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Location scouting: keeping track

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Fujifilm X-T2, 35.3mm, 1/100s, f/2.8, ISO 1000

Location scouting is one of the most valuable activities a photographer can undertake to set themselves up for future photographic success and yet, while there are a few articles and Youtube videos out there talking about the value of scouting, there's very little on how to keep track of all the interesting spots one finds.

What is location scouting?

The clue is somewhat in the title, but location scouting is the process of visiting new locations not so much to take photographs but to search for interesting compositions that could work well on another day, with different light, weather, or other conditions. There are plenty of videos on Youtube talking about scouting for new locations: for example Simon Baxter has a video with good advice on scouting itself and pre-visualising an image. He also points out that a dull day with flat light is a great time to go scouting—you wouldn't be getting great photos anyway, so can focus on looking for compositions and pre-visualising the conditions you'd like to make a scene work—and log scenes to return to in future.

On a family walk around Bedgebury Pinetum (Gruffalo hunting), there was amazing light and nice autumnal colours. I want to go back at the same time next year with more time to think about composition and use a tripod.

Keeping track

It's that 'logging for the future' part that I haven't found much support for. I get the impression that each photographer just has to come up with their own system—be it relying on a good memory, notebook or other notes app—to keep track of all the places they'd like to go back to. 

There are a couple of basic apps for the iPhone that are aimed at solving the problem of saving locations, though none stand out or have quite hit the right spot for me. Maybe there just isn't the market for a tool to help track locations, though I find that a bit hard to believe. It feels more like one of those areas you look for as a designer, developer or otherwise product creator: an irritating problem nobody's had a go at yet.

I've taken a mixed approach to logging locations for future record so far. I always carry a notebook in my backpack (see cover image) and if I find an interesting scene, I try to make sure I snap a photo on my iPhone so that I have both a visual reminder and GPS coordinates for later reference. 

I also have a ton of photos taken on my 'proper' cameras, either specifically for later reference or where the image just doesn't quite turn out as well as I'd hoped. These I've been slowly tagging in Lightroom with a todo-reshoot’ keyword and—when I remember—also pinning them on the map view in Lr. 

Some scenes I want to come back to repeatedly, at all times of the year. I love this view at the top of Greenwich Park and return to it again and again; it would be nice to log previous keepers from a location for reference when there the next time.

What am I looking for?

While some may be happy keeping written notes in a notebook, I'm a technologist at heart and would love something to help me be a bit more proactive. Also, I'm way too disorganised to keep a sane log with pen and paper: I need a bit of technology to do the organisation for me. 

A basic location scouting app is quite straightforward:

  • Save a location from a photo with GPS data, by picking a point on a map or by entering an address
  • Add notes to future self
  • Some kind of priority setting would be nice

It's the potential for building out more useful features that really excites me:

  • Set preferences for conditions to shoot
    • Time of day/light levels
    • Time of year
    • Weather
  • Push notifications based on your location and current/near-term conditions. Imagine if an app could let you know conditions look good for fog in the morning at a saved location with x miles of your current location?
  • Syncing across devices and with a web interface to make it easier to log locations off the back of test shots from your DSLR/Mirrorless camera on a computer
  • Maybe you could draw notes and guidance directly onto a photograph like a contact sheet

Solving my own problems

The benefit of being a designer who can also code is that when it comes to tech—and particularly web services—I can just solve my own problems for the most part. This website I write on runs an entirely custom content management system I wrote and have added to over the past 7 years or so. 

And thus, while my expertise on the coding side is slanted heavily to web apps, I've been slowly tinkering away building my own iOS app to solve the problem for myself. It's a long, long way from being ready for public consumption but I do hope to invite a couple of photographers to alpha test it in the next couple of months to see if I could be solving a problem for more people than just me.

I'm genuinely keen to hear if anyone would be interested in an app/service along these lines so do get in touch, either on Twitter or via email.


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