The below was written in June 2018 for the Google Street View Newsletter. Of course they condensed it a bit
How did you begin doing 360 photos?
Hahah, the answer to that is more like a part of my life’s story.
Where I stand now is that I am in the process of migrating to Curaçao from The Netherlands. I will setup shop as “OmniSynThesis 360 VR Promotions”, “What we do is, contributing to getting Curaçao and its businesses known, attracting more clients.”. That is to say, influencing tourists up front to choose Curaçao as their travel destination, by showing off what Curaçao has in store for them. Of course this show off in the digital world is not something that I can pull off all on my own sufficiently fast to be effective. Improvement of Google Maps is needed for which it would be best if the government would share its GIS data and the Chamber of Commerce its data of businesses directly with Google. The previous newsletter confirmed another idea of mine, which is engaging Scouts and nature organisations. I feel there are still a lot of Google programs that I need to learn about before I can effectively promote and use them.
I have no education and training in photography. To me photography was mainly something to capture memories on vacation travels. Things and environments that somehow caught my eye and I felt impressed with, special in a way. I used to be in ict related business consulting. In a way it finds its continuation as outlined in the above.
It must have been in early 2010 that I have stumbled upon Microsoft Research’s Photosynth project. The idea appealed to me of using photos to reconstruct the real world in a virtual one, available to explore by everyone. So, later on in the year, while touring the lower Alps in France, I started capturing with Photosynth in mind. I learned about parallax and why to have it for creating VR Point Clouds.
In December 2010 I visited the city Trinidad in Cuba for the first time and fell in love with its old centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 2011 its Plaza Mayor became my first real project, capturing 900 “ordinary” stills for Photosynth. I learned about the pre and post revolution street names and noticed the mix up on Google Maps. I learned also about the local competition to provide accommodation to tourists. I thought it better to grow the cake instead of competing for the pieces. It made me a Google MapMaker spending 12 hours a day in the first 3 months of 2012 enhancing Maps for the city. I have been contributing using MapMaker until its retirement. This is what is slowly drawing me more and more to the Google ecosystem. (When I got my first pc back in 1985, there was no Google.) I guess it was a MapMaker communication that made me aware of Google Views, allowing others to contribute “Photo Spheres” to Street View. It turned out I could re-use part of my Trinidad Plaza Mayor pictures. I have been using Microsoft Research’s Image Composite Editor for stitching (a great tool still, available for free), a Google web tool to get the equirectangular meta data into the file (no longer exists, now using Exif Fixer) and GeoSetter to fine tune location and edit other meta data. It resulted in my first 360 panoramas, not being true spheres because they weren’t captured as such and hence had big, ragged nadirs and zeniths. At the time they were accepted nevertheless, but no longer visible nowadays. So, I learned about a sphere being a 360 and a 360 being a panorama, while the reverse is not necessarily true, fields of view, and so on. Also that having no or little parallax and no moving objects in the scene are a requirement for a clean stitch.
Meanwhile Google has discontinued Views because it was built on a legacy technology stack, as I was explained by the Street View product manager. Without proper replacement it alienated thousands of contributors, especially those professionals contributing in the related “Business View”/”See inside” programs, who paid Google for their training and certification as Street View Trusted Photographers. One can still come across the resulting sentiment in many internet forum groups. To turn this around would require Google to be more empathetic and conversational with the contributors of their crowd sourcing programs which contribute to its earnings.
Meanwhile as well, the Photosynth project had learned that creating and navigating Point Clouds is not that easy. They changed fundamentally, creating Photosynth 2, still based on plain pictures, but on 4 basic movements as well: walk, wall, 360 panorama and spin. After all, in line with Microsoft selling off its Street Side, Photosynth was terminated without going to market as intended, burning its contributors too. Their lead technologist left for Google.
For more insight in the rapid evolution of the Google Maps Street View programme, I recommend watching the videos of the talks of its product managers on the annual IVRPA conferences, available in the open part of their library (YouTube) on ivrpa.org. New conference coming up this May in Tokyo.
Long story to conclude that Street View spherical video capture to my opinion is key to building virtual reality point clouds and building and enhancing Maps.
You have been publishing 360 photos in different parts of Latin America and Europe. What are both the challenges and joys of shooting in those places?
The joy of shooting in such places is that they are new and different to me, catching my eye, being special in a way. That is to say, historic, archaeological, nature. Having the idea that they are worthwhile sharing.
The challenges have been technical, depending on the gear at the time, pinpointing location, having no moving objects in the scene and the burden of capturing with a smartphone or tablet to complete just 1 sphere. With the advance of smartphone technology and one click spherical cameras those issues are almost gone.
Do you have a favourite equipment? Or how do you choose which to use?
I am not using different equipment in different situations. Following some tech media channels gives me an idea of the evolution of equipment. Looking back, I think my main criteria are portability and ease of use, while not breaking the bank, as this turns out to be a fast moving scene.
1993, for my first travel outside of Europe to Tunisia, I bought an Olympus IS3000, using positive film. Still need to digitize a lot.
A cam that had that new film standard which never took off because the world was shifting to digital during the one month Maya Route.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX2, because I wanted true 16:9 aspect ratio.
2010 July, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ10, because I wanted gps.
2012 June, Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ30.
2013, Google Nexus 7 tablet.
2014 May, Google Nexus 7 tablet 2nd gen. I think I have used this tablet capturing my first true Google Photo Spheres, amongst others during a month long trip in Inca centre region of Cusco, Perú.
2014 May, Nokia Lumia 1520, what more would one want in one device, amazing for its time, my favourite. Still in use by the mother of my girlfriend, 80 years young within 3 months.
2015 January ordered, received in 2016 June, Giroptic 360cam, very promising specs, but turned out an overhyped disaster. Still have a 1000+ stills captured while walking “The Way”, needing their location meta data before I can contribute them.
2017 June, LG V20, replacing my Lumia 1520, wanted QHD for VR goggles and top audio, now also using it to control capturing, but too small to moderate image location and connection. That VR experience with Street View is a disappointment as long as we do not have gaze navigation and play forward in the apps.
2018 January, Ricoh Theta V, going for Street View Mobile certified of course, only to find that its 4K video for Street View is no more than a proof of concept, as battery and memory are exhausted fast and are irreplaceable, not even having fast charging and no usb 3 for fast transfer, then 4K video capturing on a day out and about is not really of practical use for consumer and professional alike. There is a lot of criticism on this type of devices for their lack of resolution, but to me 4K is sufficient for the time being.
2018 April, Samsung Galaxy Tab S3 with pen and LTE, preparing for on the spot “Get Your Business Online” and business listing update assistance, as well as sales pitches and image location and connection moderation.
How is your process to choose what to shoot?
As a hobbyist, that is just what catches my eye, impresses me, feels worthwhile. With the advent of the one click shooters, the threshold came down. It is easier and faster.
You have been using the video mode to publish photos of Curaçao. How is this process going?
In my opinion this is the technological way forward to “map” the world, including visual representations in virtual reality, using location sensor technology and artificial intelligent image analysis and matching. As this process is in beta, then of course I have come across room for improvement. Sometimes participating in beta programs is frustrating as things do not work as expected and I feel it could have been thought of in advance. A serious pain in the neck is software with unstable or inconsistent behaviour. Then it feels like it is alpha instead of beta.
I feel Google should have explained about the processing in the help files up front. At the moment help articles are a “which keys to hit when” cook book and are not truly informative. A lot of participants are in the dark, which makes them loose a lot of time trying to understand how their capture approach influences still or video processing. These are not really secrets, as anyone who has ever heard about creating point clouds knows what the ultimate goal is and has an idea about how things may work. There should also be a good general help article about location sensing and its issues. Most talk about gps, while that is only part of that story.
I feel that with beta programs there should be a conversation channel, i.e. 2 way. Now there is only the in-app feedback black hole. There is no specific corner on the forum for this, so one might miss what others are experiencing in this, while googlers do not really participate in such conversation threads. This provokes the unpleasant feeling of being observed lab rats.
Others update their Android apps weekly. In my opinion, especially while having a beta program, Google should have this app update frequency as well.
Capturing, walking around with a stick, sometimes provokes curiosity or aggression.
Do you have a top 3 favourite photos of yours? What is the story behind them?
I myself have no top 3 favourites. As most are captured while traveling, they are of places, environments which impressed me or at least felt worthwhile to capture. The place I fell in love with most, is the city of Trinidad, Sancti Spíritus, Cuba. But, in a handful of years it has become a tourist show and hustle bustle.
As an alternative, following are some of my promotional products next to my Maps, Street View contributions.
YouTube: Curaçao – panoramas music culture
Facebook: Curaçao – panoramas music culture
Building a portfolio on Facebook as OmniSynThesis 360 VR Promotions
Any further comments on our crowd sourcing programs?
To my opinion the gamification and competition that has been brought into these programmes is counter productive, provoking poor quality or fake contributions just to gain points. In my opinion it should be the money earned with quality work and / or intrinsic motivation.
Get Your Business Online and Street View are not known in Curaçao as business tools and in recent weeks talking to my brother as a hospitality entrepreneur and checking Maps for claimed businesses while hiking in The Netherlands, it turns out that it isn’t well known and used in this internet savvy country either.
To my opinion the Maps approach has high potential for businesses to be discovered, far better than something like Facebook and business websites.
If you have a personal slogan, punch line, then could you share it with us?
“Share and collaborate to improve and innovate.”