360-degree HDR photography article image

Why more Street View photographers should be using HDR

High dynamic range (HDR) photography can be complex and time-consuming – even for conventional DSLR cameras. Using it in 360-degree panoramas for Google Street View is even harder. So why should you make sure that your Street View photographer uses HDR for your virtual tour?

It’ll come as no surprise to find that Google Street View photographers are not all the same. While the Google Trusted Street View Photographer badge is a measure of quality, it’s only a minimum standard that Google expects you to provide when creating content for Street View and Maps. At YouThere.Media, we exceed the Trusted Street View photographer guidelines. By a significant margin.

There are many on the market, but our chosen 360-degree camera is Insta360’s Pro 2, which we use for all of our Google Street View photography clients. It’s a bit of a beast with six internal cameras and a GPS locator for Google Street View exterior shots. The Farsight Monitor system is also beneficial when you need to hide out of sight.

Use the slider to see how HDR recovers the blown-out highlights around the neon signage and wall art.

But one of the Insta360 Pro 2’s best features is the ability to shoot bracketed exposures, expanding the effective dynamic range of the camera by approximately six stops and bringing the photographs into line with what the human eye can see. It also means that each of the six lenses captures multiple images at different exposures – which is great, but it brings with it a few challenges. Not least of which is the increased number of exposures required to create a single 360-degree panorama.

Even if you’re bracketing only three exposures, that still gives you 18 photos for every panorama. These need to be stitched and processed before you move to noise reduction, image touch-up, de-ghosting, face blurring (if needed), alignment, and nadir logo. And only then are you ready for the Google Street view positioning, connecting, adjustment, and upload.

360-degree cameras see through all the windows – use the slider to see how HDR preserves the view.

Also, if you like to include people in your shots (we recommend this as it’s more engaging than an empty venue), then taking three shots for each lens means that you’re far more likely to get movement and blur in one or more of the photos, and that’s not ideal for HDR.

It’s quite a complex process. We could, of course, take the easy road; get a cheap two-lens camera, shoot, stitch and upload. And if that’s all you’re after, there are many Google Street View photographers who’ll do that for you. You could even go out and get yourself a Ricoh Theta or a smartphone and do it yourself – we wouldn’t hold it against you.

So why is it worth all the extra hassle?

There’s a reason why all high-end real estate photography now uses HDR. Done well, it looks much better than a single exposure can. (Done badly, it looks terrible.) With 360-degree photography, you need to remember that the camera is pointing everywhere – directly at the sun, out of the window, into the shadows, under the table. EVERYWHERE. You can’t choose a single aspect to photograph or frame the image to reduce the dynamic range (like shooting with your back to the window), and even if you’re shooting interiors, you’ll be looking out through every window in the room. Without HDR, 360 photography looks unnatural and very digital – it’s common to find blown-out highlights, excessive contrast, and noisy shadows in photography that hasn’t been shot with care or experience.

We’d also like to point out that we shoot in HDR as standard, so your Street View virtual tour will look amazing without costing you extra. Our goal is to make your business look its best, and we take the time to get it right, so we don’t expect you to shell out for the quality we provide. And our starting point of $199+GST is lower than many other Street View photography agencies out there.

So if you’d like us to help you get seen on Google Maps, Street View, and local search, please get in touch.

Use the slider to see how even a well-lit exterior benefits from HDR, reducing the glare of the direct sun.

Laurence

Laurence is a Sydney-based media producer and editor. After a long haul as the Head of Creative for a well-known global software company, he now leads YouThere.Media, a production startup specialising in 360 photography and video. He also has a patent for an augmented reality marker, which makes his mother very proud - even though she doesn't really understand what it does.

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