For example: My real passion is landscape photography—particularly infrared landscape photography. Because of this I spend a lot of time (or at least as much time as my other commitments allow) out in the country. At a recent workshop I conducted in the country several participants were late because they relied on GPS navigation systems to get them there. It didn’t work. They only arrived after falling back on the old ways: using a good map and asking directions.
Now, GPS can be really handy for location information (latitude and longitude). But because I am mostly still working from roads, I find that I can simply rely on maps to keep track of where I am.
Sometimes, I use Google Earth before each trip. This is a great tool because it allows me to scout possible locations from which to shoot before I get there. But Google Earth is not the complete answer.Because of issues of wireless Internet coverage, Google Earth is not something I can rely on in the field. So what I prefer using on site is a good set of topographic maps and a compass. With practice, you can get almost as good an idea of the terrain and what you will confront as you get with Google Earth.
There is another major benefit of carrying the maps with me: If I decide to wander off into a different area than I have researched, I am still covered. The best of both worlds is when I compare the Google Earth view with the same area on the map. I can then annotate the map with likely shooting locations.
Another tool I rely on is a good pair of binoculars. I often take two: one larger pair and a compact folding pair that stays in my camera jacket pocket. With these I can scout the terrain further ahead when I am on a rise or hill and look for places I wish to explore more closely.
The combination of pre-trip preparation on the computer with good maps and binoculars in the field gives me good information plus the freedom and flexibility to go wherever else I may feel like going. This flexibility is important, because sometimes the weather will push me to head in a certain direction or to give up on where I am for another time and try somewhere, anywhere, different.
Other simple, low-tech items can also help you get great shots. The tripod is as old as photography. And although it may be made of newer materials, a tripod is fundamentally no different today than yesterday. Paired with the tripod is the cable release. Sure, today’s versions may be electronic rather than purely mechanical, but a cable release is still so simple and continues to be a key tool in great photography.
In an era when all the emphasis in photography publications seems to be on acquiring the latest digital photographic technology, it is worth remembering that simple, low-technology equipment is still important.
When I started in photography over 45 years ago, it was a major pain to organize my slides and filmstrips so I could find what I wanted. Originally I used index books with film and frame number codes to keep track of my images. Later I progressed to a computer program that ran on my Apple IIe. It would print labels to put on slides and could do basic keyword searches.
Some ten years ago, when I started scanning the film I shot, the issue became keeping track of the digital files. At that point I was introduced to a digital-asset management program called Portfolio, which could catalog files (whether they were on CD or hard disk). It allowed me to assign keywords and other data to each record.
Since switching from film to digital cameras I am still using Extensis Portfolio (although other similar programs exist both for Mac and PC). Portfolio files are cross platform and the software can handle lots of files, generating thumbnails to the sizes I need, etc.
Now, when I return from a shoot, I use this workflow: I transfer the images from the memory cards onto my hard drive, duplicate these files onto another network drive, and then burn the files onto DVD, which get unique serial numbers. I use Extensis Portfolio to catalog the DVD and then put the disc away in an archival storage unit. This works well for me. The files on local and network disks allow me ready access to work on them, while the DVD backups provide extra security.
Cataloging images has always been a pain because of the need to enter keywords. One way to address this task is to organize files into sub-folders or directories with meaningful names. So starting within a folder for each shooting date, I may have subfolders labeled “flower macro”, “rural landscape,” or “insect macro.” I can then set Portfolio (or similar software) to extract keywords from the file path.
The image-cataloging process has been greatly assisted by the ability of digital cameras to record EXIF data. This saves all that recording of exposure and lens details that many of us used to do.
Technology now allows possibilities that can go much further. Cameras can be fitted with GPS systems to record location information. You could conceivably link your catalogs of images with a mappying system, even Google Earth. If the GPS recording device also extracts direction information, you could work with your images in some interesting new ways. For example, you could build three-dimensional scenes or make more detailed and accurate plans for future trips to the same locations. Landscape photographers could explore their image libraries geographically, examining viewpoints and perspectives with map and other information overlays. You might even be able to check viewpoints and plan the best locations from which to shoot at particular times of the day.
I’m not sure if anyone has tied together all the pieces yet, at least for the general photographer, but I know someone will soon. Some exciting possibilities do exist for photographers willing to experiment.
Looking back at how far we’ve come in terms of image organization, don’t you love the way technology sometimes makes your life easier and your profession or hobby better?