While sourcing some props for the Kalahari photoshoot, I thought it would be great to get some authentic looking paper maps into the scene. Sadly, maps have become a thing of the past with the advent of GPS. I recall my dad always keeping an atlas of South Africa in the back of the car for when we ventured off on one of our many family holiday trips as a child. These days people just use the navigation on their smartphones. If you’re going truly off the grid however, you really need the offline backup of a map.

I got chatting to the guy at the army surplus store about maps. He had a grudge against Millenials which I found ironic considering he looked young enough that he barely fell into the Gen-X category. I asked where I could buy one, and he replied ‘I don’t know. At a service station maybe?’ This was definitely a question for a Baby-boomer.

So where do you buy them these days? The answer, pretty obviously, is your local bookstore, which itself has become fewer and far between in the last decade, but there is still a pretty good selection of maps available. I had a look at my local bookstore, and surprisingly, there is an overwhelmingly large proportion of maps for parts of the UK, which I found a bit odd since I live in New Zealand. Anyway, after looking at what was available at the bookstore, I really couldn’t find what I was looking for – namely a map of an obscure/rarely visited area of the globe. I really wanted a map with a bit of character, from an uncharted part of the globe (which in itself a ridiculous statement I know, haha!).

A quick Google and I discovered that there is access to hundreds of old topographic maps through Google Earth! All you need to do is the following:

  • Download and install the desktop app of Google Earth.
  • Click this link to download a KMZ file: http://www.desert-info.ch/download/pdf/Google/USArmymaps.kmz. Click on the kmz file once downloaded to import it to Google Earth. You may need to right click and say open within Google Earth. Sometimes the file association is linked to Photoshop. This file enables the layers in Google Earth to be able to see all the US Army topographic maps in Google Earth.
  • You should see the layers on the left side panel enabled.  There are various scale maps available, each with different colour outlines – 1:1,000,000 scale, 1:250,000 scale, as well as maps for all/most major cities and towns. Zoom into the area of the globe you want a map from, and click on the little blue square in the middle of that area. This will open a popup with a ‘Map’ link. Right-click that link and then click ‘copy link’
  • Go back to your browser, and paste that link into the address bar.
  • This will open a jpeg of the topographic area you have chosen from Google Earth!
  • Right-click and save the image to your desktop.

Here is a video tutorial on the above steps if you prefer not to read:

Have fun map reading!

 

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