Using maps for photography

Get started with outdoors photography with this simple guide.

To introduce myself briefly, my name’s Dominic and I’m a member of the team that manages the OS website. Landscape photography is one of my passions outside work and I suspect that it’s one shared by many of you here who enjoy the great outdoors. I took my first blurry shots at about the age of 10 on a second-hand Kodak instamatic camera that took 126 film. My first SLR followed in the late 90’s and I went digital in 2006, whereupon the number of photos I took increased exponentially. In this post, I’d like to share with you three ways in which maps help me as a photographer.

Deciding where to shoot

With summer now well upon us, my thoughts are turning to weekends away and longer holidays. There are many parts of Great Britain that I have yet to explore – as you'll see below – and so I’d turn to a regional map to explore ideas in more detail. I also search sites like 500px.com and flickr.com to browse through shots that other people have posted to identify landmarks I’d be interested in shooting in areas I don't yet know.

Identifying vantage points

This is where maps, such as OS Landranger and Explorer maps come into their own. Contours give the lie of the land, whilst detailed road and footpath information enable me to identify in advance a good place to park and which paths to take to get to where I want to shoot. With aerial photography being available in most online map websites, including our own OS Maps, I’d also take a look at what the paths actually look like – gravel, mud or scree? – before setting out.

Now to be honest, I’m not much of a hiker – still less a mountaineer – but this doesn’t matter so much for photography. And here’s why: paradoxically, the view of the mountain is often better than the one from the top of it. For example, in this view of Y Garn in Snowdonia, the sun streaming through cloud throws the mountain into silhouette and the peaks beyond create a sense of depth.

Y Garn from the valley below

Y Garn from the valley below

Conversely, from the summit, the ground falls away very steeply and quickly, with the horizon often being lost in the distance or, as in this case from Yorkshire, obscured completely by an approaching shower cloud.

The view from Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

The view from Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

So, whilst I try to get a bit off the beaten track in order not to snap the same view as everybody else from the public car park, I don’t feel unduly guilty about staying down in the foothills rather than scaling the heights.

Many smartphones and some DSLRs nowadays include the ability to record GPS coordinates in your photos as you take them. I don’t do so on my phone because locking onto satellites is a great way to drain its battery but I do geo-tag my landscape photos when I get home using the Map module within Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Briefly, you search for your chosen location on a map and when it loads, you drag the thumbnail of the photo you took at that spot onto the map. Using the aerial photography view, I can find where I was standing to within a few feet.

Tagging photos

Where I have taken photos in England, Wales and Southern Scotland

Where I have taken photos in England, Wales and Southern Scotland

Why bother? In future, when I’m trying to find all of the photos I took in a particular part of the country (or world), I can search in the Map module and Lightroom will display everything I took there as a set of pushpins, on which I can click to view photos from that location.

When deciding where to visit in future, I can also identify places I have yet to explore: for me, the glories of West Wales, the Peak District and the Lake District are glaring omissions.

In addition, when I upload my own photos to 500px and Flickr, my own photos will more easily be found by anybody using their geographical search tools.

I hope you've found this useful. Over to you: do you always carry your camera with you when you head for the hills? Are there other ways in which you use maps as a photographer? Would you be interested in further posts about photography on the blog?

Let me know in the comments below.

If you’re interested, you’ll find my photos online at 500px.com/dbrenton. I blog at www.dbrenton.com and am also on Twitter – @3dbrenton.

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