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How to create your own Photo Spheres and upload them to Google Maps on iOS

Updated on December 7, 2014

Street View is undeniably one of the best aspects of Google Maps. The ability to pick a point in a country far from where you are and zoom into an immersive 360 degree view of what that location looks like at street level is incredible and something that could only have been dreamed of less than two decades ago.

Google achieves a lot of this through it’s famous Street View cars, which travel around the world collecting the necessary photographs for Street View. However, there are limitations with this technology — obviously, cars can only go where there are roads and there are some areas they will not be permitted to travel in.

However, there is a way in which normal smartphone users can contribute to documenting the world. Google offer a free app, Photo Sphere Camera, which allows users to capture and share their own views from wherever they are. Absolutely as many people as possible should download the app and start documenting where they are. Why? Not only is it fun but also incredibly important. These immersive panoramic photos allow so much in the way of discovery; prospective home buyers can scout out new neighbourhoods. People visiting restaurants, stores and bars can familiarise themselves with the location before they leave. Those who are curious can get a glimpse of new cultures, architecture and scenery when they wouldn't otherwise be able to.

The process of capturing and uploading your own Photo Spheres is remarkably simple. Here’s how to get started.

Download the App

Photo Sphere Camera is available on the App Store for iOS. The app is free to download but comes with some hardware limitations - check on the download page to see if your device is included.

Capturing Photo Spheres

After launching the app, you'll see a page similar to the image shown below. The top half shows a map of where you currently are. In order to accurately map your location if you publish your photo spheres to Google Maps, GPS is used by the app. To create a new photo sphere, tap the orange camera button in the bottom right corner.

You'll then see a page that is initially grey with an orange dot on it. To start taking pictures, align the orange dot within the white circle outline in the centre of the screen. Hold the camera steady for a second or two and it will then snap a photo. Once the first photo has been taken, other orange dots will appear alongside the one that was there previously. Simply align these orange dots within the white circle and you'll begin to capture other parts of your panorama.

Getting the right technique takes a bit if practice - try to keep your phone and your body in the same place so that all photos are shot from a roughly similar reference point. Don't panic if an object suddenly appears closer or further away once you start taking photos of it. Google's algorithm for stitching together all your photos is pretty good at smoothing it all out.

Around the stop button in the bottom-centre of the screen is a progress indicator. Keep on hunting down all the orange dots until this progress indicator says you're complete. Sometimes the last few orange dots can be hard to find but if you don't completely capture every photo required, you will end up with blank areas in your panoramas.

Capturing indoor panoramas is generally harder than outdoor ones because of the proximity of objects close to you. You'll find that if you try some panoramas on some open spaces that it's a lot easier. Also try to capture your photos in good light if possible, as this will improve quality. Google's stitching algorithm will take care of exposure levels for you automatically.

View and Upload

Once you've captured all the necessary photos for your panorama the app will then start stitching everything together for you. Depending on how many photos you've taken, this can take anywhere from a few seconds up to a few minutes. Once it has successfully completed you'll see your creation on your home page where you can tap on it and view it in all its panoramic glory.

In order to publish your photo sphere to Google Maps, simply tap the 'publish now' button in the centre of the screen. To delete it, tap the three vertical dots icon in the top right hand corner of the screen and select 'Remove from app'. In order to submit your photo sphere to Google Maps, you'll need a Views profile. You're automatically prompted to set this up when you do your first upload and if you already have a Google account it offers to tie in with it.

Your Photo Sphere doesn't get published to Google Maps automatically - it needs to be checked for quality first by a team at Google. However, once it is approved you will receive an email to let you know it has been published to Google Maps and how many views it has gotten.

Now you know how to use Photo Sphere Camera to publish your own panoramas to Google Maps. The more people who use it and submit their data, the richer an experience Google Maps will be.


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