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Sketching and photography

Field sketching and field photography are fundamental parts of any field work investigation. It is a simple qualitative technique which, done correctly, will support the data collected and enhance the whole study.

Aims

  • To aid the introduction of features of a study site or sites and the locations of transects or cross sections for example
  • To examine the human and physical features of a landscape and how these are interrelated
  • To use of secondary photographic data to compare modern-day sketches or photographs of the same area, and examine changes over time. Also to consider the causes and consequences of changes
  • To look closely at a landscape and assess it in terms of what processes are taking place or issues acting within it
  • To make qualitative judgements about a place

Field sketching

Equipment

  • Pencil (soft)
  • Rubber
  • Plain paper - large enough to be able to include the required amount of drawn and written detail
  • Clipboard/something to rest on
  • Frame (optional)
  • Compass

Methodology

  1. It is important to decide beforehand the purpose of the field sketch or photograph. Consider what you are aiming to show with the photograph, decide on what is important to include and make prominent in your sketch
  2. If you are going to be comparing it to secondary evidence, for example an old photograph, it is important to get the framing right, so that direct comparisons can be made
  3. A comfortable sheltered position should be identified to work from. Also one which is safe and easily accessible, and which gives the same perspective as the secondary data, and which is free from obstruction
  4. Identify a frame for the sketch, holding up a cardboard frame may help to do this
  5. Draw a frame onto the paper. Label the direction, bearing, grid reference and a short written description of the ‘view'
  6. If sketching a large landscape, it may help to divide the paper roughly into thirds. The upper (sky and horizon), the middle ground, and the fore ground
  7. Start by sketching the outlines of the things furthest away, and work towards the fore ground, adding detail as you go

Considerations

  • Scale - This can be tricky, especially when sketching a large landscape area. Starting the sketch with the things furthest away and working towards you will help. Also, add labels to show things of known height (refer to map of the area to find this)
  • Slopes - Drawing the correct angle of a slope can be tricky. Try holding a pencil away from you, towards the slope and then transfer it to the paper
  • Weather - Adverse conditions will have an immediate, preventative effect on your ability to carry out a field sketch
  • Use photography to compliment your field sketch. Photos can be used to add detail to your sketch later, which you may not have had the time to include or suitable conditions to achieve in the field
  • The field sketch needs to be ‘fit for purpose' to add value to your investigation, this takes some thought and consideration. It's very easy to just ‘knock out' the odd quick sketch. Spend time considering the worth of why you are representing the field by sketch or photo, is it an aide de memoir or to enhance your understanding

Photography

Equipment

  • Digital camera and necessary accessories
  • Log book, field diary or sheet of paper

Methodology

  1. Decide before-hand the purpose of the photograph, what you want it to show and how it will be used within the investigation
  2. If you are going to be comparing it to secondary evidence, for example an old photograph, it is important to make sure that you take a photograph as similar in viewpoint and perspective as the one you'll be comparing it to
  3. A comfortable, sheltered position should be identified. Also one which is safely and easily accessible and which gives a clear, unobstructed view which includes everything you want to get in
  4. Consider the composition of the shot, what is it that you want to emphasise in the photograph
  5. Ensure that you know how to get the best performance from the camera you are using
  6. Make notes in a log book or field diary: this should include the time, date, location, direction of view and weather conditions for example

Considerations

  • Poor weather conditions can make it difficult to get decent shots
  • There may be some difficulties in accessing suitable, safe sites from which to get the desired pictures
  • The purpose of the photograph should be clear and linked to the aims and write-up of the study, poorly linked or explained photographs can actually devalue a study
  • Consider the time element of developing or manipulating a photograph

Using field sketches and photographs within an investigation

  • Photo editing software can be used to enhance, crop, label and annotate digital shots. Prints can be scanned in and manipulated in much the same way
  • Labels should be used to pick out the main features, and annotations to comment on certain aspects in order to bring out the main ‘message' you are trying to convey
  • Photographs can be arranged around a map extract, field sketch or diagram as a visual presentation of certain features, areas or processes
  • Sketches and photographs can be used to examine changes over time by comparing them to secondary sources of data, for example an old photograph
  • Before and after shots could be taken to show differences before and after an event, for example a rain storm
  • Taking photographs of the same place at different times of the day can show diurnal changes, for example the change in traffic flow at a particular junction, the pedestrian flow in the high street. It can also show more long term seasonal changes, for example in the composition of beach material
  • Care should be taken to ensure that the field sketches and photographs are clearly incorporated into the investigation and that their purpose is explicit; otherwise their worth is questionable and may even devalue the report

Figure one: Differentiating between labelling and annotation of photographs


Figure 1: Differentiating between labelling and annotation of photographs (click to enlarge).
Photo credits Lisa Bell.

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