It’s Earth Day

As it’s Earth day, I thought I’d talk about something Earth-centric today.

The Blue Marble

Photo: The Blue Marble by the Apollo 17 crew. But damn if I don’t wish it was one of mine 🙂

I think that geotagging (adding location information to a photo’s metadata), is one of the most innovative and important things to happen to photography in the last few years. Certainly in my case, maps have become an integral part of my workflow, and the ability to view and organize photos by location has proved both interesting and useful.

I find that the addition of the “where” dimension adds so much context to a photo. For the photographer, it’s an extra organizational tool and a way for our photos to be discovered shared. Collectively, it gives us a new way to explore the planet and study particular places on it.

There’s two applications in particular that I think are relevant and useful to photographers.

First is Google Earth, which just released version 4.3 last week. I assume you’re already familiar with it; but in a nutshell it offers a virtual of the globe in 3D, using satellite imagery. You can zoom all the way from space down to your neighborhood.

For a photographer, the immediate usefulness of this is pretty obvious – you can use it to scout locations before traveling out to them. If high resolution satellite images are offered for your area, you’re likely to discover dozens of places you probably never even knew was there – parks, ponds, small lakes and rivers that might otherwise have gone unnoticed. If you’re planning a hike, you can see what the view will be from the top of the mountain before ever leaving, and maybe even choose your trip based on the kind of photo you want to capture.

Even better, the latest version will also show you the position of the sun at any given time of the day. This can be invaluable if you’re planning to shoot a sunset or sunrise, as it will tell you exactly where on the sun will be, and choose your foreground accordingly. It even does a pretty decent job of simulating lighting conditions based on the time of day – giving you information about when the best time to shoot at a spot will be.

This latest version also adds “street view”, a feature that’s been present in the web based Google Maps for some time, which gives you a street level view of select cities – useful if you’re planning on shooting one of these cities, again just by giving you an idea of what to expect.

The amount of information offered is amazing, and it’s all potentially useful – everything from weather reports to railway tracks to wikipedia links. I always make sure to scope a place out with Google Earth before traveling there. It gives me an idea of what to expect, and inform me as to what’s in the area that I might not otherwise have known about. Very nifty.

The other tool is Flickr’s Map and Places feature.

The former is similar to Google Earth, though it’s powered by Yahoo’s maps rather than Google’s. It doesn’t actually tell you anything more than Google Earth does, but it does give you one infinitely useful piece of information – actual photos taken at the actual spot. Again, this can give you a very good idea of what to expect, and plan accordingly before heading out to the location (as well as help you find locations that might not have been visible by satellite).

Of course, once you’re done, you’ll want to geotag the photos you just took – there’s any number of tools to do this; I personally have settled on the freeware Geosetter (Windows only). If you have a GPS, you can synchronize with the GPS track log. Or else you can do it manually (which isn’t usually too much extra work, if somewhat less precise).

This means that when you upload your photos to Flickr (or any number of other photo sharing sites), your work will be displayed and discoverable on the map, giving you that much more visibility and helping out others who might be considering a trip to the same spot, or to connect with other local photographers shooting in the same area.

Of course, being Earth Day, I can’t offer this view on geographic information without mentioning that you should always be eco-friendly and environmentally conscious in whatever locations you happen to shoot.

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