Jan 17, 2010

Location Scouting

Let's get this one out right away: location scouting?  Not my favorite thing in the world, not at all.

I've got so much respect for the people who do it professionally.  Back when I worked in television I was always blown away when the scouts would pop open their location info binder and have first choices plus multiple backups for everything, multiple Polaroids of each location, contact info for the owners, maps to everything...and I had absolutely no interest in being the guy collecting all of that stuff.

But let's face it - being in the studio can get boring sometimes.  I love "happy accidents", and that kind of unexpected inspiration comes more readily when you're out in the world.  Sometimes you've got to take the shoot outside and give up a little of that control if you want the really cool stuff.  And that means finding places to take the shoot to.

There was a time in my life when I spent a lot of my time just ambling around the city.  Between being social, running errands, having free time to kill and having really depressingly-small NYC apartments (and roommates!) I probably walked 10 miles a day - it's not hard to build up a mental database of cool locations that way.  Now I'm old and sedentary and domestic, so it takes a little more organization.

It's not that I don't still come across great spots unexpectedly, it's just that I put a little more care into keeping track of them.

My first helpful trick: iPhone.  This isn't going to be a big product plug - I think it's a cool little device, but "Jesusphone" it ain't.  I've got a love/hate relationship with Apple, but this is definitely one of the bonuses: always having a GPS-enabled camera in my pocket.  I can't speak to the other models, but my 3GS geotags every photo I take with it, meaning no more carrying around a little notebook for scribbling down street addresses and descriptions.  See a cool spot?  Snap a few images and go on my way.

For getting those images off my phone, I use Pixelpipe.  It's not perfect, but it does several things pretty well: batch-uploading multiple files, can upload to any number of destinations and it leaves that precious geotagging intact.  At the end of the day, that's all I need.

And where do I send them?  For better or worse, to Flickr.  But not just to anywhere on Flickr - to a private, friends-only photoset full of nothing but location scouting images.  Because Flickr uses the Yahoo Maps API, it takes advantage of the geotagging info and places those photos on a map for me, meaning I've now got a browseable database of locations with snapshots of what they look like, plus I can put additional info in the image captions at any time.  It's not perfect, but it's easy.

I'm prone to pulling over to snap reference images on my regular bike rides, walking around my neighborhood, on my way to meet friends for dinner or drinks, whatever.  See someplace interesting?  Snap.  Upload when I think of it, done.  If I have a part of town in mind, or I'm traveling someplace I think I might be back to, I'll go out and walk or drive in circles just to document things worth coming back to.  When I need something for a shoot I can browse by thumbnail or by location on the map. 

But I'm always looking for something better!  How do you guys track and organize your location info?


mickeyjuice said...

G'day Simon,

I use CameraGPS+, which marks the spot you take the shot on the map and takes the GPS data. you can keep the data in different folders, etc. You can take voice memos, and email the final product to yourself. (Well, or to anyone.)

It would be better - a LOT better - if you could upload that data to Googlemaps, but I'm hoping that will come.

In the meantime, it's working pretty well for me.

cheers, juice

Patrick Trautfield said...

Thanks for the info! Really makes me want to get an iPhone (or something like it) to do jsut what you said. Seems like it would be really useful, especially for lazy people like me :)

Holly said...

A Location Scouting Folder?
Brilliant, I say. I am going to do this. Each time I use my phone for directions, I usually get lost. LOL...Thanks for the blog, it was fantastic!