FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions (answered by Don Bain)

Did you take all these pictures yourself?
Yes I did, about 7000 panoramas so far, starting in 1995.
Why do you use QuickTime, why not one of the other technologies?
QuickTime VR (QTVR) from Apple was the only VR presentation technology available back when I got started in August 1995, and was the best for many years thereafter. Unfortunately Apple seems to have lost interest in QTVR and without their support it will gradually become less reliable.

Each of the available VR player technologies (QTVR, Shockwave, Flash, Java, Javascript) have their own drawbacks. I will probably add an option for display using Flash by the end of 2009.
How long does it take you to make a panorama?
Anywhere from three minutes to three hours setup and photography in the field, plus half an hour to a full day on the computer, per panorama. On average I spend maybe one to two hours per panorama, not including travel time and work on the web site.
Does panorama-making require different skills than other types of photography?
It is of course based on photography, but there is much more to consider when shooting, plus all the computer knowledge.

There is also a different sort of perception needed in the field - looking all around instead of focusing on one view. The technology and equipment used for VR limits your options, requiring a different sort of creativity than traditional photography. I should write a blog on this subject some day...
Who is paying for creation of this site?
My wife and I, plus a little revenue from the ads and affiliate sales. The cost of leasing a server is covered by current income, but the ongoing camera and computer expenses are not, and don't even ask about the travel costs!
So, do you make a lot of money from this web site?
Just enough to pay for the server and not much more. I hope to do better in the future, now that I am working on it full time. And speaking of money - please click on one of my ads or buy a book from Amazon!
Can I buy your panoramas on a CD or a DVD?
I have considered this, but it would be a distraction from my main goal of getting the panos out to the public via my web site. Publication on CD or DVD media requires higher production values and the contents cannot be easily corrected or upgraded. I may sometime in the future offer standard collections or even custom selections on DVD, but don't hold your breath.
Why aren't all the panoramas available as prints?
The panoramas were almost all made with interactive display in mind and many just don't work as a flat panoramic print. Also some are too old with not enough resolution, bad color, or some technical defect that would be more apparent in a large print than on screen. The fine art prints project is currently on hold, but I will get serious about it again - watch for an announcement on my Blog.
Why can't I look up and down in all the panoramas (a spherical view) ?
First of all, please note that I got started in VR photography before the spherical (cubic) technology was made available. Many VR photographers today started out shooting sphericals with a fisheye lens. On the other end of the spectrum traditional panoramic photographers work only with partial cylindrical views. I have made a gradual transition from cylinders to sphericals - see my Blog Look Up!.

Another consideration is that it was just too much work to do sphericals until I got a fisheye lens. My first efforts required as many as 39 shots! Now I routinely shoot sphericals with a fullframe fisheye lens with 7 to 12 shots. Sometimes, if I think I have a good subject for a print, I shoot a cylinder also, to get extra resolution.
What kind of camera do you use? What software?
Short answer: Olympus E3 dSLR with an8mm fullframe fisheye lens, or an 11-22mm lens (at 22mm equivalent), or 14-54mm lens (at 28mm equivalent); PTGui, PhotoShop, PhotoMatix, and CubicConverter. Long answer: see the sections on cameras, tripods, and software (being prepared).
What kind of computer do you use?
Macintosh, exclusively since 1986 - you should too. Boycott Microsoft.
How long have you been working on this project?
It really began with the Geo-Images Project, which featured regular photography digitized for display on a computer, in about 1992. VR's were added to Geo-Images in 1995. That site was a project of the Geography Computing Facility at the University of California Berkeley.

I went independent when I started the Virtual Guidebooks site in January 2000 on my own leased server. At that time I had 900 panoramas, a year later almost a thousand.
Where did the name "virtual guidebooks" come from?
At the time I started shooting VR I had grand plans for a comprehensive collection of travel information including maps and extensive writing - each section would truly be a guidebook, but with the special feature of 360 degree views.

This was at the time of the dot-com boom, and I was courted briefly by venture capitalists. But I found their proposals financially and ethically unacceptable and turned down this sort of funding. After that it was just me, working on my own part-time, so the "extra" stuff just wasn't possible, and the site ended up being simply a collection of VR views. But this is what really interested me anyway - the geographic aspect.

The name(s) I really wanted (and still want) are either LookAround.com, or LookingAround - "Look Around California with Don Bain", "Looking Around Yosemite with Don Bain", etc. But I have never been able to acquire those domains. One is used for real estate referrals and the other has never been used, but the price asked is beyond my budget.
Can I send you some of my panoramas to use on the Virtual Guidebooks site?
Sorry, this is a personal project and is just for my own work.

But you can join the World Wide Panorama (WorldWidePanorama.org) and get your work displayed on one of the largest VR sites, for free! The WWP (which I co-founded) consists of themed events four times a year and now has more than 5000 panoramas by over a thousand different photographers from around the world.
Why don't you have panoramas of Disneyland or New York?
I don't do events, or commercial entertainment venues such as theme parks. There are lots of other VR photographers who do these things.

My area of coverage is western North America and Pacific islands - plenty big enough to keep me busy. I shoot western cities as part of my comprehensive geographic coverage, but I much prefer natural landscapes. My ideal panoramic safari involves camping and hiking in national parks.
Where do you live and work?
I live in El Cerrito, California,right on the crest of the Berkeley Hills. You can see the view from my balcony in my section on Vista Heights.

From 1986 until July 2008 I worked at the University of California Berkeley as Director of the Geography Computing Facility. I was getting increasingly frustrated and bored with my work there so I opted for early retirement (see my Blog Big Changes. Now I work full time at home on VR photography and related projects.
Do you travel a lot for this project?
Define a lot... :-)

I managed to spend about six weeks per year in the field when I was working at the university (three weeks vacation plus comp time, weekends and holidays). Since I decided to retire I have spent more than one third of my time on overnight pano trips (77 of the first 180 days). I expect in the future to even out at about a quarter of my time, 12 or 13 weeks a year.
Is the travel a major expense?
Not too bad, I mostly camp - because I enjoy it and to be closer to the great landscapes, with a motel stay once every four or five days. I cook my own meals in camp which is probably cheaper than staying home.

My main expense is usually for gas, and some of my trips have been over 7000 miles (11,000 kilometers) long. My trip in summer 2008 along the Oregon Trail was the most expensive ever, with motel stays on half the nights due to bad weather and bugs, and 4500 miles with gas at its all-time high.
Do you only travel to places you can drive to?
Pretty much, there is a lot of great country in all directions from here. Incredible places within an easy day's drive include Marin, Mendocino, the redwoods, wine country, Tahoe, Yosemite, Sequoia, Monterey, Big Sur, and Santa Barbara. With an extra days drive I can be almost anywhere between the coast and the Rockies, Canada to Mexico.

Obviously I don't drive to Hawaii, those trips involve a flight, condo and rental car. A handful of panos of Tahiti (not currently available) were taken when the university paid my way down there, to set up a computer lab and train personnel at their research station in Mo'orea.
Are there any plans to expand the geographic scope of the Virtual Guidebooks site?
One of these years I will get to New Zealand! I also want to shoot Pacific islands that I visited before I started doing panoramas - Tahiti and French Polynesia, Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji.

I would also like to add the West Indies, which I knew well as a graduate student many years ago - the Windwards and Leewards, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, perhaps even Haiti and Cuba. The island of Dominica is as spectacular as anywhere in the world and I got to know it very well when I lived there in 1973-74.
How about the east coast and Europe?
There are lots of good VR photographers to cover those areas, I don't want to spread myself too thin. Two years ago my wife and I spent three weeks in England and I didn't shoot a single pano. Same situation for Asia, Africa and most of the rest of the world - I might take vacation trips, but not try to do serious pano work.
Why aren't all your panoramas dramatic and beautiful?
Geographic coverage has always been my main concern and not every scene is beautiful. Also, some places just aren't at their best when I happen to be there to photograph them. Many landscape photographers wait all day for the light to be just right, and come home with one shot, or none. But I shoot all day, every day, to record all the interesting places.
Do you put all the photos you take on your web site?
Almost all, for geographic coverage. I only put up near-duplicates if there is some artistic difference or several years have passed between an early shot and a later one of the same place. Of course I also make mistakes and a few just don't work out.

When I switched over to the database-driven version of my site I also withdrew more than a thousand older panoramas. Many of them will be back when I have time to work on them a bit and make fullscreen versions. Full details in my Blog Missing in Action
Why aren't your panoramas linked together with clickable hotspots?
Hot-spot linking has always been flaky technology, so I have tended to avoid it. Plus it is a lot of work!

Most of my localities are not within sight of each other, they are spread half of North America. But I could do hot-spot links for certain areas - Yosemite Valley and San Francisco for example, where I have a high density of nodes. Maybe some day I will get inspired and give it a try.
Do your panoramas appear anywhere other than on Virtual Guidebooks?
I have 21 of them on the World Wide Panorama site, of course, and add a new one every three months.

Three of my early fullscreen panos were published by Hans Nybeg in the first year of panoramas.dk - at the foot of Mount Whitney, the Queets rain forest, Olympic National Park, and White Sands, New Mexico. But Hans seems increasingly to want news and people panos, while I mostly do landscapes.

Over the years I have sold a few VR panoramas, for web sites and advertising. One notable set is on the WGBH-Nova web site, early work (shot on film) of the ancient bristlecone pine forest.

I may be collaborating with Gene Cooper of Four Chambers Studio on some national park multi-media tours, but both Gene and I have been so busy for the last year that we have never managed to get down to business.
Can I license your panoramas to use on my web site?
Yes, details available here.
Can I link to panoramas on the Virtual Guidebooks from my own web site?
Of course, I encourage it! Youy can even use my thumbnails. Details available here.
If I want a print of a certain panorama, but it isn't listed in the panoramic prints gallery, can you make one specially for me?
Sure, if it has any merit, or you have a special reason not to care about technical quality. But if I do a custom print you are obligated to pay for it. Just e-mail me at dbain@virtualguidebooks.com with your request.
Have you written a book or published a collection of your panoramas?
Not yet. But I have a number of ideas for books of wide prints and have done a portfolio of my work to show what it might look like. The technology of print-on-demand self-publishing looks very promising. Stay posted, if I do anything like this I will announce it on my Blog.
Why don't you offer virtual tours of hotel rooms and condos?
I'm an artist! Real estate is not art! (My apologies to the real pros, who make a living doing this, and of course include virtual property tours among their services. I am really just a dilletante, following my muse.)

I do shoot a few hotels when they have historical or other importance, such as the national park lodges.
Are you available to shoot VR's of special subjects for a client?
Sorry, I don't have the time to do commissioned work, but I know a lot of highly qualified people who can. Just e-mail me (dbain@virtualguidebooks.com) if you need VR photography and I will help you find a photographer.

More Information:

About the Virtual Guidebooks site
Help seeing the panoramas and navigating the Virtual Guidebooks web site
Copyright Statement and Licensing Information
Linking to the Panoramas on Virtual Guidebooks
The Virtual Guidebooks Blog, periodic updates on various topics relating to this site
How are the panoramas made?
Cameras and lenses I use to make VR panoramas
Tripods and VR mounts I use to make panoramas
Software I use to make VR panoramas
Printing panoramas
Original fine art prints of the panoramas on this site
Books, maps and movies - special lists and geographic collections
Posters from AllPosters.com and Art.com
Thematic lists of the subjects represented on Virtual Guidebooks
Geographic lists of the contents of Virtual Guidebooks

Contact Don Bain: dbain@virtualguidebooks.com

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