You may not know his name, but you know David Amory’s work.
He’s the guy that puts you in the middle of dozens of places around the city without ever having to leave your seat.
He’s Charlotte’s leading Google-trusted photographer and the brains behind ChaseVision360, a panoramic photography service that, by his account, brings Google StreetView inside.
ChaseVision360 creates virtual panoramic tours of businesses that allow potential customers to really get a feel for the space.
“What I love about it and our client is that it’s better than a video because you’re not constrained a videographer’s point of view,” Amory explained. “The viewer has freedom to go wherever they want in a space instead of following a videographer, who takes them down a path.”
Amory got into the business in 2012, when he began taking panoramic photos for his full-time job.
As a wireless communications real estate agent, he spent his days taking 20-30 pictures of any given site to show to clients interested in building a cell tower, but found that simply snapping photos didn’t do the spaces justice.
“There might be power lines or an electrical box in a space that might not have been in the picture,” he said. “And the engineer will go, ‘Well, what’s to the left of that?’ and I’d have to go and re-shoot it. I started getting into panoramic photography, because we can show everything in one picture.”
He wound up entering “How does Google do StreetView” into Google and got in touch with the company that built the 360-degree video camera for the StreetView driver, who hinted that Google was about to launch a program focused on panoramic photography.
“He said, ‘Google’s about to launch a program and they need photographers to take panoramic images to upload for virtual tours. Are you interested?’ I thought it sounded cool.”
He called “Stephanie at Google,” signed and returned a non-disclosure agreement and began the certification process.
“All of a sudden, there’s a big, huge box with a backpack, two tripods, two cameras, lenses, the mount, little thumbdrives – a whole package waiting for me at FedEx,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘What the hell? They don’t know who I am. I just signed an NDA.’ So I called and said, ‘This is awesome, Stephanie, but… what do I do?'”
With help from Google, he began to learn how the process worked through a series of small shoots at places like his own home, his barber shop, dentist and Y2 Yoga. At the end, he had to pass a test, but “it’s been worth it.”
The process is simple.
When a company is creating their Google+ page, they can mark that yes, they’re interested in a virtual tour for their space. David gets the notification and reaches out, negotiates a price (anywhere from $350 to $10,000+, depending on the size) and begins.
“The process is really simple: it’s a camera on a tripod and I walk in and every time I move the tripod, it creates a new scene, so I’ll stand here and take four pictures – the four compass points – that create a panorama and then I’ll move to the next location,” he explained. “Then I’ll step over there, move the camera, and do the next four shots, and so on and so forth.”
Photos are often just the part of the interior that the public wants to see, and bathrooms and behind-the-scenes spaces are left out.
The shoot can take anywhere from two hours to a few days, depending on the size of the space. Once the photos are taken, they’re uploaded to Google’s pipeline, who stitches them together using the four compass points to create a flat panorama and then sends them back as a publishable link.
“Once it’s on the Google+ page, it goes to Google Maps and Google Search, along with their website,” he said. “And because it’s a Google product, it helps their search engine optimization.”
In fact, businesses often see an average of a 20-25% increase in unique impressions after the tour is made public.
In the last four years, ChaseVision360 has done close to 300 tours for places like restaurants, fitness centers, venues, schools, hotels and hospitals.
Amory has worked with everybody from Red Ventures and Inner Peaks (an environment he loves to photograph, thanks to the high ceilings and colorful interior) to Metrolina Auto Group and Carolina Theatre in Uptown.
The tours can also be used to document progress, rather than show off a finished product.
At the moment, Carolina Theatre is under heavy construction and is “completely gutted and dusty and dirty, looking like hell,” and they’re using their tour for fundraising purposes.
“They’ve raised $38 million dollars and need another five to finish it off,” he said. “they’re using the tour to show people what it looks like now. We added some features with hot spots, where you can click on something and it shows the mural they’ll put on that wall, to show people what it will look like.”
The tours also double as a form of employee training. At Red Ventures, for example, new hires are sent on the “tour” and told to find items hidden throughout. The idea is to get them familiar with the space.
Two of his most involved tours were the Red Ventures campus and the Whitewater Center, both of which took more than a day.
See part of the Red Ventures campus here (and try to find the watermelon they hid!).
Despite the impressive number of tours he can add to his résumé, Amory doesn’t consider ChaseVision360 a full-time job.
He may shoot almost daily and his hours may vary significantly and lean toward unpredictable – shooting at 4 a.m. to get the sunrise or on a Sunday isn’t unheard of – but it relies mostly on referral business and word of mouth. Essentially, it just doesn’t pay the bills.
“It’s fun. It’s my passion,” he said. “It’s nice, but it doesn’t pay the college tuition. I love doing it, but I still have to do the cell tower stuff to pay the bills.”
This type of business is spreading fast.
When Amory got involved four years ago, it was simply a beta project that Google was curious about. There were 30 photographers in the United States.
“Google’s funny like that – they don’t advertise the program. You don’t watch ads. They don’t push it. They want it to be sneaky. Like when Street View came out, nobody knew they were doing it,” he said. “The more people that are aware of it, the more word spreads, the more people start seeing it, they’re like, ‘How did you get that?’”
Today, virtual tours are a huge thing for businesses and there are six photographers in Charlotte alone and three agencies that advertise the service.
“It’s something you just fall into.”
Sound like something you want to fall into or learn more about? Check out the program itself in more detail here.
Connect with ChaseVision360 and see their work
Feature photo via ChaseVision360