Software

How to take better photos of your business with 3 free apps from Google

Does your business need a photo update? Share views of your business with these apps.

Photo of Android phone and Google Cardboard camera.
Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

If your organization serves the public, images that are up-to-date and that accurately show your business may help bring you more customers. I know that I rely on images from Google Maps to view unfamiliar places. And, as a customer, what I see changes where I go—especially for business travel. I look at both images and reviews when I choose hotels, restaurants, and other venues to visit.

To capture and share photos of your business, you can start with your phone. All of the following apps are available for both Android and Apple devices. These apps let you capture photos that minimize glare, show a 360-degree view of your site inside and outside, and share a scene with sound.

Screenshot of iOS Photoscan app showing four corner circle target locations

Google promotes PhotoScan as a way to digitize photographs, but the app reduces glare in other circumstances, too.

Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

1. PhotoScan: Digitize photos...and more

With PhotoScan, you snap five photos instead of one. You capture the entire image with the first snap, then point the lens at four different spots shown on your screen. You pause briefly at each to allow the app to take an additional image. The app combines the five images into one.

PhotoScan can help you capture otherwise difficult to shoot images, such as a sign displayed in a window or a menu placed behind protective plastic. In the rare case that the app doesn't detect the edges of an image accurately, you can correct the edge setting manually before you save your scan.

PhotoScan works not only to digitize photos, but also to take other square and rectangular-shaped images. I've used it to take photos of diagrams and illustrations in books and artworks at museums (where allowed!). I've also used the app to snap photos of a computer screen: Since the app captures screen content from five images, it reduces the display refresh pattern sometimes seen in a single shot.

Screenshot of Street View interior of Elliott Bay Bookstore

The Street View app not only captures exterior shots, but also shows interior views. For example, the image above is a public image by Edward Aites of the interior of Elliott Bay Bookstore.

Screenshot from Street View interior by Edward Aites

2. Street View: Photo spheres

Street View offers a camera mode that lets you take your own 360-degree photo sphere. Street View works for exterior photos and interior shots. For example, see the interior of a mall, a performing arts hall, a garden, a bookstore, and a restaurant.

To create a photo sphere with your phone, you'll take a whole bunch of photos that overlap from the Smart View app. As with PhotoScan, the app guides you: As you move the phone, the app displays a circle on the screen. You rotate the phone, center it on the circle, capture a photo, then repeat the process until you've taken photos in every direction. Move your phone as little as possible when taking the photos, rotating it on a central axis—use a tripod, if you can. If you flail the phone around, the app won't stitch the images together smoothly, instead, you'll see gaps or edges in your photo sphere.

Example 360-degree view captured with the Cardboard Camera app

You can capture a circular panorama, including sound, with the Cardboard Camera app. When shared via Google Drive, the scene can be viewed in a browser without sound (as shown) or in Google Cardboard.

Image: Andy Wolber / TechRepublic

3. Cardboard Camera: 360-panorama with sound

The Google Cardboard Camera app captures a panoramic circle view of a scene, with sound. With the Cardboard Camera app, you hold the phone close to your body, tap the record button, and rotate slowly in a complete circle. I found I could create a decent image with the Cardboard Camera app, while I struggled to create a decent Street View image with my phone. (My Street View photo spheres often looked like the area had experienced a minor earthquake—when it hadn't.) The single-circle panorama motion was easier for me to master.

You'll need a Google Cardboard device for the best view of a scene captured with the Cardboard Camera app. When viewed with Cardboard, you move your body to view the entire image, and the sound changes as you rotate. Street View photo spheres can be viewed in Cardboard, too; they have a greater viewing range, but lack sound.

If you don't have Google Cardboard, you can still view the photos in your browser, without sound. When you share a scene from the Cardboard Camera app, Google stores it on Google Drive in a "Shared VR photos" folder. (See a sample image I took in the summer of 2016.)

We're a visual society these days. Take ten minutes, try one of these apps, and keep your organization's images up to date online.

Have you used PhotoScan, Street View, or the Cardboard Camera app to show your business? Let us know how you've used these apps — either in the comments below or on Twitter!

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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