Scoping out Photography Spots in Phuket: Using Google Maps and Panoramio to Plan Your Shots

Even if you’re only intending on heading to Phuket to lay out on the sun-toasted sands, once you get a look at the area’s deep sea coves and emerald-stippled hills you’re likely to want to spend some time taking photographs too. Whether you’re pulling out an SLR, a point-and-shoot or just your phone, it pays to do a little bit of research before you go out on a photography expedition so you don’t waste those precious golden hours searching for the best view.

Here’s an approach using Panoramio, Google Maps and Google Earth to get all of the facts you need before you shoot.


#1 Look at what others have done

Instead of pawing through guidebooks that might be outdated, leverage the legwork of others to your benefit. Google has linked its geo-location expertise with its photo-sharing services to create Panoramio, a service that allows you to see photos and find out where exactly on the map they were taken.

The collection itself is inspiring, and it’s a pleasure to see a foreign place through the eyes of a whole crowd of different people. But more than just being a way to generate excitement about your trip, Panoramio’s maps can help you figure out where you want to be and when.

For a photographer in Thailand, a place with striking sunrises and sunsets, timing is everything. The right hour means the difference between an overexposed image and one where the sun’s rays accentuate and glitter off of Phuket’s golden-trimmed roofs and white beaches. You don’t want to waste precious time figuring out if you know where you’re going when you could be spending it exploring all of the incredible things to do in Phuket — and taking photographs of the fun.

Panoramio is especially helpful when it comes to planning days full of taking pictures of Phuket’s stunning natural beauty. From the breathtaking balance of James Bond Island in the middle of Phang Nga Bay, to Promthep Cape at the southernmost tip of Phuket, to the aquamarine waters of Laem Singh Beach, there is hardly a single place along the province’s coastline where you won’t find one beautiful view or another.


#2 Consider your vantage point

But you’re bound to encounter some challenges as some of these places are isolated and others large enough that you’ll want to know the best viewpoint in advance.

For instance, even with something as iconic as James Bond Island (also known as Khao Phing Kan), you have an almost overwhelming range of options when it comes to point of view. You can arrange to approach the island by water in a kayak, from down on the beach on foot, from up on the surrounding mountain ridges, or even from the air (helicopter tours can generally be booked at hotels in Phuket). Naturally each of these offers a different perspective (and certainly they all require varying approaches), so you’ll want to decide in advance where you should be coming from. Not to mention that it’ll make factoring in stops at lesser-known nearby wonders - like James Bond Island’s rocky neighbour to the East, the towering Bons Island - much easier when you know you’ll be in the area.

It’s even more of a boon though, when you’re looking to capture a new perspective; after all, popular vantage points are generally pretty heavy with foot traffic* if not actually marked off with signage. By looking at photos others have taken and making note of which approach you like best, you can get an idea of the new points of view that you want to pursue while you shoot.

*Setting down that little yellow person marker in Google Maps reveals, through user-uploaded images (some of which are 360 degree panoramas), just how crowded the most popular viewpoint of the island is. So if you’re aiming to keep your image mostly person-free, remember to take a look at some of the more tourist-heavy images available to identify what their hotspots will be and how to avoid them.


#3 Investigate the area

Sometimes peripheral details can make for shots that are just as good as—if not better than—the photos you came to take. Those panoramas are good for more than just scoping out a crowd; they also highlight some incredible natural features that might make you change your mind about what time of day you want to shoot during.

Consider, for example, this view of the northeastern side of the bay surrounding JBI:

Those caverns in the background feature some stunning shapes and textures, especially for people interested in geological photography. But zooming in on this image, taken in the afternoon judging from the way the shadows are falling, demonstrates that those details get washed out and lost in amidst the harsh contrasts of mid-day light and shadow patterns:

If your assignment or subjects of interest are specific—like rocks, for instance—then you’ll be thankful for the extra tools that’ll help you more clearly plan lighting conditions. Certainly, you can get an interesting image of the strange island in the middle of the bay at any time of day, but if you’re there to take photos of the surrounding caverns or flora (or if you care about the visibility of the surrounding landscape) you’ll want to make sure to get in early instead of planning to use the golden hour during sunset.

It’s hard to overstate the value of being able to scope out locations and conditions in advance, especially when you have lots to capture in a short amount of time. Being a pragmatic travel photographer is easy with a bit of planning, and luckily that no longer means having to haul out paper maps and guidebooks. All it takes is a little time spent investigating crowdsourced information and you’ll be able to go into the shoot armed with enough knowledge to save you from wasting time, sunlight and opportunity.


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This content was created in collaboration with Along Dusty Roads.