Sunday, October 1, 2006

Taking 360 degree real estate photos


By David Gewirtz

Here at Connected Photographer, we like to bring you information straight from leading experts on various photographic topics. This week, I had the opportunity to interview Kelly Thomas, a Web developer and entrepreneur who's managed to make money from real estate photography. His specialty is setting up virtual tours. In this interview, he tells us how he does it.


So, Kelly, you've got all sorts of business projects going on. Please tell us about yourself and the various ventures you're involved with.


David, I'm glad you find what we do interesting. I work full time as a computer specialist for a large university and I've picked up a few little Web projects like many "computer guys" in the industry but one is a real business that centers around photography.

"If you are photographing 360 degrees, all at the same time, in one shot, where do you hide the lights?"

I own a company that does virtual tours for realtors. It's called (at and I describe it as a consumer real estate search tool where buyers can preview property online. All the photos and virtual tours you see at the Web site are ours, we do not post photos that anyone else has taken on our site.


What exactly is a virtual tour?


I think of a virtual tour as a collection of images which allow a real estate buyer to preview a property online, in the comfort of his home or office, instead of wasting time making small talk with a real estate agent who's dragging him around town in a van to look at property. Most people think of those spinning images you see online at real estate or travel Web sites as a virtual tour but I call those an interactive panoramic. Or a pano for short.

When we make a virtual tour of a property, we'll typically take from 20-55 photos of a property, both inside and out, and five or more 360 degree interactive panoramic views. It all depends on the size of the property.


Explain 360-degree photography for our readers. That's got to be pretty challenging, right?


I think it is, even after six years of doing it. 360-degree photography made a big splash in the late 1990s when Apple Computer introduced QuickTime VR. IPIX is another company with a similar solution. The Virtual Tour Machine can use either but the idea is that a space is captured photographically and the resulting images are displayed on a computer screen, usually over the Internet, and you interact with the display window controlling the angle of the view and the level of zoom. This allows the viewer to get a very life-like feel for the space.