A virtual tour is a form of interactive photography that allows the user to explore a location digitally, usually on a website or app.
The first virtual tour was designed by British engineer Colin Johnson and was first publicly experienced by Queen Elizabeth II. In 1994 he opened a 1550 representation of Dudley Castle at the Dudley Castle Visitor Center in northern England. Since then they have quickly infiltrated the leisure, property and tourism industries and are now conquering the digital world by supporting classic photography with interactive experiences.
Many earlier examples were produced in video form and simply consisted of a cameraman walking around a location. With the introduction of new technology, the interactive landscape has replaced more linear experiences in which a space is filmed with still images before being reconstructed with computer software. This 360 panorama or “scene” joins other scenes to form a tour. Tours allow the user to dictate the scene and perspective, usually by clicking and dragging the photo. The techniques for navigating between scenes vary from tour to tour, but generally take the form of thumbnails or “hotspot” links on the tours themselves.
A scene can be created by joining any type of image as long as they are taken from the same perspective; however, the use of a standard size lens would mean that a user would have to take more than 40 images to accurately cover a 360 by 180 degree angle. To combat this, professionals use a variety of wide-angle lenses to reduce the number of images that need to be stitched together. These can range from a standard wide angle lens to an 8mm fisheye and custom built single shot 360 degree lenses.
Due to their ability to express a space with much greater precision than traditional photography, virtual tours quickly became the standard in the upscale residential and commercial property industries. From there, they quickly spread to leisure, tourism, and education and now most establishments looking to show off their facilities to potential customers are investing in a virtual tour as a standard part of their marketing budget.
Today, virtual tours are used for a variety of reasons, from commercial to purely entertainment. Now you can explore the new Aston Martin from inside the car, see a moving panorama of London from the London Eye, and even explore the red surface of Mars from the comfort of your desk.