Whenever I visit a place, especially for the first time, I like to scout out locations that will make good photos, and in particular, photos that I think are good for Instagram. I mean, let’s face it, good quality content is key when it comes to Instagram, be it fashion, food or travel; it all depends on if people like it. And if people like it, it shows.
There are a range of free tools available at hand that anyone can use to search out new photo locations, or for those trying to find that location that you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed (I hold my hand up to doing this a few times in the past).
So what sort of tools are there to use? Below is a list of the tools that I commonly use to find some of those elusive, yet lucrative photo locations;
- Google web search
- Google image search
- Google reverse image search
- Google streetview
A few of the suggested tools above may look a bit odd to include, but as I explain how to use them, it’ll make sense.
I haven’t linked to these sites as they are all well known and they are not affiliate links either, which I have never used at all…
All the sites mentioned below are mobile friendly, allowing you to do that important travel research whilst you are travelling.
The King of Search
Google is the king of search. You type in a term into Google and it generates massive lists related to what you’re looking for. This is my first go-to-tool I use to scout out locations. Entering in generic terms such as “photos tokyo” or more specific terms such as “night time photos Tokyo Tower” will generate articles that you can read which might have contain information about where those photos were taken.
In the past, I’ve found some good websites that I check every so often as I generally like the content and photos that are produced. The important thing to remember is that the more descriptive and specific your search term is, the more likely you’ll save yourself time trawling through the extensive results.
Google Image search is the second tool I’ll try. Just like using Google search, a huge number of images related to your search term are generated, and picking out that particular location visually is a lot easier than having to read through text. The added bonus of using Google Image search is that you may even find ideas and inspiration on how to take a particular photo. However, you could find yourself scrolling through a vast number of images and not find that photo you’re looking for, so it can get very irritating and tiring.
But this is where things get really interesting, and I love the technology Google has used to develop this… Google Image Reverse search. Yep! This is exactly what is says, you upload a photo (or even a URL link to a photo) with a few words to generally describe it and Google will find either the exact image or a similar one that will hopefully have a location or a name for it. However, there is a downfall; it isn’t 100% accurate and you can’t use a generic photo of a street or a building. The photo has to contain a recognisable feature in order for Google to search from. But, when it does work, it is impressive to use.
Also, if you are concerned about other people taking and using your images without permission, Google Image Reverse search is handy to try out where your own images are being used elsewhere. Just be prepared to try various search terms in your image search, as no one specific term will always work.
Have you ever wondered what the easiest way is to get to a particular photo location, or what it’ll look like even before you get there? Streetview by Google is a gem for this. It’s a way of visualising your photos and scouting out around the area before you actually visit it. The way I use it is like so; from just a photo, I try to find a recognisable feature within it, just like with the reverse image search, like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or a train line. Then working from an aerial perspective, I try to deduce where that photo could have been taken from. It’s a bit long winded, and sometimes I feel like Sherlock Holmes trying to pin point that location.
Trying different angles using Streetview as well as various perspectives can help increase your chances of finding a match. But be warned, the success rate can be low and you could be wasting a lot of time without any rewards. Though there is that sense of achievement when you do find a location at a street level view. Also, something else to consider is that what the street looks during the day, will look entirely different at night – just saying.
Did you know in the Google Translate app, you can upload an image with text to be translated? So think of this, if you have a photo that contains some text in another language, like a sign or a banner, take a screenshot and then use the camera feature in Google translate to see if that text is a street name or a shop name. Type that phrase into google maps and hopefully you’ll get a location for a street or even a shop! Then, it is just a matter of using Streetview to find that angle of the photo taken.
However, sometimes this works really well, and other times it doesn’t. It depends on the quality of the photo as well as the clarity of the text in the photo. Be prepared to spend some time trying different crops to get a good translation, and also be prepared for some “interesting” translations…
Flickering, pixelating and splashing?
Alternative tools that I use occasionally are either 500px or Flickr. The good thing about these sites is that there are loads of similar images of what you’re trying to look for. The bad thing is that not everyone geotags their photos.
Think of 500px and Flickr as stock sites – simply search using a term and scroll through endless photos until you find what you’re looking for. The same can be said for Unsplash – a free stock image site where images are free to be downloaded and used in anything (just make sure you at least credit the photographer somewhere!) And again, just like Flickr and 500px, some photos maybe geotagged, others not – it’s a 50/50 chance to find out.
However, typing in “Tokyo city” or “Sydney harbour” does yield a vast number of results, so chances are you will find what you’re looking for just from your search term alone. You’ll even find some new locations that you haven’t considered before which is always a bonus, especially when you are trying to stand out from the crowd on Instagram.
With Instagram topping 1 BILLION monthly active users, it is the most popular photo sharing and social media platform to date. Instagram is also the prime platform for searching for those photo locations. The app allows you to search for places and shows you photos geotagged with that location, as well as searching through various feature accounts for that one photo. However, not all photographers specifically geotag their photos, but instead are just give a general location like “Tokyo” or “London” etc.
Now, I FULLY understand why they don’t specifically geotag their photos, as I do this myself. Instagram, with its surging popularity has created “insta hotspots” – locations which have become popularised through Instagram and through large popular feature accounts that everyone sees on their feed, with locations such as Bali or Iceland etc. What people also see, is that photos from those locations gather lots of likes and engagement; so the mindset of most people is along the lines of, “if I visit that place and get a photo of it, I will get a lot of likes…” etc., that’s not always the case, but on average it is.
There are good sides and bad sides to this of course. For one, some places that have become popularised via Instagram have received a boost in their tourism and to their economy which is great for the locals. But, the bad side to this is that some of these places are extremely delicate, unique ecosystems that have taken thousands of years to evolve and develop into what they are today. And not all tourists respect those areas, leaving rubbish behind, or worse – even vandalising the area. Remember that any place you visit, be respectful, treat it with care and be considerate to the indigenous life that lives there – it is their home.
There are number of reasons why I don’t specifically geotag my photos, one of them is that I’ve spent a lot of time researching these places on google streetview or via Flickr or 500px; thus revealing a location is not something I give away easily. The other reason being is that some of the locations are meant to be hard to find on purpose – where is the challenge in exploring somewhere if someone tells you the location? So I believe that if I can find it with some time and effort, then other people can too. There is no fun in asking someone where a photo was taken, but there is fun in going out and searching it for yourself whilst it is raining, meeting the locals and even finding that cafe that you tell all your friends about the good coffee you had there, when you get home.
Instagram also serves as an inspiration for travelling, and to giving ideas on where you should visit next on your travels. Just a general search gives you an idea of how certain locations require a certain type of angle to be photographed, or just to give you ideas on how you can view that location. Of course, it’s up to you how you take your photos, and if you’re travelling with a limited amount of time, then you want that “one photo” to be yours and how you want it to be like.
Recently, an Instagram account known as @insta_repeat has garnered a lot of attention for one simple thing; highlighting the similar style of various photos that are posted on Instagram, ranging from tent photos to cars to the typical “watch-on-a-wrist” photos. This account is perfect, as it shows how Instagram has created an environment where only certain types of photos, or certain styles of photos, will only do well engagement wise, and thus makes it harder for photographers to be creative and stand out of the crowd to generate unique content.
So those are my tools that I use to find locations, I don’t use them in any particular order. There are times I find what I’m looking for straight away; and there other times I have virtually no success and decide to try the next day when I can think more clearly. Either way, I’ve found photo locations that are even better than what I originally was after! There are also other sites to try such as Twitter and Pintrest – it all depends on what works for you when you do your travel research…