Question & Answer Information
"Curiosity has its own reason for existing." ~Albert Einstein
Find out about the depth and quality of services here, scrolling down the page to find answers to common questions. For information on pricing, see the Pricing Page
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for questions not answered here.
What is the value proposition of your work?
The services presented here were conceived around the proposition of offering next in line experiences to being there in person. A panoramic tour puts the viewer in the middle of an environment, not off to the side looking in. 3D models of artwork are very close to having the objects in your hands, and offer even more views of artifacts than one can usually have in person. 3D images of products make them seem tangible before a purchase.
Virtual galleries allow artists to present their work long before a 'real' gallery experience is available. Sharing high-quality images of an artwork or product provides a worldwide means of outreach. Immersive presentations translate into a deeper connection with the audience. The portrait of a person at work provides visual context for the situation that gives relevance to our direct impression of someone. From art museums to online retailers, immersion has been used to enhance the user experience.
What are your qualifications and credentials for doing this work?
Lawrence holds an M.S. in scientific and technological imaging from Brooks Institute, an M.A. in education, and a B.A. in art. He has also completed specialized studies in 3D modeling and digital environment development at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects.
Lawrence's work in photography spans from the time of film-only photography to our age of digital. He started professional photography work as a commercial photographer and senior darkroom technician for Teledyne Systems Company, and then as a wedding photographer. After programming early computer games, and working as the art director on the first video game by MTV/Viacom, he organized and ran a graphic design consultancy for over 10 years. His work has included product photography, website design and programming, magazine ad development, brand collateral, and training.
Why is your work better than non-professional work shot with a consumer camera or smartphone?
Smartphones have come a long way in the quality of their imaging, and some artists, museums and businesses use imaging from smartphones in their workflow. There are, however, a number of important shortcomings to using smartphones or other consumer grade imaging devices, noted as follows...
Dynamic range is the level of light from the lowest level to the highest level. Our eyes see with a dynamic range of 10-14 f-stops. That allows us to simultaneously see a lot of detail in light and dark areas of a scene. Compact cameras have a dynamic range of only 5-7 f-stops and most smartphones are of similar quality. Dynamic range is strongly influenced by the size of the sensor, all things being equal. This is why professional photographers prefer larger sensors over smaller sensors in their cameras, up to the point where camera size and cost become factors as well. In the work of this service, captures have 12-14 f-stops of dynamic range. This means that such images are much more accurate in preserved details in the range between light and dark. While it is true that by using the techniques of HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging a wider dynamic range can be simulated, which makes it possible to use a smaller sensor and achieve a higher dynamic range in the final output, most non-professionals do not have the time or skillset or tools to work in this way. The automated HDR in some smartphones and cameras will only achieve enhanced results; for the best HDR processing the use of more powerful computer-based tools is required.
Most smartphones will not output RAW images (a file format), and do some pre-processing for color, sharpness and dynamic range in the device. Professional cameras output untouched RAW images, which gives the imaging expert the entire scene without prior adjustments. This allows for the utmost in processing quality after capture using far more powerful tools in the computer than those found in devices. The workflow of the services offered here is based on the RAW format for captures.
In its essence, a photograph is a recording of light. The signature difference between professionals is usually how they manage light. When people shoot images with a smartphone they are generally using the natural light at the scene, or even worse, they are using flash from the device. Depending on the circumstances, the need to supplement, measure, and in subtle ways control the lighting is when a professional makes all the difference.
In the same vein, low-light conditions present a problem for the small sensors and small lens of compact cameras and smartphones. To compensate, the device must add to the signal strength of the available light, and this introduces visual noise, analogous to the grain of fast film used in low light. A large sensor and a large lens have superior light gathering capabilities. Although it might seem that one solution is to simply add more light to a scene, many environments, such as museums, have set lighting levels that are quite low (to protect the art). Such circumstances require sensitive equipment expertly adjusted to the challenging low-light environment.
Resolution, or the level of detail relative to image size, is much higher with professional cameras. This requires some careful consideration, however, because the argument is made that if the image is only going to be used on a website and seen on a smartphone, does it need to be so very large to begin with? It is entirely valid to work backwards from the output size required, and in many circumstances the available resolution of some of the better consumer devices might be sufficient for a particular project. But today people use many sizes of device, from smartphone up to the size of a big screen television. Rather than create a product with built-in limitations, the output from this service can adapt to multiple platforms. There are other reasons, however, that the professional uses high-resolution capable equipment. If the image has plenty of 'extra' picture detail, this allows for greater cropping without loss of detail. The final quality of processed work is better if one starts at a high resolution and then reduces the output in size, while starting with low-resolution images and then making enlargements reduces quality - the computer has no choice but to 'make up' the added picture information.
In order to recreate accurate colors, it is necessary to work in a color-calibrated workflow. In photography, color accuracy begins with the inclusion of shots in every project environment that include a color chart. These shots are then used to determine the exact white balance for displaying all colors as accurately as possible. This is a critical procedure missing from most non-professional photography work. Although most modern cameras and smartphones have an automatic white balance setting, this is not sufficiently accurate and will not assure consistent results. Accurate color is especially important for skin tones, artifact imaging, authentic environment recreation and consistent quality of output to Web or print.
Digital Asset Management:
The intake and organization of digital images is critical for long-term value. It is all too easy to fill up a smartphone and call that the 'archive'. In a well-managed workflow, the professional using digital media immediately transfers images from the camera to the computer, with the subsequent activities of naming, organizing and archiving collections. The best professionals are prepared to work with, and provide, images in multiple formats for multiple purposes. Most people who use smartphones rely on automated backups and generic organization, putting at risk the long-term utility and value of the original imaging work. Regardless of the image capture device, sophisticated organization is critical and is a cornerstone of these services.
My camera has a panorama feature. What makes your panoramas better?
In order to make a 360º digital panorama, several individual photos are stitched together. The only way to ensure completely accurate stitching is to prevent parallax errors by rotating the camera around the entrance pupil* (no-parallax point) of the lens. Smartphones and cameras that provide automated stitching achieve flawed, yet often passable results for snapshot purposes, especially if the subject matter is at some distance from the imaging device. However, for accurate, high-resolution results, especially when photographing interiors and scenes with overlapping objects at various distances in the field of view, there is no substitute for using a specialized rig that rotates the camera precisely around the entrance pupil, followed by advanced computer processing to refine the results to a high level of visual accuracy.
* The entrance pupil is not the lens. It is where the apparent aperture occurs in the light path, which also does not necessarily coincide with the actual aperture. The term 'nodal point' is often used erroneously to describe the entrance pupil. There is no automated procedure for determining and maintaining the entrance pupil, which must therefore be set manually and with the utmost in precision. Some forms of panoramic imaging, such as 360º videos, do not require this calibration because the camera does not need to be rotated; rather, the entire scene is captured as a whole in each moment. Note, however, that such whole scene capture methods are still quite limited in their resolution and dynamic range relative to still imaging methods.
What is a panoramic tour? What is an interactive hotspot?
A panorama is the visual presentation of a location in a wide format, often 360º horizontally when computer-based, and meant to engage the viewer as if they were there, in the middle of the location. Typically a panoramic tour has multiple locations, and each location is itself a separate panorama. A navigation system is presented within the tour for moving from location to location. This may take the form of a control panel, thumbnails of panoramas for selection, or icons within the panorama viewing area that lead the viewer from place to place. Alternatively, a pre-determined 'tour' can be programmed that smoothly and automatically advances the visitor through the environment. Advanced panoramas also include 'hotspots'. These are interactive elements that cause the display of an image, text, audio or video as part of the viewing experience. Hotspots can also be used to open websites in a new browser window or tab.
'Tour' also implies the possibility of a narrative. When planning for a panoramic tour it helps to think in terms of telling a story. This will guide the choice of panorama locations, the navigation system, and the choice of additional embedded content.
How does your approach compare to other technologies and services?
There are a number of competing technologies and services for presenting immersive experiences. An important characteristic of this service is that the panoramic tours appear beautifully in any modern browswer, without the need for plug-ins of any kind. Additionally, the tours run from your Web hosting service without any subscription fees (other than the Web hosting fee that you already pay).
3D objects from artifacts are 3D models that can be shown and used in a variety of ways. One popular approach, with a free option as well as paid options, is to use Sketchfab - this service presents 3D objects interactively. Such objects can also be included in panoramic tours, or presented directly from a webpage for normal or virtual reality (headset) viewing.
The virtual gallery and virtual tour options of this service give you the most flexibility. By creating a unique photorealistic environment, your 2D and 3D visual content, as well as text-based information, can all be presented together in an immersive tour format tailored exactly to your needs and audience. By creating many panoramas, the tour can progress in small steps, or, the tour can jump from object to object, room to room or theme to theme. Access will be direct and easy for your visitors. It is even possible to output your tour as a standalone program that can be downloaded and run locally.
What are cultural heritage, digital heritage and virtual heritage?
Cultural heritage are those artifacts and attributes inherited and carried forward for future generations. The broad concept of cultural heritage is broken down into: movable cultural heritage (e.g., paintings, sculpture), immovable cultural heritage (e.g., monuments), underwater cultural heritage (e.g., shipwrecks) and intangible cultural heritage (e.g., performing arts). (Source: “Definition of Cultural Heritage.” Organization. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, October 15, 2003.")
As written in the following extracts from the UNESCO Charter on the Preservation of the Digital Heritage, under Article 1 - Scope: "The digital heritage consists of unique resources of human knowledge and expression. It embraces cultural, educational, scientific and administrative resources, as well as technical, legal, medical and other kinds of information created digitally, or converted into digital form from existing analogue resources." "Digital material include texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, software and web pages, among a wide and growing range of formats. They are frequently ephemeral, and require purposeful production, maintenance and management to be retained." (Source: “Charter on the Preservation of Digital Heritage: UNESCO.” Organization. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, October 15, 2003.")
Virtual heritage (aka Cultural Heritage and Technology) typically involves computer visualization of artifacts, e.g. virtual reality, augmented reality, 3D modeling, graphics and animation. Archaeology is a field that often refers to virtual heritage. 'Virtual heritage' is used in regard to the services here to identify the intention of creating and recreating environments that feature constituents of culture: past, present and trending towards the future.
The first use of the term 'virtual tour' was in 1994, applied to a virtual 3D 'walk-through' of Dudley Castle in England, the term 'virtual tour' being a selective combination of 'virtual reality' and 'Royal Tour'. This detail is presented approximately 20 seconds into the video found here (requires Flash):
I see your site has an 'HTTP' header in the address, and not 'HTTPS'. Is it secure?
HTTPS ensures encryption of data that moves to and from your computer and a website. This is very important for ecommerce sites, sites that require password access and any site in which sensitive information is exchanged between the visitor and the site.
This site is a portfolio site for showing examples of previous work and outlining available services. This site is not an ecommerce enabled site and no password is required for access.
The payment page functions via a direct link to PayPal. PayPal is secure and all payment transactions take place through PayPal on their HTTPS secure site.
This site has a contact page. If you enter your email address in the form and send a comment, this is sent via plain text. If you prefer, you can use your own email program. By clicking the email link on the contact page, your email software will open automatically. Alternatively, you can use the following email address by typing it directly into the software of your choice: LMPierce@theimmersiveimage.com.