the preset to the home by naming the files but keeping the image number at the end of the string so that we can identify any raw files as well.  Lightroom is great because it allows you to back up your files at the same time you are importing them.  Lightroom then imports into folders, and you can automatically divide them into sections called shoots like kitchen, bathroom, etc.  Leave the picture of the color checker card in the highest level of folders created.

    I do most of workflow prior to photo stitching or any other adjustments.  My first job is the color checker passport.  The device comes with a lightroom plug in that allows you to set up a calibration for the job and a white balance for the job.  I run the passport photo through the plug-in and create a custom calibration for the job and name it the address of the home.  My next step is to work on my first panoramic shot of the day – for this example the kitchen.  I copy the calibration card into the kitchen folder.  I then use the Lightroom camera calibration icon and calibrate the card to the custom kitchen calibration.  I then do the same thing to the card with white balance (the card has a section on it to correct – warm up or cool down the white balance), lens correction and fill light/black point.  Finally, I copy these settings using the lightroom sync function to all 108 photos of the kitchen.  (I do not do lens correction because this messes up the enfusion process.)

Now I am ready to do the Enfusing.  Using LightroomEnfuse I put together each set of 9 photos using the batch processing so that I have all 108 raw photos enfusing into a single set of 12 kitchen tiff files ready for stitching.   You will notice that the color and the contrast need substantial adjustment but don’t correct this yet.

The final step in Part One is to stich – I use the PTGUI export function to stitch the 12 pieces together to create one giant and I do mean giant TIFF file for processing.

To do one panoramic usually takes me 3-1/2 minutes to get to this point.  Instead of moving into kitchen processing – I get all of my photos to this point.  You can actually adjust this workflow for non-panoramic by just leaving out the stitching step, so if you have single views – get them to this point as well.  My reasoning for not doing individual photos to the end, but  rather getting to this point is I can now use actions in photoshop or third party plug ins in light room in batches to help the workflow of part 2.  My total time per home is about 2 hours part one and part 2 combined – I have done it in as little as 1 hour as well depending on the amount of correction and the number of photos.

Part two to follow shortly.