Considering the Full Picture: Choosing Between Self-Capture and Professional 360 Photography

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Len Kirby
Multivista Product Manager – Photography

Technology continues to disrupt the construction industry at an accelerating pace, so it’s imperative to keep your business on the curve, or you risk falling behind. A good example is the emergence of 360 photography — once considered a novelty — has become a necessity for thorough documentation during and after construction projects.

The question is no longer whether or not you need 360 photography, but how best to implement it. Should you invest in cameras and train your staff, or is it more practical to hire a professional team? In this post, we’ll take a look at some key considerations through multiple perspectives so that we can arrive at our own 360 view of the issue.

Want to dive right in? Jump ahead to a specific consideration:


What is 360 photography?

360 photography is a first-person controllable panoramic image that surrounds the original point from which the shot was taken. Viewers of the 360 photo can simulate being in the boots of the photographer, and look around the surroundings to the left and right, or up and down, and even zoom in as required.

360 photography has become a cornerstone process on construction sites, offering a real-time, immersive view at each build stage. This facilitates accurate documentation, minimizing potential mistakes associated with traditional note-taking. The advantages also extend to improved team coordination, enhanced risk management, and the ability to present information effectively to remote stakeholders.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of 360 photography, let’s dive into some important considerations for how to implement it.

Labor costs, capacity, and training

Taking on 360 photography in-house may not always be the best option due to the significant time investment required, particularly when it comes to training team members.

If you perform 360 photography in-house, that additional responsibility for existing team members diverts their attention from their primary roles, which may compromise the overall efficiency of your projects. In some cases, it may be prudent to consider hiring a dedicated photographer. Doing so not only ensures the consistency of documentation but also helps avoid disruptions caused by multitasking among team members. However, this approach requires you to have enough projects running to keep that full-time photographer busy. 

If you do choose to upskill your existing team, training will be essential, and the investment of time and resources is a crucial consideration. Weigh the costs and benefits of training staff internally versus hiring external experts, keeping in mind that proper training is not merely a one-time investment but an ongoing process. 

One benefit of working with a third-party provider is that the training is done for you. For example, Multivista’s operational team has established the training and documentation processes used by all Multivista teams, and they are constantly improving to ensure consistent quality documentation is provided worldwide.

Logistics and equipment costs

360 photography cameras and associated equipment (e.g. lighting) bear considerable costs and can quickly drive up your operating budget. 

There are many factors to consider when it comes to purchasing 360 cameras for construction, including image quality, ease of use, battery life, and compatibility with other hardware and software. You’ll likely want input on your purchase from an experienced construction photographer. 

Furthermore, consider the logistics of securely storing and moving these expensive cameras to job sites. Throughout the process, remember to consider build quality and durability — job sites are active zones with many risks and considerations that any staff member needs to be made aware of and properly trained to navigate while working. This is important for those staff who are assigned to document conditions with 360 photographs, as the equipment, including the photo lenses, could be damaged if not set up correctly or transported properly.

Third-party experts can help you determine the best equipment for your organization. For example, the Multivista team dedicates resources to vet equipment in the market and provide shortlisted appropriate gear that fits the needs of our documentation specialists so that they’re utilizing stable and reliable equipment. 

Quality assurance

A provider with established quality assurance (QA) processes will ensure a level of expertise that translates into accurate and comprehensive visual records of your construction processes.

One of the biggest advantages of working with a third-party provider is that you’ll have better quality assurance. Multivista, for example, has built-in QA processes and well-documented service-level agreements which ensure the work will meet your acceptability criteria.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to QA, but here are a few to keep top of mind:

      • Subject visibility – The image provides appropriate context, and the subject is clearly visible and well-lit to discern expected detail.
      • Metadata – The image data is present, properly timestamped, contains geolocated data (if available), and presents any camera settings.
      • Locality – The photo’s location is precisely indexed on a floor plan, the direction of the subject is clear, and subsequent photos at the same location are referenced as such.
      • Coverage – The subject of interest is 100% represented by one or more photos.

    A vendor whose work fails to meet these standards will be required to redo the work as needed on their own time and dime — but if you’re tackling your 360 photography in-house, it’s you who will be paying for the rework. 

    Proper coverage

    It’s vital to cover all angles of your site and ensure your documentation is usable for multiple purposes.

    Ensuring comprehensive 360-degree coverage is more than just a checkbox on your documentation list — it’s a necessity for accurate records and potential insurance requirements. By meticulously covering all angles of your construction site, you not only enhance the reliability of your documentation but also fortify your ability to address unforeseen challenges that may arise during the course of your projects.

    Tying into the issues related to both training and quality assurance discussed above, it’s essential that your photo documentation is usable for all the purposes — spotting errors, creating a detailed record of as-built conditions, and more. There is a science to building 360 documentation that experienced vendors understand, and they plan their image capture around known requirements and best practices that you may have to learn through trial and error. 

    Photo storage and access

    To ensure your 360 photos can be utilized in a practical manner, consider how your documentation will be stored and accessed. 

    360 photography extends beyond the initial capturing phase. It is essential to ensure it’s easy for stakeholders, both on and off-site, to access these photos. Additionally, verifying that the chosen platform aligns seamlessly with other documentation practices, such as 3D laser scanning, is paramount. This ensures a cohesive approach to data storage and access throughout the entirety of your construction endeavors.

    This part of the process can’t be underestimated. While many vendors offer their own secure, cloud-based documentation and archival platforms, these represent considerable investment and resources, and most construction firms would be hard-pressed to recreate the functionality they offer at a cost-effective price point. When you hire a vendor for 360 photography, you’re not just buying the image capture — you’re often also unlocking access to the technology that will make actually using the captured images practical.

    Diversified image capture

    Consider third-party providers that offer additional services so you can adapt your documentation approach based on the unique demands of each construction project. 

    Some 360 photo providers also offer other documentation solutions, such as drone services or 3D laser scanning services. Even if you don’t use all these image capture technologies on every project, having access to them with no additional training time, equipment costs, etc. can be extremely valuable, as no project is the same and each will come with their own unique capturing requirements.

    For example, being able to add UAV aerial photos to a project’s documentation without having to buy a drone, learn how to fly it, get licensed, and know how to secure the proper air clearance is definitely better than the alternative. Consolidated vendors who deliver many ways to capture images and information arm you with more options that you can bring into projects quickly — without having to source additional service providers.

    The complete picture

    Choosing between a full-service approach and a self-capture solution depends on your specific needs and priorities. If you require an immediate, hassle-free 360 photo experience, hiring a professional team might be optimal. On the other hand, if you aim to build an in-house capability for future projects, a gradual approach to training your team may be more suitable. 

    Keep in mind, however, that many aspects of documentation quality are only understood through gaining onsite experience. Acquiring high-quality content takes more than just walking around a project — a great deal of time, know-how, and expertise is required to ensure useful content is captured.

    At Multivista, we understand the intricacies of construction documentation. Our skilled professionals can deliver the quality assurance needed for any project efficiently. Whether you opt for a full-service approach or choose to develop an in-house team, Multivista provides the expertise to ensure your 360 photos are accessible and accurate, meeting the demands of modern construction practices.

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