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Old 09-05-2001, 09:58 AM
sjarrell sjarrell is offline
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Location: Coral Springs, FL
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Exclamation Tips for taking photos

The following tips were received via email today from one of our new customers. Be sure to add your own "photo taking" tips by clicking the "Reply" button above. No subject is needed as it will be filled in automatically

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Date: Wed, 05 Sep 2001 10:29:43 -0500
To: Steve Jarrell

Hi!
I think your e-mail information messages are great! Just a suggestion:

Could you give us agents suggestions on taking photos for the visual tours?

For instance, I notice IPIX shows the ceiling and floors of the rooms in its tours. So I took my photos with my camera on its side - vertical shots - to get wider spans from the high ceilings to the floor. It creates the need to take more photos to get the 360 degree tour, but it looks better in the end.

I also use a tripod to keep the camera at the same height. I've taken photography classes but most people really don't know the tricks to taking good photos. I notice a lot of photos of rooms where there is a large window or sliding glass door with a lot of light coming in. The photo then shows a bright window and a dark room because an automatic camera cannot adjust for backlighting. In that situation, you need to use your flash manually so you not only get the view outside, but see the inside of the room. A dark room does not sell homes!

Also, you need a wide-angle lens to capture more of the room and make the rooms look larger. Another tip is don't take a photo of a room that does not look good. If it is too cluttered, decorating is out of date, appliances old, or even if it is just 4 white walls with no features, it can do more harm than good to display it.

I tell my sellers to remove all clutter from countertops, remove magnets from refrigerators, etc and show them the before and after photos - it does make a big difference. If you give agents good tips to improve their photos, they will take more photos and get better sales results.

Don't look for my visual tour... I'm a new customer and have not posted any on the internet yet, but will soon.

Joan Hazelgrove, Re/Max ACR Elite Realty, Tampa, FL (813)884-2023
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  #2  
Old 09-07-2001, 10:23 AM
dukelane dukelane is offline
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Lightbulb

Some additional items to add to Joan's ...

1) When using a tripod, USE A LEVEL! Pick up one of those little plastic levels at K-Mart (about $2.00) and use it to be certain your camera is level in at least two directions (90° angles; all four points is best). If it's not, you'll either get a crooked still or your pans (especially 360's) will go up and down, narrowing your active image area.

2) Wide angle lenses distort the outer edges of a photo, making vertical objects appear to "lean" outward. When creating pans, allow more overlap (50% or more) so that when the images are stitched together, they'll "blend" more naturally. I used to use the 20% overlap rule at the start and got terrible results (ever seen a column with a flaring base, or doorways that look like the entry into a hall of mirrors? I have!) until I started overlapping more.

3) When stitching, check the "Crop Image Area" option, especially when warping (which compensates for lens distortion, especially with wide angle lenses at close range) is not disabled. This will insure that you don't get "little gray areas" in your pans. When using this option, pay particular attention to tip #1 above!!

Hey, I think this "community forum" is a GREAT thing, don't y'all?
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DFW Virtual Tours
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<a href="mailto:virtualtours@msn.com">virtualtours@msn.com</a>
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  #3  
Old 09-07-2001, 07:49 PM
Norm Bissett Norm Bissett is offline
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Default Outdoor Pan Tip

I've done a lot of exterior panoramics and have noticed the following: You're better off manually stitching than using the software. Heavy foliage really confuses the program. Doing it manually is really pretty quick though, and the background coloration in the "work" area of the newer stitching software seems to make it easier to distinguish particular features on the separate photos as you're trying to merge them properly.

Also, pay attention to the sky. It could take you a few minutes to finish your panoramic shot. If it is a particularly bright and sunny day, a cloud or two that drifted over the sun can make a serious difference in the brightness of one photo as compared to the next. Even when the pictures are stitched perfectly, it is still a little "off" when the brightness changes suddenly for no apparent reason. Be aware of glare off of certain surfaces as well. Windows, cars, even the fronts
of buildings themselves can wash out the photo. If it comes out too light or too dark, it's a tough fix. I'm pretty good at manipulating photos and changing the brightness, contrast etc. as needed using other software in my brochures and other marketing materials, but I have not had much luck trying to "doctor" my photos before stitching them using the photoshare software. You're better off making sure the conditions are right before you take the picture for the panoramic shot.
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  #4  
Old 09-08-2001, 11:15 AM
sjarrell sjarrell is offline
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One main key to quickly, easily and automatically stitching a panoramic is to make sure you have enough "matching detail" in the overlapping area. As Norm points out, if your overlapping area contains primarily foilage (or just blue sky and the horizon) the stitching software won't have much to match on.

With the proper overlap of 10-20%, and good detail in the overlap area I have NEVER had to manually adjust any of my panoramics, and I've taken a "bunch" The software also does a real good job of evening out the brightness and contrast differences between the different images.

Remember the basics.... hold the camera level, stand in one spot and pivot, shoot from left to right, and overlap with detail. You'll be amazed at how good your panos will turn out automatically.

Regarding outdoor lighting, if you have a choice shoot near mid-day and you'll have the least number of shadows to deal with.

If you are really good with your image software (i.e. Photoshop) and you want to manually adjust your images, you can first download them into a temporary directory, manipulate them (brighten, darken, remove the trash from the front yard, etc.) then import them into the VisualTour software.
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  #5  
Old 09-17-2001, 11:48 PM
dukelane dukelane is offline
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Default

Another consideration with PhotoShop and the like: make sure the first thing you do is to save the image you intend to manipulate to a non-compressing file format such as a BMP or TIF image.

I'll let my betters in the tech support arena explain this better, but its basic premise can be noted in the image manipulating part of the VT4 software: before you save an image that you've lightened, cropped, rotated or whatever, you get an alert that tells you that repeated saves can degrade the quality of the image. This is not just true in VT4, but in every application.

What essentially happens is that each time you save a JPEG (compressed) file, you compress it more and more. Eventually, you'll end up with something you can't use anymore.

Non-compressed files continue to maintain their basic integrity since they don't continually compress, thus the image remains essentially the same each time they're saved. Thus the basic process would be:

1) Select the image you want to enhance;

2) Open it in a photo editor and immediately save it to a non-copressed format such as TIF;

3) Manipulate it to your heart's content in the non-compressed format;

4) Save it as a JPEG image again, preferably using a new file name.

If you need to manipulate the image further, go through the above process each time to maintain the best quality image.
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  #6  
Old 11-03-2002, 07:07 PM
themillingtons themillingtons is offline
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Thumbs up Picture taking tips

We were flattered on Oct. 16 that one of our tours was selected for the "Tour of the Week". We were overwhelmed by the number of complimentary e-mails we received.

Many of those who e-mailed were asking for advice which I soon realized boiled down to about five or six topics, so I though I would "cut-'n-paste" the gist of those responses here - if they will be of any help:

“I am impressed with your tour that was chosen as "Visual Tour of The Week". What camera (and extra lenses) are you using? How do you like using Visual Tour?”

Hi, thanks.

The camera is a 2 year old Sony F505v using just the native lens (approx. 32-35mm at widest angle), and I shoot the Visual Tours at its lowest resolution (640 x 480 pixels), before that I used a Sony Mavica (FD-90 I think) shooting at the same resolution.

I cannot speak highly enough of Visual Tour. Apart from being the best deal (per posted tour) and easiest to watch compared to any other product, we derive tremendous marketing value from being able to create disks to mail and pass out as “Virtual Brochures”.

We used to make diskettes, but now have switched exclusively to the small (80mm) “Business Card” size CDs, by shopping the Internet I can produce them for about 35 cents a piece, and I use MS Publisher to create custom labels (with a tiny picture of the home). They are light enough to mail for the price of a first class stamp, so for every listing we take, we send a mini CD to the entire neighborhood (anywhere from 180 to 340 homes) with an accompanying piece that headlines “Pick your new neighbor – Give this disk to a friend”. And we make an offer to come do a “free” Visual tour of their home so they can send CDs back east to their friends and family showing off their latest remodeling heroics – the granite countertops, new flooring, even the kids with the family dog by the fountain etc. It has gotten us in the door of many future listings – we are their best buddies – can you tell I’m a big fan of VT?

“I enjoyed your visual tour. What program do you use for floor plans? Doug Jacobs”

No program really, I just scanned it from an original developer’s brochure. We have collected them over the years, as do most of the offices in this area (Southern California). If I have to, I print out a plan from some software we have, and then scan the print (the software is proprietary so you can’t import it as a picture file), but they are not very sharp to start with.

Once it’s scanned, I use a picture editor to cut and paste the upper and lower floors side by side. Then I adjust the vertical dimension to about 400 pixels. The resulting picture will behave as a panorama when I bring it into Visual Tour.

“I am a visual tour member and I'd just like to know how do you stitch your pictures so well. Do you use a tripod? What settings do you use? Very nice tour. I just can't get them to come out without warping in areas. Do you have to retake some?”

Yes, for all the panoramas I use a tripod. It’s a “cheapie” I bought at WalMart for about $29. It has two simple bubble levels incorporated into it that ensure the camera is horizontal which I discovered helps prevent warping and poor stitching.

If you shoot a panorama from head height (and you’re over 4 feet tall), you have tendency point the camera down to accomodate all the features of a room; this results in a series of trapezoids (I think that’s the word), that the software has to try to reconcile. By setting the tripod at about four feet (the middle of an average eight foot piece of sheet rock) and making sure the camera is essentially horizontal, you will produce almost perfect rectangles, and the software likes that. Luckily, my camera has a swiveling body so I don’t have to get on my knees to see what I’m shooting. (You will also notice that by shooting pans from about the 4 foot elevation, you will capture many more of those expensive features your client is proud of like granite counter tops and fancy French faucets etc.)

Another thing I have noticed that confuses the software is new or vacant homes - just bare walls and nothing to reference from shot to shot. I normally don’t like to shoot vacant houses but sometimes, a brand new custom with marble floors and great architecture can make a terrific tour, so I carry an old broomstick in the trunk and lean it against the wall at the “join” points as I pan around. I then stitch the picture but save it to a file (not the tour) and use a picture editor to remove the (multiple) broomsticks from the pan, re-save and then bring it into the VT workspace. A large (fake) potted plant works well for this and you don’t necessarily have to remove it from the final picture.

Lastly, if you are using a wide-angle adapter (or built-in lens setting) much below 30mm, you are almost guaranteed a little warping or “fish eye” like conventional cameras.

“Love your idea with the floor plan. Your pictures came out very clear and bright. I was wondering if you knew what setting (quality and Size pixels) you had your camera set for. I just bought a new camera I am not getting the quality I want/was hoping you could help. Thanks in advance.”

See some answers above … As for the “clear and bright,” I’ve learned at least one trick: In all but the brightest of homes, I usually “force” the flash on, not so much to light the shot (the little flash on the camera is only good for a few feet), but to trigger a “slave” flash that I typically hide behind something in the room and point at the ceiling. (You can buy a slave flash unit at any decent photography store for about $40 – 50 – they just plug into an outlet and fire when they sense another flash within a reasonable distance).

Also, I almost always spend a little time with a photo editing software program (my favorite is Micrografx Picture Publisher) and adjust the “Tone Balance” NOT necessarily the brightness, it’s amazing what you can do in these editors with a little practice.

“ I viewed your San Clemente listing through the Visual Tour newsletter and wonder if you would share some info with me. I am new to Visual Tour and want to take good bright photos. Yours came out great, even with the backlighting from windows. Did you use a digital or standard camera? Did you use any kind of extra lighting source? If you used a digital camera, what type and brand with what focal lense? Any tips you can pass along? Did you use a tripod? Did you have any problems stitching together? Thanks for any info you can provide.

See some answers above ….The camera is a Sony F505v digital. The lens is about 32 mm at its widest angle.

I confess that I use photo editing software on almost all the shots to brighten them up (I use Mocrografx Picture Publisher), the “trick’ is to resist using use the brightness control, and adjust the Tone/Balance first.

For really dark homes, (not the one you saw) I often use a slave flash device (about $50 at a decent photography store), hidden behind a chair and aimed at the ceiling. These are easy to use, either battery or plug in; they sense the firing of the puny camera flash and fire a big flood of light.

Another “trick” when it comes to the strong back lighting from a window: On the Sony (and I think many other cameras) when you partially depress the shutter button, the camera adjusts for the prevailing light and beeps to let you know its set and ready to shoot (it also displays a little green dot on the screen). When shooting a panorama with bright windows, the camera will adjust for the bright light, and the window frame and walls turn almost black. So I place one hand partially over the lens forcing the camera to “open up” a little, then I partially press the button until I hear the beep (locking in the exposure setting), then I remove my hand and take the shot. With a little practice you can achieve a fairly even balance going from dark to bright areas. The windows will appear washed out, but most of the time you don’t care what’s outside.

However, sometimes I do want to show the outside if there is a really pretty ocean view or something, so I take two versions of each picture: one natural to catch the view, and the other “tricked” as above. I then use the photo editing software to “cut” the view from the first shot and “paste” it into the second (since window frames are essentially straight lines, this is not as difficult as it may sound - and I only go to this much trouble if the view is really special).

Regards,

Brian Millington
Prudential California Realty
San Juan Capistrano, CA
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Last edited by themillingtons; 12-08-2002 at 12:08 PM.
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  #7  
Old 11-04-2002, 09:32 AM
sjarrell sjarrell is offline
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Great tips! Thanks!
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  #8  
Old 04-09-2003, 02:50 PM
Betsy Nixon Betsy Nixon is offline
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Steve,
You can also take your photos into an Adobe Photodeluxe type product and manipulate them. I typically make the photos lighter, remove glare, even remove a reflection in the window or mirror. Once you get the hang of the program, it takes very little time to make good photos look incredible. One Photodeluxe tip, save all photos under "Save As" and "JPEG". Otherwise the program will save them as Photodeluxe files, which are not transferable to the web.

Betsy
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