#628. Organised photographers, get lost !

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Aug 05

Back in 2009, Apple trademarked the sentence & concept There’s An App for That and the phrase was soon turned into a counter-culture joke. Fast forward to today, and in photography, as in almost any arena I can think of, the joke’s on the counter-culture. Because there really is an app for whatever you can imagine.

Sunset, sunrise, check. Frame lines, check. Exposure, long exposure, multiple exposures, check. Retouching, check. Presets, check. Sharing, check. Ergonomic tweaks, check. Noise reduction, check … you get my drift, check.


Not on the maps !


Next to this deluge of app-based functionality, we also have access to unprecedented information about the best places to shoot. Starting with the best guides ever conceived by Man, our very own InSight Guides (they are so good, they make me question the fact that we are really only human), and all the way to dedicated websites (shothotspot.com), other dedicated guides, apps, yes, more apps (OneOfAKind, Stuck on Earth …), literally billions of geotagged photographs in Flickr, 500px and other photo sharing social media, dedicated articles (Top 35 Places to Shoot in California …), and – if you’re the adventurous type – articles about scouting your locations (How to Scout Photography Locations, 5 Creative Ways to Find New Locations to Photograph …)


Not on the map


So, if you’re not finding the best locations, light conditions and settings for successful shots, you’re just a pathetic loser !!!!

Just like me πŸ™‚


Got to love a red dot, even when it’s not on the map


Oh, so this is just DearSusan being facetious again, right ?

Left !

This is about defending another worldview.

This is about letting go and, most importantly, about getting lost.


Why not chose a path at the last minute ?


Right from a young age, we are taught how to prearrange our lives, our work, even our deaths.

What would you prefer for Christmas, a personal organiser or a free ride to a place you don’t know ?

Have you ever made the sudden decision “let’s go eat at XXXX’s tonight” only to find out that XXXX is booked 3 weeks in advance ?

Have you ever been tempted by a last-minute trip to the US to photograph the eclipse, only to find that travel and accommodation is not going to be that easy ?

Everything in our lives has to be defined, specified, paid-for and organised in advance. There’s tremendous security in that.

But getting lost, in many ways, is one of our few remaining shreds of true freedom.


Odd one out


What do I do during my hols? I get lost. As often as possible.

I stumble upon the unexpected. Sometimes crappy, sometimes glorious.

London, ironically, is still a wonderful place for me to get lost, after nearly 50 years of visiting several times a year. I cannot remember a visit where I haven’t discovered little alleyways, shortcuts, unexpected gardens inside corporate buildings, derelict abbeys …

This was also my main activity during a recent 3-day jaunt in the Alps. It’s actually pretty hard to get lost in a valley πŸ˜‰ But the hills are full of little gems known only to regulars and locals. Such as this most extraordinary restaurant called Le Bercail, run by two uber-foodies in an unexpected 7000 foot-high paradise, rather than in a large city where official plan-your-food-life guides would rush to stick stars to the chef’s hat. Had I followed the map, I’d have not gotten lost. Had I googled it, I’d have seen the poor ratings this place gets from hurried ski-nuts in the winter-time, and skipped it altogether.


Le Bercail


The same is true of many photographic opportunities that would have disappeared in the process of planning for shots that :

(1) may simply have never materialised, the weather not cooperating, for instance

(2) do not represent reality the way I see it

(3) bore the heck out of me


The marshmallow river


As all pastimes, photography can be considered from many angles : a tech race, a gas outlet, a hanging-out-with-buddies opportunity, an ego contest, a quality-maximisation process, or a liberating live-in-the-moment, agenda-free, process of discovery. The latter is the favourite, for yours truly, who finds himself in a distinct minority, here.


No parking


How do you maintain this process of discovery ?

My guess is there isn’t a strategy for that. Over the years, a mix of laziness and deliberate reflection has led me to this no tagging, no backup strategy, no preorganised route, no notes … approach. I mostly make photographs, publish some of them here, create a few family albums there, and move to the next trip.

I realise the horror this might be to those who cherish their shots and memories. Having lost many, many of my previous photographs (including almost all of those of my kids growing up) thanks to the lousy quality of early backup media, I realised you not only survive the loss but don’t really care all that much. There’s always another shot out there tomorrow, and the few shots that really matter, you print or save in a more professional manner.


Vauban was here, Briançon (defintely on the map)


So yeah, why not try photography differently ? I’m not suggesting you deliberately avoid anything described as worthwhile on a map. But, every now and then, why not accept the challenge of finding and losing, of capturing and letting go. It’s soo liberating. Really, I’m telling you in the kindest possible way, get lost πŸ˜‰


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  • Dennis Manning says:

    Pascal when i saw your photo of Le Bercail it looked like a place Rob Beach might have taken us to a year ago. btw, I see your food photos on their website. I was lucky enough to spend 2 weeks “lost” in the alps on a motorcycle. I planned and packed for this adventure for months. Beaches Tours have hundreds of routes programed into an issued GPS unit. Despite all the planning and guidance I, being an Alps virgin, was often unsure what country I was even in. It was the apogee of a lifetime of riding. If not for my iPhone’s organizational skills (amazing) and Beaches’ post trip routes traveled map I might still be wondering where many of my snapshots were from. Here’s to being lost with a snap of a banner that convinced us this was the right lunch stop in Historic Briancon. They just need to add a camera icon with the motorcycle….. well was going to share but can’t see how to get a jpeg from my MBAir into this comment? banner: A Perfect Day – cappuccino icon, motorcycle icon, sudsy beverage icon. lol.
    Thanks for your many insightful essays and photos,

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Dennis, that’s a wonderful memory, thanks. I’m guessing this (http://www.bmca.com/) is the Rob Beach in question ? Sounds like a fabulous trip. I’m not a biker myself, but being in that sort of terrain could easily convince me to change my mind … You can get a photograph into a comment by typing the html code for it, if you’d like (I tried to write that code here but, obivously, the system tried to insert an image instead πŸ˜‰ ). Here’s a link to a page : https://www.w3schools.com/tags/tag_img.asp You don’t need the alt or height but width=”800″ and src is the address of the image, if it exists online.

      All the best,

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Clearly, you weren’t travelling with my wife, Dennis – I think I am married to the world’s most proficient “un-navigator” – while I have an in-built GPS and can find my way home from an unknown place, at midnight on a starless night, she is incapable of navigating with the assistance of a lap-full of maps and one of those Sat-Nav contraptions they are starting to put into cars these days. When she’s really wound up, you wouldn’t be worrying about “which country” – you’d be more concerned with “which continent”!

  • Fabrizio Giudici says:

    a personal organiser or a free ride to a place you don’t know

    Or: time, time, time …

    • pascaljappy says:

      Ah, yesss … The idea in the film Timeout (using time as a measure for wealth) is so true. Who wouldn’t want more time while having fun, right ?

  • Adrian Turner says:

    Firstly, some very beautiful photos Pascal.

    Some of your narrative touched a nerve in me. There is something I find soul destroying in the inability to be spontaneous. I can no longer decide one Sunday to go to a gallery as the latest super-show will be there, and has been sold out months ago via Ticketmaster in 15 minute slots for which the faithful dutifully queue up. I cannot go to a particularly nice restaurant at the weekend, because it’s been booked up weeks or months in advance. Some years ago James Gleick published a book entitled “Faster: the acceleration of just about everything” which was an interesting read as it highlighted how culturally we have sacrificed everything to make things “faster” (more easy etc) when in fact it often makes things slower and more difficult. Ironically, due to the time frames of publishing printed books, he had to write an addendum to the text before final publication, because things had continued to “progress”.

    With so much of modern travel prescribed by internet articles, geotagging, perfect spots for photos, and the tyranny of the travel guide, one of the joys of travel is just taking a walk. I have told friends for some time that there is really no need to travel half way across Bangkok to some restaurant in a guide book. Often, restaurants and bars that are recommended in guide books appear in every guide book, and as a result often don’t care because they have a steady stream of new visitors flocking every day for a one-time experience never to return, so there really is no need to be any good. Often, somewhere similar offering something similar is probably just around the corner from your hotel, but “undiscovered” by the guide books and therefore with some authenticity intact.

    In my opinion Singaporean “hawker” food has been ruined by the internet, because it is so endlessly blogged about and Instagrammed that now food that was supposed to be cheap workers food now has a queue with a 20 minute wait for the “best” of something, with an associated $40 bill, when the food court a few hundred metres from your hotel probably has something similar for a quarter of the price (except that it’s not the “best” according to an internet resource that funds itself from ad revenue by blogging and telling everyone where they should go).

    There is a joy is serendipity and personal discovery because it makes any travel feel much more authentic and rewarding.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Adrian,

      the “best” is a pest πŸ˜‰

      Google “the best” and the autocomplete will turn up just about any end of sentence you can think of. This is probably related to what Fabrizio laments, above : too little time, so we rush to the best experiences first, it’s only logical. That and the fact that many people are driven more by ego than the real desire to experience something for themselves.

      So “the best” is always booked and ruined by the crowds. Being a semi-hermit with un-typical tastes; this rarely bothers me. When something is super hot on the Internet, I usually turm the other way. But, sometimes, one of my treasured places is “discovered” and effectively ruined for me, and that’s a real pain in the arse πŸ˜‰

      The photo I have attached to Philippe’s comment, below, was made yesterday from a tiny restaurant in Marseilles, that Philippe knows. It’s a wonderful place, with a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and very real prices. I’ve no doubt it will one day become a “best of” for some guy/gal churning out his/her 100th “best of” post of the year for some popular website, not to ever think about it again, and crowds will ruin the tranquility of it all.

      Very recently, I visited a flat for rental in a very quite seaside resort near Marseilles and the lady begged me not to talk about the area too much because they love their tranquility there. I’ll talk more about the area soon, but not the exact spot. DS is a small scale blog, it will never cause a flash flood of tourists, but you can understand the lady’s desire to keep her little paradise quiet.

      As you put it “There is a joy is serendipity and personal discovery because it makes any travel feel much more authentic and rewarding.” I’m pretty sure we are hardwired to think this way but schooling, mass media and our fragile egos turn us away from that way of thinking if we don’t deliberately focus on keeping it alive.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I was lucky enough the first time I ventured out of my own country to be shown around by the locals, when I arrived in Italy. So from the very start of my European excursions, I was taught to distinguish between “popular tourist restaurants” and “good local restaurants”. Your experiences in Singapore aren’t new, Adrian – the locals have the same problem, and the same kind of solution. But I can’t complain about this happening elsewhere, because it happens in this city too – like selfie sticks, it’s a world wide pandemic.

      • Adrian Turner says:

        In reply to you and Pascal above:


        I hadn’t understood Fabrizio’s comment until Pascal kindly explained it above, and I understand – people are short of time and want instant answers, or feel insecure or want to fuel their ego – so “the best” is the simplest option.

        I have had the luxury of time at regularly visited locations that has allowed me to indulge myself by slowing down and just going out to “discover”. I wasn’t singling out Singapore, although I despise the endless blogging and Instagramming about street food there, as the message just becomes repetitive and boring and as you say spoils it for locals and visitors alike. Increasingly I don’t bother to go to places recommended in guide books or the internet, and on my last visit I had the serendipitous pleasure to visit some very unassuming food courts around Bugis where the food was good, plentiful and cheap.

        “Destination” bars in Bangkok have the same fate, as they are all mentioned in every single guide book, and so are often overcrowded, resulting in declining standards of personal service and a “don’t care” attitude. There are still bars with excellent drinks, attentive service or a view – just not the ones listed in every single guidebook.

        A friend has been holidaying in Europe, and proclaims how few countries he has left to visit. He has only stayed for a day or two in most of the places he has visited, following the guidebook to the recommended sights, and the whole exercise seems to be like a process to collect badges or stickers – “been there, done that”. I know that time off work is often precious, but conveyor-belt like travel prevents any opportunity for serendipity and personal discovery, and for me a week off is better spent roaming the side streets of one place on a voyage of discovery than a 5 centre tour across half of Europe.

        Your comment about “popular tourist restaurants” and “good local restaurants” made me chuckle, so very true. Recommendation in guide books or the internet can ruin somewhere, as Pascal says. All of which probably explains my interest in wandering side streets in foreign cities taking photos of people I meet along the way. Should you want any suggestions good bars or the odd restaurant in Bangkok, just ask me privately – just don’t tell everyone about it! πŸ˜‰

  • PaulB says:


    This is so true. If you go out with no ideas about what to look for, you see much more.

    Something’s may not work as an image, but other things might.

    Though, I think it is important to go alone, or with no more than a few photographers. It’s a too many cooks sort of thing. πŸ˜‰


    • pascaljappy says:

      Hmm, I hadn’t thought of that. It’s probably true that outings that involve many photographers need to be planned and that unplanned sessions are probably better solo. Since we don’t see the same things, it could ruin the flow to be forced to wait for someone or feel hurried because of difference perceptions of the place.

      Thanks Paul.

  • NMc says:

    Losing preconceived ideas of what photos from a location should look like is often is probably the first step to getting lost (freed) photographically, well it is for me. But that is probably a different topic.
    Regards Noel

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Noel, yes, slightly different topic, but very true, though ! As described in another comment, getting rid of expectations and targets is a sure fire way of improving enjoyment and, probably, quality, satisfaction. When we see great photogtaphs online, they are usually made by locals who have returned 2 times to a location. There’s no way we can compete as one-time visitors. But losing preconceived ideas about what the photograph should look like opens up a whole new set of possibilities. All the best, Pascal.

  • Sean says:

    Love it, Pascal.

    I like it when things are not OCD planned to the nth degree, because it invites being upset when things don’t go as planned. Also, one only gets lost when one is trying to find something pre-planned. Oh the best laid plans of mice and … Anyway, i find it much more rewarding, on many occasion, not to be overly planned, because you actually start discovering and finding when unshackled from being too organised. Sure a framework is fine, but leave room for those forks in the road surface and throw up gems of unplanned discovery …

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Sean. I think, also, there is less pressure in unplanned sessions. No expectation, so enjoyment tends to be higher than when we are on a mission. Cheers, Pascal

  • philberphoto says:

    Ah, Pascal! At DS, we already have un-postcard shots and un-destination trips, now you have invented the un-karma. With karma, you are never lost, you are where you are meant to be, only you don’t know it yet. On that day that changed his life, Sherman McCoy didn’t get lost. His karma caught up with him and took him where he had to be.
    Problem is, of course, for those of us who believe in karma, our pics too are meant to be. If that is the case, what do my pics say about my karma? Ugh! Not pretty!!!
    OK, I give up, I’d rather join the ranks of un-karmic ‘togs. Oh, and by the way, if you wonder what strange bond keeps two unlikely buddies like Pascal and I together, I, too, have an uncanny knack for getting lost. I am known as the guy who manages to get lost in his own bathroom…:-(
    Thank you Pascal for informing me that getting lost has its own redeeeming virtue. At least, if you have your camera with you, which I do, at all times. How about you?

    • pascaljappy says:

      Or you can count on Karma to take you to the right destinations. Karma is here to teach us lessons, it’s up to us to make the most of the situation, I think πŸ˜‰

      I don’t have my camera with me at all times, unless a phone counts as a camera. My bad. Karma’s way of slapping my wrists for being lazy is to light up a splendid sunset when my only camera is my old Samsung … ouch …

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Oh dear – every time I leave the house without my camera, I find I miss out on a good photo opportunity – so despite the opprobrium they generate, I never leave home without at least having my “pocket” cam – with built-in zoom, and all the other populist features. Sadly it lacks GPS, so I have to remember where I shot what – but isn’t it possible now, to put your photos on the computer and Google an optical recognition service that can identify within seconds where you took a photo of practically anything on this planet? I seem to recall being told that years ago, by one of my American buddies. Think of all the papers these toys save, and all the hours we would otherwise waste making detailed notes of what we see and do! πŸ™‚

      • pascaljappy says:

        Hmmm, never heard about that recognition feature, but it wouldn’t surprise me much. Phone captures “should” have GPS metadata attached to them. That’s one advantage in favour of them, I suppose but that hardly makes up for messing up the colours in a glorious sky, right πŸ˜‰ ?

        • Adrian says:

          Google and Bing definitely offer image searches, where you use an image as a search template and it finds other similar images. From that I assume you could probably find one on a page that mentions the location. Bing also used to offer a visual search from your windows phone camera that could identify buildings and landmarks to give you information about them – I never tried in on a photo, but it would be interesting to see the result.

  • Georg says:

    Sorry, just saw this post. I love it.

    Often it is the serendipidy in life that helps define photography as an art form. Creativity is not something that can be invented as part of a process. It sometimes is simply the result of discovery. Getting lost can sometimes lead to finding a interesting and even inspiring path.

    Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”, a 1931 painting contains the elements of a Catalonian beach scene, melting watches and insects. When asked about this painting he said that he was walking on the beach and suddenly an idea of melting cheese hit him (he was probably thinking of lunch). The cheese morphed into watches as he developed his thoughts into the painting. The painting has been psychoanalyzed by countless practitioners, but maybe “the meaning” of the painting is less important (to us photographers) than an understanding of how the artist’s work came to be. Don’t many good photographs have a high level of coincidence in them and don’t we select them to show other based on their uniqueness?

    What paintings might have been inspired by the marshmallow river? I wonder.

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hi Georg, you just put this better than I did ! The meaning is indeed far less important to us than an understanding of how the work came to be. Analysis is interesting, in hindsight, but provides very little help for personal improvement.

      I guess great photographs can be planned. The work of Pierre & Gilles or Gregory Crewdson proves that. But the most influential photographs are usually unplanned reactions to events.

      On top of this, it is my belief that you learn just as much about photography when facing the challenge of a scene unprepared than when preparing a shot in the studio or on a hill with a workshop. It becomes less about technique or technology and more about yourself.

      The marshmallow river is just an illustration of why I’m not a big fan of the long-exposure / filter landscape photography school of thought. The result is totally unlike the experience of the river. It’s a facetious way of making a point but, to me, that sort of shot is just as unreal as an overly processed HDR shot. To each his own, I guess πŸ˜‰

      All the best, Pascal

  • Fabrizio Giudici says:

    Lots of excellent thoughts above… they are inspiring me a lot of things.

    But in the meantime, a quick and simple suggestion for what concerns geotagging. I’ve never had a GPS capable camera, but I’ve been geotagging my photos for quite a long time. All you need is a smartphone with an app for GPS recording. You keep the clock in sync with the camera and then you can find the coordinates for each photo by means of simple time lookup in the recorded track. There are many pieces of software that do this job, including some Lightroom plugins. After you’ve done, you can get rid of the recorded track (I personally prefer to archive them just in case my geo memory start failing in future).

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Fabrizio. The Arsenal kickstarter touted the item being sold as an AI tool but what drove me to buy it is the set of practical tools it packs in a tiny box, including GPS. I hope it works well in the field !

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