Further providing the public with the world beyond its own backyard, Google’s Business View, an extension of Google Street View, is gaining popularity with Pittsburgh area businesses, providing potential customers with 360-degree tours of shops, clubs and showrooms from the comfort of their own homes.

And local photographer Chris Vendilli, founder of Strip District studio ProFromGo, has won Google’s top award for excellence in marketing and public relations for raising awareness of the product.

Vendilli, a Google certified and “trusted” photographer, will be jetting to the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA on January 23 to accept his award. It is given annually to one, from a pool of several hundred national independent photographers.

“There is no other photography service you can get that will enhance your presence and impact exposure the way this can,” says Vendilli who has been offering the service for a year and a half.

The tours tightly interlace business information with Google Maps, Google Search results and Google+Local, he adds.

His studio has compiled virtual excursions for over 50 Pittsburgh areas business, like Sonoma Grille on Penn Avenue and Feast on Brilliant in Aspinwall. He expects to double that number in the upcoming year.

Instead of simply seeing a static photo of store shelves or tables in a dining area, visitors can meander through aisles or connecting hallways and even stop for a closer look at individual products.

“It’s an easy way to get someone to see the club without being here, particularly for brides. It’s just huge for them to see themselves in the picture,” says Jack Kimbell, general manager of the 31-year-old Rivers Club on Oxford Center’s third, fourth and fifth floors.

The Rivers Club tour, shown below, has been up and running for a month. Part of the tour features passing by the River’s Edge snack bar on the fifth floor then into a large workout area. From there a turn down a hallway opens to the spinning classroom’s more than two dozen stationary bikes.

Vendilli says he spent two days, including one day on the 20,000-square-foot banquet and meeting areas, taking thousands of photos of the large scale project to create panoramic shots that capture the club’s décor and ambiance.

Pricing is usually based on the individual requirements of the business owner, he says. A small tour, one that takes 15 to 20 steps inside the business and requires about an hour to shoot hundreds of photos, costs $400 for five panoramic shots.

A more intricate “deluxe” tour, through multiple rooms and floors, is $1,550 for 28 panoramic shots.

Taken with the user’s perspective, Vendilli notes the importance of making the tours “flow.”

“I can’t just enter an individual room and do separate panoramic shots,” he says.

Then it’s back to the studio for about two weeks of post-production work to review and edit the best static photos that highlight points of interest to create the virtual tour per Google standards. And unlike many traditional photo packages, once the work is complete, the business owns the photographs.

“It’s by far the most cost-effective photography. If the business owner requests them, I’m happy to give them every picture we take for his unrestricted use,” says Vendilli.

Virtual tour of Rivers Club

Laurie Bailey is a freelance writer who has reported for many local publications. When she isn't writing she serves as a media consultant for nonprofits and other local companies.