Using Google Earth and Helios For Location Scouting

Kendal Miller
By Kendal Miller 05.01.14

It has been said that 90% of good cinematography is pointing the camera at something that looks good, and for me a large part of that equation means shooting the right time of day for the right location. I have used Helios for a while to help determine when and where I should be for the best light, but on a recent project I was able to push this technology to a whole new level. Cultivate Studios recently received a call from a client. They wanted to be shooting on location in Turkey in ten days and I had no budget for a scout to work remotely and I had never been to the country. It was time to do some homework.

I started by utilizing Google Earth, Flickr, Panoramio, and a couple of other image catalogues. I quickly began zeroing in on the areas that I wanted to shoot. Fortunately Turkey is a fairly popular destination and plenty of information existed to get me started. With a rough selection of locations identified I used EXIF data, and GPS data to pinpoint exact coordinates of the locations. Now this took a lot of work to get it right, often times I was looking for a specific alley, or doorway in a city halfway around the world. That's crazy talk!! Once I had GPS coordinates I was able to plug that information into Helios and generate an accurate sun path for that specific location. To navigate to the locations in Turkey I utilized MotionX GPS becasue it allowes me to download maps to my phone so I don't have to rely on stable data connections overseas. Before I left I just downlaoded map tiles for all of the locations I knew I was going to be working in. Once on location I simply entered my coordinates and routed myself to the site. One of the most mind blowing moments on the trip was leaving the hotel at dark and driving to the top of a mountain and using helios to aim my camera in the dark. As the sun peeked above the horizon I tweaked my frame slightly and rolled on a frame that I was able to conceptualize and visualize 10 days prior and over 5,000 miles away!! That is the power of mobile technology.