The short answer is that Google Maps and Street View are free, but photography inside a business isn’t (unless you do it yourself).
Google Maps is free to use, and Google cars capture exterior imagery for Street View on public thoroughfares. In addition, Google sends its own team to capture interior and off-road images at a limited number of public places, such as major parks, museums, and landmarks. That part is all free.
Google would love to “map the world” inside and out. However, Google can’t legally photograph on, or inside of, private property, such as most businesses. They can’t walk into every storefront on Main Street USA and take photographs of the interior without permission from each and every business owner, which would never happen. Plus, the task of photographing the inside of every business is too big — even for Google. So, Google isn’t coming to photograph inside your business.
What Google has done instead is open their Street View platform for contributors to submit images of places the Google cars can’t go, such as inside businesses. A contributor might be a customer, a Local Guide (an independent Google user who voluntarily contributes content), the business owner, or a photographer contracted by the business owner. Google doesn’t charge for hosting the imagery from contributors or linking the images so that they show up when searching for the related business.
Yes, you read that right. You (or your customers) can submit images to Google for free. That includes both flat images and 360-degree panoramas.
But, there are problems with most user-contributed images — especially panoramas.
- The image quality probably isn’t going to make a great impression on viewers. Sure, today’s cell phones are capable of taking some pretty good flat images under the right conditions, but most people don’t know how to take full advantage of the technology and their results are often dark and fuzzy. Taking a decent 360-degree panorama is even harder. It requires taking a series of overlapping images and then using an app on the phone to stitch them together into a panorama. If even one of the component images is out of alignment, you get broken lines in the panorama, and there are often problems with light and dark areas in the same panorama.
- Most people aren’t familiar with the Google policies and legal requirements for photo submissions, and violating one of the rules can cause trouble ranging from removal of an offending image to lawsuits.
- User-contributed panoramas are normally limited to single photospheres. The ability to link panoramas together with navigation arrows requires access to special software and services (which cost money).
A qualified photographer can overcome all these problems and deliver high quality imagery that will showcase your business to prospective customers, but doing so requires a significant investment in time and money. Time to develop the photographic skills and learn the ins and outs of the Google Street View platform. Money to buy specialized equipment and software, and to pay for publishing services, insurance, and other expenses. It’s a professional service, delivered by an independent business owner who deserves to get a return on that investment in the form of fair compensation for the service.
Basically, charging for photography is how I pay for groceries and rent. And Google isn’t paying me.