Photography Without Leaving Home

A current trend amongst a small group of photographers allows them to get photographs from all over the world without having to leave their homes. Notice that I use the word ‘get’ rather than ‘take’ as this trend is use Google Street View to acquire images.

Google Street View is a technology featured in Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views from positions along many streets in the world. It was launched on 25 May 2007 in several cities in the USA and has since expanded to include more cities and rural areas worldwide.

The images are taken from nine cameras mounted on the top of specially adapted cars. The pictures are then stitched together to create an image you can rotate and zoom in/out of. In areas where access by car is impossible the Google team have used tricycles, or even snow mobiles. It has been announced today (24 Oct 2012) that Google are going to use man portable back packs to allow images of popular trails in the Grand Canyon to be captured.

The current coverage of Street View is shown below:


Much of the Street View data is processed automatically by computers.  Their software automatically detects faces and if it deems them to be recognisable blurs them out.  It also does the same for license plates.  Users who spot something they consider objectionable can contact Google and have the image altered.  Other than that there is little other filtering of the images.

So where do the photographers come in?  These individuals spend hours trawling through the published Street View images looking for hidden gems.  It could be haunting landscapes, interesting architecture, candid documentary or street photography style images.

Jon Rafman

In his series “9-eyes” (named after the camera system) Rafman has picked a wide variety of interesting shots from the Street View files.  His current project is still a work-in-progress but I’ve selected some of my favourites below.  You can see more of his images HERE

Clement Valla

When the images from the Google cameras are stitched together it doesn’t always go without a hitch.  Valla looks for errors in the panorama algorithm that have created unusual landscapes.  Perhaps he should get himself an iPhone before Apple has a chance to correct all it’s mapping errors? 🙂  Looking at Valla’s website it is interesting to note that he regards himself as an artist and not as a photographer.

Doug Rickard

Rickard has used Street View’s images to compile a series of images that show the back streets of modern America.  Whilst it would be easy to simply grab a few shots and publish them, the real skill is to select images using the mindset of a photographer to pick ones that are well composed and tell a story.  Rickard’s images are very placid and serene and there is a definite calmness to them.  He has altered the colour balances of the original images and given a more retro look.  Some of Rickard’s images are shown below but more can be seen of his series HERE.

Have a go yourself!

Inspired by this article I had quick virtual drive around some of the streets on the outskirts of Detroit.  In about five minutes I found some okay shots and added some filters to get rid of the ‘google’ look, hopefully a weekend of street surfing will turn up something more exciting.




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