If you’ve got a big building or location, it can be great to offer an aerial view in your virtual tour to give viewers context and knowledge of the full location layout and how it all connects. In virtual tours, hotspots can be placed that allow the users to navigate down into on-the-ground and interior locations for closer views. Using drones, Catapult Image can capture several different types of views from the sky. Let’s review the different options and the advantages of each.

Simple: Standard 2D drone photo

We can capture a great standard photo from the sky looking down on your location by snapping a photo from a drone. This is the most straightforward and easiest way to get an aerial view of a location. We edit the photo for color and contrast and implement it into your virtual tour project (plus, you can have this image for any other uses you might have for it).

This generally will be the quickest and least expensive way for us to deliver this type of view to our clients.

Drone image of the historical farmhouse at the Howard County Conservancy. Hotspots can be added to link down to panoramas on the ground (this image is not functional).

Aerial 360 Panorama

The main type of media in a virtual tour is usually the standard 360 panorama, but taken from the ground. In a 360 panorama, the viewer can look in all directions from one static point in space. An aerial panorama is the same, but floating up in the air!

This is a pretty powerful way to view things from the sky, as the user can look straight down with nothing blocking the view of the ground directly below, and then rotate the view in any direction to view the space.

Another bonus with the aerial panorama is that multiple aerial panoramas can be linked together just like they can be on the ground, so users can navigate the skies and view different vantage points.

Map or orthophoto

We can generate a top-down, highly-detailed orthophoto (or map) image of a location for you by stitching together a large number of drone images taken in a grid pattern over your space. This image can have a huge amount of resolution if needed and can retain much detail even if zoomed in many times from it’s full view. All elements of the map are kept at top-down perspective, instead of keeping the perspective of one viewpoint at the center of the image.

An orthophoto can be great if you have a large location with outdoor routes or paths, many points of interest to be marked, and if you don’t need to show unique building architecture that may be present by viewing the sides of buildings. No parts of the image are blocked by objects because of perspective, so you don’t have to worry about a path going behind a building and being obfuscated.

We can also create a map by creating a panorama image from one point in the sky. This type of image does also show perspective though, so objects that are further away from the horizontal point in space the drone captured the image do begin to show their vertical sides. Looking straight down from an aerial 360 panorama produces shows perspective of things like trees and building sides, unlike an orthophoto which shows the tops of everything – even out in the corners of the map.

Non orthographic map image
Non-orthographic map image created from a panoramic image. Note that you can see perspective when away from the center of the image. You can see the sides of trees and buildings.

3D model

For many locations or buildings, we can capture a 3D model of your space’s exterior. Inside of a virtual tour, this model can allow the viewer to move not just their view, but their location in space (or the location in space of the model, depending on how you look at it). This is an extremely unique and eye-catching effect that will impress and wow viewers. In addition, clicking a hotspot to jump to a 360 panorama on the ground produces an exhilarating zooming sequence as the view moves towards the panorama’s location and transitions to the 360 image.

Creating this 3D model is quite involved; hundreds of drone photos from many angles and altitudes are captured of the space and then compared and crunched by photogrammetry software for sometimes hours to build out a 3D representation.

Solid objects with clean lines like buildings come out well, but sometimes there is difficulty with elements with fine details like tree foliage. Oftentimes, manual 3D model editing is an extra stage in the project.

The 3D model option is not always practical due to the involved nature of creating a high-quality model, but are awesome ways to show off buildings with unique architecture, or larger campuses or swathes of land that don’t need to stand up to up-close zooms.

Which type is best for my virtual tour?

Each type of aerial media described here has its advantages and disadvantages, plus differences in the efforts and cost to capture and develop. This list was ordered in order of the least expensive to most expensive option, but every project is different. We’re happy to explain what might work best for your location.