Location Scouting With Flickr

Screenshot from Flickr

Wouldn’t it be great to know exactly what to expect before you packed your camera for a shoot?

You could know what sort of filters you’d need, what sort of lenses to bring and even what sort of techniques you’d be experimenting with at the location.

It would certainly be a lot better than driving for a couple of hours to a point on the map only to find when you get there that there’s just a couple of trees and a muddy field to photograph.

Flickr can tell you exactly what to expect.

Flickr as Location Scout
One of the things we’ve been trying to stress on this blog is the opportunities available at Flickr. When we wrote about getting paid for your Flickr photos, the comments we received included a number from photographers who had received money for their photos… and at least one from a buyer. And when we asked whether pros were getting enough out of Flickr, we came across professionals who had learned everything they needed to know about photography on the site.

But Flickr isn’t just an earning and learning tool. It can also be a valuable research tool as well.

Hit the World Map link in the Explore tab and you’ll get a map of the world showing a number of geotagged images.

At first glance, the map doesn’t look like much. Because Flickr divides all the geotagged photos into separate pages, it appears as though there are relatively few images available.

You have to look at the small print to see that there are over 30 million of them.

And you’ll have to use the search box to find the images of a place that you’re interested in visiting.

That can tell you a great deal.

Dunhuang or Jiayuguan?
Screenshot from Flickr

Imagine, for example, that you were planning a trip to China and wanted to know whether Dunhuang, a site famous for Buddhist paintings, is more photogenic — and more worthy of a stopover — than Jiayuguan, the end of the Great Wall.

Toss each in turn into Flickr’s map and you’ll be able to browse images from both locations. Circled numbers will tell you how many photographs were shot in each location. Click the numbers and you’ll be able to see a series of thumbnails shot there. You can see larger images by clicking the picture, and a larger one still by going to the photo page.

The first thing you’d be able to pick up is a general idea of the sort of photos you can expect to take at each site. You could see for example, that Jiayuguan has lots interesting roof eaves and straight lines while Dunhuang has some fun-looking sand dunes.

That alone could tell you which is worth a stay, depending on whether you prefer shooting landscapes or photographing architecture.

It could also give you an idea of the equipment you might need to bring — a useful piece of knowledge when you’re going as far as the Silk Road, or even just a couple of hours away.

And it can let you know what you’re likely to bringing back with you.

You could even write to the photographer and ask what else there was to photograph and whether he or she has any advice for shooting at that location. Flickr people are quite friendly and don’t usually mind answering these sorts of questions.

While knowing what to expect could take some — though certainly not all — of the fun out of the shoot, it might also give you a very important advantage. It could let you identify potential buyers before you travel.

If you know that a magazine will be doing a supplement on deserts, for example, (and editorial calendars provided to advertisers might be helpful there), then you could call the publication, tell them you’ll be heading tosa a desert soon and ask if they take images of sand dunes from freelancers. There’s no guarantee that they will, of course, but knowing what to expect is always going to be helpful. Comparing it to what the market wants will be even more helpful.

Backpacker magazine and Bruce Coleman Photo Library are just two companies that take travel images submitted by freelancers. Tell us how you prepare for shoots on location and whether you’d use Flickr as a location scout.

[tags] location scouting with flickr [/tags]

12 comments for this post.

  1. PhotographyVoter.com Said:

    Great article on how to use Flickr to scout for photographic opportunities..

  2. Filipe Freitas Said:

    Now Yahoo's Flickr is competing with Google's Panoramio.com!

  3. Nikographer Said:

    Many many of the locations I shoot at were discovered via flickr and tags, not so much the geotagging.

  4. The Curator Said:

    What a great idea! not only for photographers, but for the designers doing conceptual work. It would be interesting to see how much firms (and independent photographers) can save (time and money) by utilizing this tool. I'll be sure to encourage everyone I know to tag their content by location so that others can use their photography for scouting purposes. Great article!

  5. Nick Said:

    In a few weeks i'm taking a trip up north into the mountains for some wonderful sunrise / sunset photography and i've been using topographic data from the USGS to map and plan. I also have a great program called Global Mapper which produces a close replica of the mountain layout in 3D.

  6. Dave Nofmeister Said:

    Certainly awsome news, considering so much of photography is just finding new subject matter.

  7. Jauder Ho Said:

    I certainly used Flickr to scout things out during a trip to Japan in September. To top it off, I have tried to geotag almost all of the pictures.


  8. Justin O'Neill Said:

    We use a combination of Flickr and Google Earth when doing location scouting for our films. You can get an incredibly detailed sense of a place by matching photos on Flickr with where they were taken on satellite footage from Google Earth or Google Maps. We occasionaly contact the photographer who took the pics and ask them to take a shot at a different angle or from a different perspective.

    I can't imagine what location scouting was like before Flickr!

  9. Jeff Said:

    This is a great post. This sure beats buying travel books just see which locations have photographic value.

  10. Dan Said:

    Interesting approach... but it seems likely to lead to oft-photographed and geotagged locations getting more traffic. I'm a firm believer that *all* locations "have photographic value" - it's just a matter of the photographer figuring out what that value is, and how to bring it out.

  11. Curtis Said:

    There is an alternative to using Flickr and that is TrekEarth which is specifically for location-based photography. You aren't allowed to upload a photo without at last listing the city it was taken in, I've used that site many a time to figure out what I wanted to shoot when traveling.

  12. R. Richard Hobbs Said:

    I use Flickr more and more all the time for location scouting (I am a professional). My main location library is maintained at locamundo.com, which I use in mission-critical, hired-gun situations, but I use Flickr for customized presentations of remarkable locations for my general marketing purposes.

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