Stuck On Earth, an iPad app from Trey Ratcliff of Stuck in Customs fame, first found its place on my iPad a couple of months ago. Since then, I’ve gone back to it multiple times, using it to satisfy my photographic wanderlust in a way that few apps or websites have been able to.
What the app is
Stuck On Earth’s basic premise is simple and elegant. It organizes images contributed by a sizable community of photographers by location, then lets you view those locations as pins superimposed on a satellite view of the area you’re interested in. Tap on the pins, and you see various images from that location.
The app also features curated lists from photographers that focus on specific areas or types of photography.
For example, photographer Thomas Hawk has curated a list of images called “Top 50 Secret Spots in San Francisco.” When you pan the map so it’s centered on San Francisco, that list pops up as a large label. Tap on it, and you zoom closer, with red pins marking the 50 locations.
You can also create your own lists and add locations to those lists for personal reference. The app ties into Google Maps, so it’s easy to get directions to your desired destination
On the back-end, the application ties into Flickr to source images. Photos tagged with location data and added to the Stuck On Earth group in Flickr can be viewed under the “Community Photos” overlay, while some images are selected to be the “Featured Photos” for those locations.
At first brush, I admit that I barely glanced at the app. “Oh look,” I thought. “Pretty geotagged pictures. Nice.”
Then I switched to my browser and began reading something else.
Until just a month ago, when I got that itch that photographers often get when they haven’t shot anything for a while. Idly, I tapped on the Stuck On Earth icon, sure that it wouldn’t be of any help.
Boy, was I wrong. It took me all of four minutes to find three locations within ten or fifteen minutes of my office. I was out of my chair and in my car as fast as possible, and spent a pleasant lunch hour at a nearby wetlands area, snapping away.
After that, it was back to Stuck On Earth any time I needed to look up photo opportunities. And, the more I delved into the app, the more surprised I got by the depth of information packed into it.
Take the town of Mullen, Nebraska, for example. Population: 510. It’s the seat of Hooper County, which itself has a population of 783. No way SOE (Stuck On Earth) would have any photo ops for that location, right?
Wrong. There are six locations with featured photos listed in this tiny hamlet, including a crazy shot of dinosaur skeletons framed by two cars planted nose-first in the ground.
Of course, more popular locations have a larger pool of locations and images available, and those locations aren’t limited to the US alone. There are points of interest marked on every continent – including Antarctica – around the globe, though the majority are in Europe and North America. This makes the app even more indispensable for globe-trotting photographers.
Between the community features and the breadth and depth of locations and images available via the app, I can no longer imagine planning a photo trip without SOE.
Stuck On Earth isn’t perfect, by any means. I do have a few quibbles with it.
First, managing your trips (that’s what your personalized lists of locations/images are called) isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. There’s a “Manage trips” option in the app, but you can only use it to delete entire trips, not specific items from those trips.
To remove a location from a trip, you have to go to that specific location and image, then, somewhat non-intuitively, tap on the “Add to trips” button. You then find the trip that already has that image and location in it (marked by a tiny airplane icon), and tap that trip to remove the currently selected item from it.
That’s kind of convoluted. This functionality should be in the “Manage trips” option.
The app also has a propensity to crash sometimes, especially when you tap the “Manage trips” option, then try to edit one of the built-in trips like “Someday…” or “Adventure In France” (which are provided as examples when you first start the app).
I also don’t like the fact that there’s no way to switch the map view. Since SOE uses Google Maps and overlays pins and images on that, there should’ve been an option to use the standard map instead of the somewhat cluttered satellite/hybrid version the app uses.
Despite my quibbles, I go back to Stuck On Earth time and time again. This afternoon, I located a new spot I hadn’t seen before, and added it to my list. I also used it to help plan the photowalk that the Bay Area TWiP Meetup group will be going on this month.
What Stuck On Earth excels at, I think, is bringing new photo opportunities to the forefront. It makes for richer photographic experiences, and if you’re looking for a great resource to plan your next shutterbug expedition, or just looking for something to shoot around the corner, chances are, you’ll find it in Stuck On Earth.