Evernote: The Perfect Photographer's Notebook?

Since I first discussed Evernote on this blog, it’s gone from strength to strength. With every release the guys and gals at Evernote improve their offering, matching the functionality of other note taking apps while adding the cherry on top of text recognition. But for me, the real strength of Evernote comes from the fact that it’s everywhere I want it to be. Online, my MacBook & iMac and on my iPhone. But my struggle with Evernote has never really been the product itself, it’s been more about adjusting my habits to use it more. Or rather, finding a use for it. But now I have, and it’s suddenly become indispensable.

Identifying a Need

I’ve been enjoying photography as a hobby more and more recently. It seems to satisfy my creative side and has the bonus of allowing me to get nerdy when it comes to the equipment. It’s like painting with technology, what’s not to love! And like many eager photographers I’ve been developing processes, tools, techniques and a style as I’ve been going along. However, one of the big gaps in my armour has been scouting locations and remembering potential photos. I’m not the sort of person who carries my photography gear around with my everywhere, so when I see something interesting, I need to note it down and return. I’ve been using my Moleskine to do this for a while, and as much as I adore my Moleskine, it doesn’t really make it easy to find the information later.

So in steps Evernote.

The Process

My current process is to add a note in Evernote containing the name of the place that catches my eye. I then gradually add more information to the note to make sure I’m well armed for the day I finally venture out to take some photos of my own. As a minimum, I add the following to each note: –

  • Google Maps URL – I add this in the “Source” field of Evernote. This is pretty much the key piece of information, so I make sure it’s there and stored consistently.
  • The Address – Of course you need a fall back.

In addition I try to add the following: –

  • Some Photos – I usually do a quick search of Google or Flickr to grab a couple of photos of the location and add them to the note. If possible, I try and grab some at different times of the day. I do this for two reasons, the first is for inspiration, the second is so that I know what to expect. Turning up at a stunning gorge is different to turning up at some interesting urban decay.
  • An informative link – If the location has an official URL, I’ll add it to the note. If not, I’ll try and find something informative about the location. For locations like parks and National Trust locations this is very important as it will contain things like opening times, parking locations and fees.
  • Any other notes – Traffic, parking, good spots, lenses etc.

So that’s typically what I’ll add to each note. Of course, if there’s something interesting I stumble across, I’ll add that as well. It’s all about getting as prepared as possible before hand. You don’t want to miss the shot because of lack of preparation.

Fortunately, Evernote makes it easy to add this information either using the OSX Client, with drag and drop capability (just drag an image into it, and drop) and the FireFox Extension.

Out in the Field

When it comes time to actually head out I’ll load up the saved note to take a look. If I’ve made any comments about kit, weather etc. I’ll bear them in mind. Then I’ll hit the Google Maps URL on my iPhone and get some directions. One of the fantastic things about the iPhone is that any Google Maps URL will just open in the Google Maps application, no mess, no fuss. If you’re looking for the “Source” URL in the iPhone app, you have to click on the “Details” button to find it.

When you are out in the field, you can also make notes about composition, position and exposure in Evernote, all the while backing it up with iPhone photos. You never know when you may want to revisit a site, and you will see lots of stories from photographers who fall back to their old notebooks many years later and find the information invaluable.

The Evernote Advantage

Much of what I’ve described above could be achieved in other applications, so why Evernote? The key advantage is the cross device availability combined with the excellent iPhone integration. The ability to see all this information as well as having access to links, maps and directions on the go really sets it apart. And of course you’ve always got the text recognition to fall back on, so you can snap road signs, street signs, brochures and all sorts of information that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Another tool you’ve got in your arsenal is the ability to share notes on the internet. So if you go out as a group, just send everyone a link to the note. Very handy.

The Next Steps

There are ways of expanding this system beyond Evernote. Something I find handy is a custom Google Map with all my places of interest plotted on it. The beauty of having that to hand is that you can easily see any when your planning a trip or journey. If you do use Google Maps to do this you can add notes to each location. And you can always import this data into Evernote so you’ve always got it with you.

So is it Perfect?

The title of this post is a question. I’m not stating that Evernote is the perfect photographer’s notebook, I’m wondering. For me, it’s close. One of the main restrictions I find is the iPhone app. Specifically editing notes, which just isn’t possible unless it’s a text only note. I don’t see why I can’t take a picture and add it to a note. The iPhone is certainly capable of it, and it seems odd that Evernote have crippled what is by far their largest customer base in this way. If I want to add images to notes on the go I currently take photos on the iPhone, upload them to Mobile Me and then add them to the note when I get home. It’s an awfully convoluted process and not in keeping with the smooth operation of the rest of the service.  The “Pending” screen in the iPhone app also seems redundant to me, and the space could be put to better use with the button removed (it actually takes a rather prominent place in the app, if it is required I can’t see any reason for it to be as prominent as it is.  Putting it in Preferences would work fine in my opinion).

I also find the way notes are organised limiting.  For example, I have a “Photography” notebook which contains some quick tips on photography, locations, gear etc.  I’d rather have sub notebooks (let’s call them chapters), one for locations, one for gear etc.  That may just be my personal favoured way of organising information, and there is the option to tag notes, but I can’t see how adding an extra level of notebook would be problematic.

As for missing features, I’d love the ability to “hand draw” notes. These could be site plans or really quick scrawled notes. It could be a killer feature on the iPhone combined with the competant text recognition feature.  And how great would it be if you could use the “hand draw” feature to annotate notes and images, like having the ability to highlight areas of a map where the best photography spots are (you can currently do this through another app and import the images in, but again, it’s a convouted process).

Some Examples

I’ve added some sample notes throughout this post, so you can see how well it works.

Do you use Evernote?  If so, for what?  Or are you a photographer? What do you use to take notes?