Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Be There! With GPS And TOPO Maps
Scout locations from home to find your best vistas
In our hectic day-to-day lives, we carve out the time to pursue our common passion: nature photography. It’s not always easy to be in the right place at the right time to get the shot we want because just finding the right place seldom happens at exactly the right time. How often have you shown photographs to friends and family and heard yourself saying something like, “I wish I had been here when the sun was a little lower,” or “The sky was so intense I just had to take a picture, but I was in a mall parking lot and this was the best I could do.” It happens to all of us, and it can be frustrating.
A TOPO map uses contour lines to show elevation changes. Like all maps, they’re available in different scales. For this kind of scouting, you don’t need to see super-fine elevation changes. What you’re really looking for is some idea of where shadows will fall, and where the sun will come up or descend below the horizon. You can find almanac information from several websites to get a good idea of where the sun will be on any given day. A little trick to help you visualize where the sun will be and how it will illuminate the landscape is to use a flashlight. When you get the latitude from your software, set up your flashlight to shine across the map from that latitude. Even though it’s not a relief map, you can see the contour lines and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how the shadows will fall.
Now you have a sense of the chiaroscuro of the scene and how the dramatic mountains or canyons will look as the sun rises, traces its arc through the sky and sets. In your mind’s eye, you can see the shot and you’ll know where you need to be, more or less, to get the right composition. You can find the exact spot where you think it will be best to set up your camera and tripod. On the TOPO map, just find those coordinates and program them into your GPS. With the preprogrammed GPS, you can move quickly from one location to another and shoot efficiently.
This method isn’t perfect, and nothing beats making multiple trips to a landscape so you can really get to know it, but for anyone with limited time, this GPS and TOPO combination can help you make the most of your shooting time.
Of course, we can’t say enough about safety when your trekking to remote on- or off-trail locations. We’re proponents of the DeLorme Earthmate PN-60w GPS with SPOT built in (www.delorme.com). In the event you do have trouble, the SPOT feature can be a lifesaver. It also can let your family know that you’ll just be late for dinner. If you already have a GPS, you can buy a standalone SPOT as well (www.findmespot.com).
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