Virtourgraphy: I Left Google to Climb My Own Mountain of Virtual Reality
Back in August 2012, Florian Nagl, then an Online Marketing Specialist for Google at its European headquarter in Dublin, went on an expedition to climb Mount Elbrus in Russia with his "crazy" colleagues. Prior to the trip, they learned how to operate 360 gear from the Google Street View team. This icy and equipment-challenging endeavor came to fruition: they successfully brought back 360° imagery from the top of Europe - at that time the highest virtual tour in the world.
One adventure inspired another, and consequently, "the unofficial Google Adventure Team was born". The team members' experiences and feedback over the years helped develop Google’s camera technology to capture the world’s most remote and extreme environments. Amongst many other projects, Florian led the mapping of the Khumbu Region in the Himalayas, including two expeditions to the top of Mount Everest.
Florian Nagl carrying the Google "Trekker" at 6500m high up on Mount Everest, Camp 2
For the 5 years Florian worked at Google, he dealt with clients of all kind of industries and sizes. However, his creative mind couldn't help but scream to escape the comfort zone. In early 2016, he left Google to launch virtourgraphy.com, a one-stop service provider to combine inside knowledge of Google, SEO and IT with 360° virtual tour technology.
Florian published the very first Street View imagery of the Maldives on Google Maps a few years ago, after a whole week of manually DSLR-shooting over 300 panoramas of a 5-star resort and to map the entire island. He then proceeded to spend 2 months post-processing during late nights after regular work to make the project as perfect as could be.
Although his portfolio received a significant boost from this, he wasn't satisfied with restricting himself to simple Street View tour navigation. Once again he stepped out of the comfort zone and learned to design and program “overlays” to project interactive features onto 360° images. This opened the door to an outburst of creativity in his work: a click on an airplane seat table unfolds the business class menu, a booking form pops open directly within a hotel room, listen to the sound of birds in a jungle resort or navigate the different facilities of a university directly from a campus map, to name just a few.
Besides teaching himself about the latest equipment, professional post-processing techniques, 360-optimized hosting services, Florian is also a triple threat: for his clients he is the IT support guy, social media pro and analytics guru all at the same time.
To stitch his images shot exclusively with a premium DSLR system, Florian will have to maintain the same exposure throughout all photos to avoid banding along the seams. "This can be particularly challenging when you have big bright windows to one side and the darker interior of a restaurant or a store showroom at the other side of the spin," he tells us.
To counter this, his solution is to bracket each of his pictures with 3, 5 or sometimes even more different exposures. This is to ensure a proper blend of the extreme lights and darks of an image for the result to come out with a high dynamic range.
As we discuss his thoughts on the industry trends for VR, Florian observes that recently he's seen a lot of one-shot 360° cameras popping up with "often over-promising specs", which he deems fancy but no match for a proper DSLR system. However, he acknowledges that the gap is closing fast. As 360° previews of objects are becoming more and more industry standard, he's also seeing a huge market for automotive, real estate and hospitality services.