No matter if you’re planning your next photo road trip or you’re scouring the city streets looking for the perfect viewpoint, Google Maps and Google Earth are the most valuable tools to add to your arsenal for finding the perfect photography location.
I usually travel for work, or with family, so I don’t have the luxury of as much time as I might want to search for the perfect vantage point in person. Nor to scout an area to compare locations that I want to dedicate to the one sunset that I’ll have time to shoot. Google Maps to the rescue!
While planning a trip from home, you have much more time to explore the area in a virtual capacity instead of being out there with boots on the ground. Nothing can compare with actually being there, but the tools available to you are getting better every day and the ability to nearly frame your shot is a realistic time saver. Time to turn the volume on your pre-visualization up to 11.
If I’m planning a trip or have an idea for a shot, I’ll start with Google Maps and zero in on the area that I want to shoot. You probably already do this, too, but let’s just take it a step further. Click the icon in the lower left corner labeled “Earth” to start the Google Earth browser plugin. This has replaced the satellite or aerial view for much of the world’s map, but instead of only offering a flat, two dimensional view of the map directly overhead, you can now tilt the map and see an approximation of topography, texture, and elevation.
Normal mouse controls on the map let you pan in all directions, and zoom in or out with the mouse wheel. In order to adjust to a view that will help you get a better idea of the terrain, hold down the shift key, click and drag upward. That will rotate your point of view (POV) so that you now have an aerial view looking toward the horizon instead of straight down. Dragging left or right while holding shift will rotate your point of view instead of panning.
But, you don’t have to be tied down to your desk to do this. Just two weeks ago, I was out with a friend exploring San Francisco and searching for a specific vantage point of the 101/280 freeway interchange. We knew the general area that we wanted to shoot from, but with so many streets winding around, using Google Earth on my mobile phone helped to eliminate some of the trial and error of driving around without a clue how to find what we wanted.
The example images from this article show the area that we shot in, including a screenshot taken from the mobile interface, and the completed image. Of course the view that you can get from the map interface is never as good as what you’ll see in person, but it’s an excellent way to help you hit the ground running when you get on-site with your camera in hand.
NOTE: The camera is facing South in the final composition, not North as in the initial Google Earth Point of View.
Have you used Google Maps to find any cool locations? What other tips or tricks have you tried? Please share in the comments below.