For real estate photographers, the demand for 3D virtual tours is rapidly becoming more commonplace.
And, for good reason.
360 panorama tours offer audiences an immersive and intuitive experience, which gives them a clear idea of a space they are interested in.
While 360 panoramas are certainly attention-grabbing, it is important, as a real estate photographer, to produce them mindfully – that is, with a specific goal in mind.
Otherwise, you run the risk of giving the impression that 3D tours are merely flashy and gimmicky – when in fact, they are powerful communication devices and effective sales tools.
Therefore, as a real estate photographer, it is important for you to know in advance – before you start shooting – the end goal for the images you are creating.
For instance, you may create a 3D virtual tour for a real estate agent, who would then in turn use the tour to convince their client to lease or buy a particular property.
Or, you might create a tour for a stager, decorator, renovator, or designer, who might use 3D virtual tours to plan out renovations, manage changes in décor, or just to better understand a space before they have the opportunity to visit it in real life.
The practical applications are endless.
Whatever the purpose, and for whatever audience, the important thing is that you know what goal you wish to accomplish with a 3D virtual tour.
And, in one form or another, that goal will almost always be to communicate the details of a specific space to enable someone to extract the information they need, so that they can make an informed decision regarding that space.
So, the question then becomes, “How do you ensure that your 3D virtual tour effectively communicates the right information to your target audience?”
Here are 10 tips to make your virtual tour effective so that you, the real estate photographer, can ensure great results for your client and keep them coming back to you for more…
1. Capture What Your Audience Wants to See
Making a 3D tour relevant to your niche market basically boils down to knowing who your audience is and what is important to them.
For example, say your client is a realtor, and your target audience is made up of homebuyers. The subject of your 360 panorama is a kitchen in a home your client wishes to list for sale. The kitchen features a dishwasher, and you know that this is a major selling point.
If you don’t visually capture the dishwasher, a prospective homebuyer may have to call the listing agent to ask if there is one present in the kitchen. An effective 3D virtual tour will make the presence of the dishwasher abundantly clear while an ineffective tour that does not display this information could cost time (and money) for all parties involved.
When choosing a location to set up your camera, make sure the details that would be of interest to your intended audience (in this case, the dishwasher) are plainly visible.
When creating 3D tours, always remember the purpose of the shot and the value you wish to communicate with your audience.
In general, avoid panoramas taken from the corners of rooms, instead, focus on what your audience wants to see. Move the camera closer to the point of interest.
2. Be Mindful of What Your Audience Shouldn’t See
While you want to focus on what is important to your audience, you also want to avoid what’s irrelevant or distracting to your audience.
A virtual tour that shows too much can be embarrassing for your brand.
Even worse, having unwanted images in your 3D virtual tour can go as far as negatively influencing your audience – perhaps even on just a subconscious level – to the point where they no longer wish to purchase the listing.
When shooting, be vigilant. Look out for personal items, pet-related items, messy closets, and ugly storage spaces.
Make sure any space that shouldn’t be seen is hidden behind a closed door, or is not visible on the tour.
If you are comfortable doing so, change the environment as you move throughout the home to hide anything that should not be seen. You can close doors, adjust pillows, and remove personal items.
You don’t need to do this yourself – in fact, ideally, it should be done by the realtor, home-stager, or homeowner.
3. Make Sure the Property is Ready to be Photographed
The secret to a great shoot is a great prep.
Preparing the home before creating the virtual tour can make it significantly more attractive and make your shoot flow more efficiently, because you will able to spend your time and focus capturing, instead of arranging.
It can also allow people to see the details they are looking for, instead of unwanted objects or distractions.
You will likely want to first communicate with the realtor or property owner regarding what is required, and let them take care of the staging before the scheduled shoot. (It is not advised to go into someone’s home and move things around without permission.)
They may or may not understand or follow your instructions. If they don’t clean up and stage the house to your liking, you may have to work around obstructions, or use the occasion as an opportunity to educate the client.
Always be courteous and forgiving in this situation – if you handle the situation such that your client (be they a realtor or the home-owner) retains their dignity, you will likely be hired again in the future, and they will know better what you expect from them. In other words, always think in terms of forging a long-term business relationship with these people.
4. Edit Your Images After the Shoot
Once your 3D virtual tour is shot, you will want to do some editing.
Shooting real estate tours can be challenging and, often times, the only way you are going to get good results is with good editing. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are 2 common software applications used for post-processing.
When editing your images, you will want to consider white balance adjustments, removing unwanted objects or people from the frame, and fixing differences in exposure.
The most common required edit will likely be to edit a camera or photographer out of a reflection. You will inevitably encounter this situation when shooting bathrooms, hallways mirrors, and TV screens. Camera and photographer reflections are distracting and sometimes embarrassing. Therefore, they should always be removed.
5. Create a 3D Virtual Tour That is Easy to Navigate
If your intended audience struggles with locating the panorama image that interests them, they may give up early and you risk losing their attention.
Make it easy for your target audience to find what they are looking for by creating a 3D virtual tour that is intuitive and easy to navigate.
There are 2 main types of navigation that are popular today: floorplan navigation and visual navigation.
Floor plan navigation uses a floorplan of the property to allow your audience to click on points of interest placed directly on the floor plan. This is a very fast way to access the visuals because they are accessible for an entire floor at the same time.
Visual navigation requires clicking on the images to virtually move throughout a home incrementally. This type of navigation is famously used in Google Street view. It has the advantage of being more immersive, but it is much slower than floorplan navigation because you cannot jump directly to the room of interest, as this style of navigation requires your audience to click many more times to get from one room to another.
Floor Plan Navigation
6. Keep Your Camera Low for Most of the Shoot
When shooting panoramas, it is better to keep the camera at a low level.
The floor-to-ceiling ratio of the images will change depending on how high you hold the camera. Generally speaking, you will want to keep the camera at the same level for consistency.
By keeping the camera lower, you will have more attractive images that better communicate the space. Here is an example of the camera at a height of about 5.5 feet:
The images are usable, but this panorama does not contain much usable information because there is too much ceiling in the frame. A better camera height would have been at about 4 feet, where the floor-to-ceiling ratio is more even:
The only exception to this principle is when there are desirable details that are very high. This often happens in a kitchen, for example, because there are a lot of details that would benefit from a higher camera position, such as cabinets, countertops, sinks, faucets, etc.
While the height of your camera should remain consistent throughout a home tour for maximum effect, it’s a good idea to raise the camera in areas like kitchens and bathrooms to get those extra details that will mean a lot to the target audience.
7. Keep Your Gear Steady
When shooting 3D virtual tours, never dismiss the importance of a high quality and properly functioning tripod.
The tripod that your camera system sits on can greatly affect your virtual tour’s visual quality.
If your tripod is not stable, your images could turn out to be blurry and out of level. Poorly stitched 360s and poorly fused High Dynamic Range (HDR) images can also result from an unstable tripod.
Here is an image of the most common weak points on your tripod that you need to be aware of:
Here is an image of the most common weak points on your tripod that you need to be aware of:
8. Be Prepared to Explain How Your Virtual Tour Works
Once you have created your 3D virtual tour, be prepared to demo it. Not everyone is computer savvy and some people may require a demonstration to fully understand how to navigate the tour.
Features of the tour may or may not be obvious to your intended audience. If they cannot find the image gallery, integrated video, floorplans, or neighborhood map, they may not get full value out of the tour. And, if they fail to see the value in your 3D virtual tour, they may not order from you again.
Make sure you don’t lose out on future business by making sure that your client knows how to make the most out of the product you have created for them. Ensure a good user experience.
9. Expand Your Reach by Sharing Your 3D Virtual Tour with Others
The whole point of creating a 3D virtual tour is so that lots of people can experience it.
Make sure to share your tour on social media, directly through email, and even embed it into your website. Encourage others to share it as well.
If the virtual tour is for a real estate listing, make sure it has been posted on popular listing services such as Local MLS, Realtor.ca, and Zillow.
10. Analyze Your Virtual Tour’s Traffic
One way to measure the success of a virtual tour is by looking at the traffic it gets.
Relevant data that you will want to analyze can include the number of visitors, how long they viewed the tour, and what website they were referred from.
This data is extremely useful for measuring overall exposure and user engagement.
Creating 3D virtual tours are a great way to share information about a property, get exposure for properties, and close more sales with less interruptions.
Make sure you are taking panoramas of what people want to see and how they want to see it.
These tips will result you providing a better overall product (greater value to your clients) which translates into repeat business for you, the real estate photographer. These will also mean more time for you to be out shooting more listings and less time on the phone/email handling complaints.