location scouting


Egol, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Egol, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

Saving location information, for me, is one of the keys to successful landscape and travel photography. The ability to dive right into a possible spot on a map and instantly pull up saved images and location information can be a huge time saver and save a great deal of frustration trying to find relevant information in amongst an illegible and unintelligible notebook, which is where I used to save this info. For many years I have extolled the virtues of Evernote to anyone that would listen but after a major change to the software some years ago, it has been pretty useless for pulling up relevant information based on a map view. Yes, you can geo-tag notes, add photos and thoughts but using the Atlas view has long been a complete waste of time because some genius at Evernote decided that being able to only view specific notes on a map was an irrelevant feature.

I use Evernote as a surrogate memory and filing system. I run a totally paperless office and home. Everything is scanned into Evernote and then shredded so I have notebooks for everything from school clothing receipts, boiler repair information, client invoices, business expenses, saved tech tips, the list is endless. And whilst going on for 8,000 notes are all carefully filed and tagged, they all appear in the Atlas view making searching for notes from a specific notebook only very difficult. I have a notebook, imaginatively titled “Locations” and in here are around 1000 geo-tagged notes with ideas from all over the world. The majority are dreadful iPhone snapshots - I’ve been somewhere, the conditions have been pants but I’ve seen something that could, emphasis on the could, make a decent photo at some point in the future or I’ve worked a composition until I’ve exhausted ideas but still not come away with what I was looking for and felt that it needed a re-visit. Or maybe it’s a place I’ve hurtled by in the car or on a train and decided that further investigation at a later date could be efficacious. They’re an assortment of personal memory joggers, selfies, street scenes and landscapes. Most are untitled. I’m also a prolific reader of newspapers and magazines, online and offline and have saved many many details of places that I’d love to visit and shoot, carefully adding GPS data to them all.
So I’ve been diligently storing this information but without a reliable way to retrieve it. Even using some advanced search criteria (for example: notebook:"Locations" resource:image/* latitude:53 -latitude:54 longitude:-3 -longitude:-2 ) proves to be decidedly unreliable. That was until I discovered an iOS only app titled “IdeaPlaces”.  http://www.ideaplaces.com/
It's essentially the missing link between Evernote and mapping but where it comes into it’s own is that you can set it to display only one Evernote notebook, associated content can be saved for offline use, you can set location based reminders, share data, update data and have it sync back to Evernote and much much more. There’s Dropbox integration too if you prefer to work that way.
Using the app, I can travel to any place and see only the data I’ve saved that’s relevant to the area I’m in and I can also plan routes much more easily.

So now that I’ve had this revelation, what is my workflow for getting my images out of Lightroom and into IdeaPlaces? Well it’s slightly convoluted initially but now that I’ve caught up with the backlog the process should be significantly streamlined.


The first step is to create a published service in Lightroom that, on publish, will dump a bunch of relatively low res images into a folder. (640px. Low res. Maintain exif)

1 - The first step is to create a published service in Lightroom that, on publish, will dump a bunch of relatively low res images into a folder. (640px. Low res. Maintain exif)
2 - Next, I trawled through around 38K images that had GPS data in the Exif and added them to this service.
3 - Hit Publish

Quick check - Open couple of sample images in preview, then show inspector > More Info > GPS - check has data

4 - Quick check - Open couple of sample images in preview, then show inspector > More Info > GPS - check has data
5 - Find images in finder, select all and right click > open in > Evernote.
6 - Wait until all new notes have synced.
7 - Delete images from folder
8 - In Evernote, move all new notes into Locations notebook
9 - Open up the IdeaPlaces app and wait for the data to sync.
10 - Boom! Completely searchable map view with stacks of data.


One of the biggest problems I have now, is that it transpires quite a chunk of the GPS data is inaccurate. I guess this is because either the phone hasn’t updated it’s location quickly enough when I’ve been snapping or because I’ve edited it in another app a few miles down the road and it’s been tagged at this new location, so I’ve a bit of pain to go through and manually update those locations I feel are incorrect. But going forward as a resource, it’s absolutely brilliant.

And even better, I can share all my lovely data with you too dear reader. As I continue to add to this data stream with new gems, I’ll keep my notebook updated. All you need is an Evernote account and the IdeaPlaces app, you can then subscribe to my Locations notebook here and use this data for yourselves. Obviously I can’t share third party copyrighted data in this folder, so sadly I’ll have to create another notebook specifically for my own use, but I’ll keep adding my own images on those I find on the internet that I can use under Creative Commons to share with you. 

Use this link to view the Evernote notebook - https://www.evernote.com/pub/neilalexanderd/locations

Caveat: Whilst I have been through the majority of the 850 locations I’ve already saved, I’m not guaranteeing complete accuracy. So please double check first and don’t blindly walk off the edge of a cliff or into a boggy swamp and then try and blame me!

If there's any particular places you'd like me to add or if you want to reciprocate then please comment below or drop me an email - neil@neilalexander.net

How do you save location scouting information? by Neil Alexander

How I put all those years of GPS tagged images to use.

Finally I think I've found a solution that works. Over the years I've tried numerous apps and processes but all have had major failings for one reason or another. I paid $10 for an app on the iPad that didn't work at all whatsoever. No response from developer. No refund from Apple. Trust me, I've tried all manner of options.

So first up, my goal. 

What I want is to pull up a map on my Mac / iPad / iPhone, go to a specific area and see notes and pictures for areas that I have either previously visited and scouted or found online and tagged.

But why? Well because I have all this archived digital knowledge that could save me significant amounts of time when planning shoots.

Simple enough right?

Well no, not exactly. I also want it all available offline. I often find myself deep in national parks or high up in the hills where there is little or no cell phone coverage never-mind a fast 3G signal. I also want to combine iPhone snaps, RAW files from my Lightroom libraries and stuff I just stumble across on the web.

For example, Ken Kaminesky  posted some photos from a trip to Iceland a while back. They were amazing (http://blog.kenkaminesky.com/2012/07/09/inspired-by-iceland/ ). So I did a little research, found the locations, dropped a pin in Google Maps and using a Labs plugin called LatLng Marker I get full GPS co-ordinates that I can then add to the note location information in Evernote. Evernote is my tool of choice for recording so many things. I have hundreds, if not thousands of notes in there on all manner of topics from blog post ideas, marketing plans, application serial numbers, lighting techniques, family holiday ideas and food recipes. The interface is so intuitive, the syncing across devices so seamless and it's interaction with other apps is simply brilliant (http://trunk.evernote.com/

Another beauty of Evernote is that you can set which notebooks you want made available offline. I only have around 2GB worth of notes saved so it's not a massive amount of data by current standards. All the maps are stored offline within the app, so its simply a case of going to the "Atlas" (on the Mac) or "Places" in iOS and zooming in to a specific area to see what I've previously saved.

My process.

The first stage is to import my automatically geo-tagged iPhone images, which is a relatively straight forward process once I've decided which ones out of the 17,000 are worth importing.

Using the HoudahGeo (http://www.houdah.com/houdahGeo/ ) "Load" interface, I navigate to my iPhoto library and wade through the camera phone snaps (I'm still working my way back through the years….)  and select those worthy of marking as useful for future reference. It's then just a simple case of and hitting the "Publish to Evernote" button and selecting which Evernote notebook I want them to go into. The import process itself is very quick, unless I'm dumping hundreds at a time.

Loading HoudahGeo with images for publishing to Evernote showing GPS information

As my Nikon bodies don't have geo-tagging functionality, the process for RAW files is a little more protracted. I use an iPhone app called simply enough, "GeoTag Photos" (https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/geotag-photos-pro/id355503746?mt=8) which creates GPS Tracks that I can then download and use to automatically tag images after I've imported them into Lightroom. This is a sample GPS Track from a recent trip to the Lake District over a number of days. 

Sample GPS Track from a recent trip to the Lake District over a number of days. 

I then headed over to my current year's Lightroom library and created a collection set titled "GPS Tagging". Within this I have set up 2 smart collections. One has a single rule - "GPS Data is coordinates", and the other has the same rule and an additional one -  where the colour is blue (I will use the blue label to tag anything that I think suitable for location reference purposes in future). This second smart collection will be my shortlist for Evernote notes.

The process in HoudahGeo is then the same as for iPhoto as the application can see all my Lightroom libraries and their associated collections.

From there I can go in and add sunrise / sunset times and dates for ideal shooting conditions and any additional notes that I may require.

One problem I have with the Atlas feature in Evernote is that there is no way to apply a filter or simply view one notebook on it's own. As I use Evernote for so many different purposes, I've had to apply my own filter by setting the location data for anything that isn't location scouting information as my home address. It's a hack, but it works. 

So now that I've invested hours in the initial tagging, sorting and noting, I have hundreds of useful geo-tagged location reference notes available to me on my Mac when I'm in the office or on my phone even when I'm absolutely in the middle of nowhere! 

Saved location scouting information for the Lake District displayed in Evernote's Atlas feature.


It appears that Houdah Geo V3.2.4 doesn't work at all well with Evernote 5.0.5, so I'm having to do all the work on my Macbook Air which still has Evernote 5.0.4 (which works fine with Houdah Geo). Bizarre, but I'm sure there'll be a fix soon enough.

So what do you do with all your location scouting information? How do you save it all? Feel free to share in the comments below.