Pan-American Trek – Google Street View - Process explained

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License: Creative Commons - Attribution
Author: Kevin Dooley
Image: The lovely and rugged landscape of Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, along RN3, the last leg of the Pan-American Highway. Here are the steps involved in creating the images that I post on my Pan-American Trek using Google Street View. First and foremost, I have to give thanks to Google and the Street View drivers who have created the most amazing collective work of photographic art in history. My role has been to find and process the most interesting content on the Pan-American Highway from Alaska to Argentina. 1. Find interesting content… Given a particular geographic area of interest, the first step is to find interesting content. I tended to choose content because of natural beauty, or interesting architecture, people, or sociology. Google Street View covers major highways and roads; in large cities, every street will be covered, but in small towns some side streets may not be accessible. On my Trek I followed major highways either on or close to the formal Pan-American Highway route. As I went through small towns, I’d tend to look at all of the streets accessible. In larger towns, I would concentrate on the downtown area, and the edges of the town. This was especially interesting in Mexico and Colombia where the outskirts of towns tended be poorer neighborhoods in the hillsides… In general, I “travelled” at about the speed of a car, moving more quickly down highways than a car but spending much more time “driving” through many streets in a town. For example, going through a stretch of 400km would take me about 5 hours on the computer. 2. Choose content that follows themes… I did not have a theme in mind when I started, but as I was forced to make content choices, certain themes naturally emerged. My most prevalent frame through the U.S., Mexico, and Colombia was the impact of urbanization – leaving ghost towns through the U.S. Great Plains, and leading to overcrowding, pollution, and slums in Latin America. In the U.S., I was drawn to abandoned buildings and interesting small businesses and restaurants, and in Latin America to the graffiti/wall art. Throughout the U.S. and Latin America, I also documented churches in most towns I went through, since they are the most prevalent form of specialized architecture through the Pan Am. 3. Select the particular image to use… Once one chooses the content, e.g., a building or mountainside or street scene, there are a number of potential images one could choose. Given the typical speed of the Street View car and how often it took images, there are about 150 images one could choose from for a given object of interest. One also has to determine if the image quality is usable, especially as Google’s own image processing will usually blur out things recognized as faces, either on people or in images like roadside ads. At this point, I also decide whether or not a panorama image may be warranted. I then take a screenshot, and then use Photoshop to crop the image so that only the scene, including the Google Street View controls and copyright notices, are left. 4. Batch process a set of screenshots… I would tend to batch process images in about 250-500km stretches, or within major cities. For shots that were intended as panoramas, I used Photoshop auto-stitch to create them. For a full 360 degree pan, I’d have to stitch together 12 images. It didn’t always work, but if you work in steps with 2-4 images at a time, it usually works. I would then use Photomatix single-image mode to create HDRs. In the majority of cases, images were too “boring” without processing; in Latin America, camera quality improved and in many cases it was possible to use the image without creating a HDR. I only used a small number of different HDR settings consistently, created by Dave Wilson, Stuck in Customs, but my most used filter was created by my daughter Maeve (example here). As a final step, I would sometimes crop images into squares, as often as possible keeping the Google identifiers in tact. 5. Choose which images to post to Flickr… In a given tour of (e.g.) 500 km, I would create 100-200 images, and each image would have 3-5 HDR versions. From those 600 possible images, I would chose 20-30 to post to Flickr.


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