03 November 2015

Identifying your holiday photos

If you're anything like me, you probably take a *lot* of photos on holiday. It's easy to remember where the photos of all the major touristy sites were taken, but what about all the other random interesting photos you take along the way?

I encountered this problem while going through the photos of my first Japan trip for a drawing project. There were photos I wanted to use, and I wanted to write alongside the drawings a description of what and where they were, but for many of them I only had a vague memory of the details.

I came up with a number of ways to identify my photos. In the end I was able to identify most of them, and here are the techniques I used, along with some other ideas. These techniques are also useful to find other people's photos of the places you have been, perhaps showing a different angle or different details.

1. Google Street View
Luckily I seem to have a good sense of direction, so I usually have some idea of where on a map I will find the locations of my photos. 
For this particular little ramen shop, I knew it was down the road from my hotel to Shinagawa Station, turn right, and go past a little shrine. I took the little yellow Google Street View man down this route, and found various restaurants along that stretch of street. I compared the photo I had taken of the exterior of the restaurant with these. You can also use the little red pin, by clicking on the map, which often gives you the name of a building.

I also looked on Google Street View at this business, Pussy Cats, that I'd photographed, wondering if it was a cat cafe. It wasn't, it was a bar (perhaps the Suntory sign should have given me a clue!). It looks totally different now but I was able to identify it by looking at the buildings next to it.

I also found the place I had a meal at Lake Chuzenji, by comparing the photos I had taken of the view to what I saw in Google Street View, and then turning around to find which building I must have been in. I then confirmed this by looking at the menu, and comparing this to photos of the meal I had photographed.

2. Google search
Once I'd found my little ramen shop on Street View, I zoomed in on the sign, found the only bit of English on it, and Googled this. Luckily it happened to be the name of the restaurant. This found me reviews and descriptions of the food, and photos of the interior, which was great because I wanted to draw the chefs at work and hadn't taken any photos inside.

Googling can also provide you with lots of interesting background information about a place, and its history, which you may have forgotten (or not known!).

3. Online translators, or translation apps
You can use these to translate the words in a photo, for example on a shop sign or street sign. This is fairly simple using Google Translate if the language uses roman characters. But if it uses a different script you will need an app that can identify the characters.

In this case, I knew exactly where the photo had been taken. It was of a large lantern on a gate at Asakusa Temple, but I knew it was not the main Kaminarimon Gate. 

I used the translation app Japan Goggles on my phone to translate the sign. This gave me the meaning of the characters, and various different pronunciations for the characters. I then Googled these pronunciations until I confirmed that the gate was called Nitenmon Gate. This means "two deities gate", and is apparently a name used for gates at many temples.

4. Reverse image search
There are a number of different search engines that do reverse image searches, for example TinEye and Google Images. Often people use these to find exact duplicates of a photo for copyright infringement reasons, but this was my first use of Google Images to instead find *similar* images. This technique relies on the fact that most people will tend to photograph a site from roughly the same angles.
I had a photo that I remembered was of a building in Tokyo that was supposed to look like Buckingham Palace, but because it was just a quick snap from a moving bus I didn't have much to go on. I knew roughly the area it was in, but couldn't narrow down what it was by looking at the map. I put the image into a Google Images search, and immediately it came back with the fact that it was Akasaka Palace, and showed lots of other photos of it.

5. Online communities
Use your existing online contacts, or join a community that can help. I put my maiko and geiko photos into a Flickr group, and very soon some of the other members of the group had provided the names of the maiko and geiko in the photos! These are Miyoharu and Miyofuku. 
Also, someone spotted a kimono that she now owns, being worn by one of the maiko in another of my photos!

6. Your own notes, diaries, etc.
I always keep a travel journal, so looking back at these can help with some of the details, or at least jog my memory. I also keep the tour itinerary from the tour company, leaflets from all the places I visited, postcards, receipts, business cards, and any maps I used.

7. Your travel companions
If you went with friends or family, try asking them. Or if you went with a tour group like I did, keep in touch with them so you can email them at a later date. You can swap photos and videos with each other. Or, better still, keep in touch with the tour manager, who will know the identities and locations of many of those random weird buildings you photographed from the bus windows!

8. Chronology
Look at the time and date that the photo was taken, and where the photos before and after it were taken. This can help to narrow down where it might be. I used this technique to separate out which photos were taken in the hotel garden and which were taken in Ueno Park.

9. Geotagging
If you had geotagging turned on when you took the photo, this solves most of your problems! Consider turning it on for future trips. But remember, if you are posting the photos online while you are still there, you're letting people know exactly where you are.

10. Make another visit
OK, this is a bit extreme! But if you do happen to be going back to an area anyway, revisit the sites of your unidentified photos for more information! On my second trip to Japan I went back to many places in Kyoto that I'd visited before.

When you are taking photos on holiday in future, bear in mind that you may want to identify them at a later date. So if you are taking photos of details, take some wider shots that take in some identifying features. Keep good notes along the way of where you have been. If you don't know what something is, ask someone. And make sure your camera is set to the correct local date and time.

I hope you find these tips helpful for identifying some of your own holiday photos!

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