Looking for New Places to Shoot in the Internet Age
It can be quite rewarding to revisit an area you already know well to take advantage of your previous experiences of it, but there's nothing quite like discovering a new place to explore and shoot. There may be great spots you've drive right past before on your way to somewhere else. Or even be great places you didn't know about close to where you live. Here are two new options for finding those places.
First up is an application called "Stuck on Earth" created by Trey Ratcliff who also runs StuckInCustoms.com, one of the most visited travel photography blogs on the web. His personal photography includes a heavy emphasis on HDR imaging, usually done with tasteful restraint that adds to the result rather than distracts from it. According to his biography, he was born blind in one eye and was the first photographer to have an HDR image displayed in the Smithsonian. He's based out of New Zealand but being a travel photographer he's covered quite a bit more territory than just down under. You can find Stuck on Earth in your favorite App Store or at stuckonearthapp.com
Stuck on Earth is an application that runs on Apple OS X and iOS, as well as Android. There is no Windows version so my experience of it is limited to Android on my phone and tablet. The user interface is somewhat nonstandard and quite graphic intensive, perhaps explaining why it isn't the fastest program I have. At least on Android, the current version doesn't seem to be entirely stable and I do experience occasional crashes, but somehow I keep coming back for the content anyway. I guess this is a mixed bag but does speak to the value of the program if you persevere with its quirks.
Speaking of quirks, the program talks to you. When you first run it, it asks for your name, but so far as I know it uses it only to personalize the experience and not for anything nefarious. Once you find the little gear symbol that leads to the settings when clicked on, you can disable the voice prompts. In regular use, it isn't overly chatty and what it does say does help explain how to use the program so I'd recommend listening to it at least at first.
After these less than glowing paragraphs about Stuck on Earth, you might be wondering why I'm taking the trouble to write about it at all, but as I alluded to in passing already, the content itself is quite good. Think of Stuck on Earths as being Google Maps with images and photo hot spots pinned all over it. You can scroll around and zoom in as your explorations guide you or search for places you already know and then investigate what it knows about nearby. The images featured come from Flickr and are filtered to an extent by the editors of the Stuck on Earth Flickr community. The program also tailors the experience based on your interest after asking you to describe yourself as a photographer, daydreamer or explorer. There are also numerous recommended lists and links for learning more throughout the application.
The other one goes by the odd name of "ShotHotspot" and is delivered as a website rather than an application. Unlike Stuck on Earth, this means you can use ShotHotspot from any platform or operating system from the comfort of your favorite web browser. Top begin your explorations of ShotHotspot, visit www.shothotspot.com. The site is run by Darren Johnson who lives in Great Brittan. Like Stuck on Earth though, its reach is worldwide and is powered in large measure by the worldwide reach of Flickr and Panoramio.com. And like Stuck on Earth functions like Google Maps with pins for places to go take photographs all over it. Pins are categorized based on the type of images found there from landscape to wildlife, architecture and so on. The images for each location don't show until you click on a pin but it really quite easy to be an armchair explorer nonetheless. The entire interface is much less exotic than Stuck on Earth which some people will prefer and of course some won't.
As you zoom in more, additional hot spot pins will appear for you to investigate. It appears to me that ShotHotspot has deeper coverage than does Stuck on Earth, with more images and discreet locations to discover, but both applications have plenty to explore. The search engine behind ShotHotspot is excellent in that you can search not only by location but also by subject matter possibilities.
ShotHotspot also has another cool feature in that it integrates with The Photographers Ephemeris, a website and application I've written about here before. The Photographers Ephemeris provides outstanding information about sunrise, sunset and related data for any given location. Want to know what direction on the compass the sun will set tonight at Mt. Rainier, The Photographers Ephemeris can tell you and even graph it on a map for you. So once you've discovered a new great location on ShotHotspot you can easily discover the right time to be there and what direction to point your camera when you get there.
More than once I've found myself spending far longer than planed exploring locations on ShotHotspot. It can be addicting. There are of course plenty of great locations it doesn't know about, but I've been amazed at how many it does know, at least some of which I've never been to even when I have spent a fair bit of time with my camera in the surrounding area.
Both Stuck on Earth and ShotHotspot are free, and both are backed by communities of users who help improve the content and with whom you can get involved if you want to dig in deeper. Both are recommended.
In fairness, there are plenty of other photo search engines on the web that allow you to tap into the universe of Flickr and other social sharing sites, but none that I am aware of that seamlessly integrate all those image with location mapping quite the way Stuck on Earth and ShotHotspot do. It's intriguing to think about what the future might hold for both of these and other new ventures that leverage the power of the internet to help photographers explore new locations.
I also need to acknowledge that such online photo sites are quite varied in terms of image quality. There are no entrance or judging criteria people need to pass before posting their masterworks on Flickr, however gifted or aspiring their photographic talents may be. But that's not the point of such sites, nor of the type of location search I'm discussing here. Even if you find a less than perfect image of a potentially great place you didn't know about, it's still a potentially great place you didn't know about. You aren't looking for the images as much as you are the place where they were taken. Feel free to go there and take an even better picture or just visit and enjoy yourself.