Picture of Andrew Findlay

A photographic record of Taplow in 2002

A Walk Around Taplow is a virtual-reality record of Taplow. It is built as a website with clickable maps, so you can `walk' along roads and footpaths by clicking the mouse. At each stop along the way you will find one or more photographs - sometimes a whole panorama will be laid out at the bottom of the page. You can click on the small pictures to make them bigger, and you can click on the large ones to make them bigger still.

If you get lost, you can always return to the home page or the big map page using the links in the title bar at the top of each page.

How did it all start?

The world around us changes constantly: trees grow, houses are built, roads are used and mended. Walking around the village, I have often remarked `That's changed - but what did it look like before?' The idea for this project came about when I noticed some work being done in preparation for gravel extraction near Boundary Road and thought `That's going to change - perhaps I should record it first'.

I originally thought that a hundred or so photos would provide a good basic record of Taplow, but when I started on a test-run down Rectory Road I found that I had taken 80 and still not covered the road in detail! The first pictures were taken on New Year's day 2002, which was a crisp and sunny winter day: this made some pictures very good and others rather lacking in detail as the sun was so low that it often got into the lens. Since then I have taken over 1800 pictures for this project and expect to take many more to cover the rest of the parish. The project is only possible because digital photos cost almost nothing to take, and disk storage is now very cheap!

In April 2002 I started to build a database to store information about the pictures: where each one was taken, in what direction it looks, and on what date etc. I decided to use OS grid references at 1m precision - the locations are not recorded that accurately but it makes the mapping much easier! At the same time I also started to build a web-based data entry and display system, but more of that later.

With the approach of the Village Green Party and another exhibition by the Taplow Artists, I decided to give the project its first public showing. This forced the pace of development, and what you now see is very much a work in progress!

What gets photographed?

On a project this big there have to be some rules otherwise the job can never be finished. I decided to photograph everything that could be seen from a public road or footpath, but to vary the level of detail according to the site. Thus, in a road with houses I try to get every house in at least one picture but in a road with just open fields I take less pictures as each can cover a greater area.

The camera

I use a Canon Digital Ixus V with a 128MB flash card - that allows me to store about 400 pictures, each 1600 by 1200 pixels. It is a compact camera, and I am more used to SLRs (Single Lens Reflex cameras) so some pictures are not as good as I would like (particularly those taken into the sun). Eventually I will probably go back and re-take the less good shots in better lighting conditions.

Data storage and presentation

Pictures are downloaded from the camera to a PC running Linux. I keep copies of all the original files at 1600x1200 resolution, and also use a script based on Image Magick to produce versions at several other resolutions: 640x480 for the main display pages, 133x100 for thumbnail galleries, and 800x600 in case it comes in handy!

Pictures are not much use without a record of where they were taken, which is why in one or two shots you will see Jane with a clipboard carefully noting down details of each photo. All of this information ends up in an SQL database - again running on Linux, using MySQL. I have separate tables for photograph data and for locations, and also a few others for things like maps.

The current data is available in CSV files.

The first few photos were entered into the tables by hand, but this was far too slow for the volumes to come so I built a Web interface that would support data entry as well as displaying the finished result. The current version runs as a CGI script under the Apache web server. It is written in Perl and makes extensive use of the Template Toolkit for page generation.

I aim to make the site usable with any web-browser, though older ones may not get the layout quite right. To this end, the pages use HTML 4.01 Transitional with Cascading Style Sheets, and are checked with the World-Wide-Web Consortium's validator.

Valid HTML 4.01! Valid CSS!

The website is hosted at Ourshack using Apache under FreeBSD and it connects to the Internet via EasyNet South Coast.

All the software used for this project is free: Linux, FreeBSD, Apache, MySQL, Perl, Template Toolkit, Gimp, ImageMagick, and Mozilla are all open-source products available for all to use.

The maps

The first version of the sited used maps derived from Bartholomews digital mapping, as used on Streetmap.

The current version uses data from the Open Streetmap project. I surveyed the Taplow area using a handheld GPS receiver and uploaded the tracks to OpenStreetmap. I then used the osmeditor and JOSM map editors to overlay roads and paths on the GPS tracks. The outlines of forest and built-up areas came partly from my local knowledge and partly from Landsat survey images.

Finally, the data was extracted from the OpenStreetmap database and processed with Osmarender. This produced an SVG file which was cleaned up in Inkscape and rendered into the bitmap images used on the site.

Future Plans


Please let me know what you think of the site. Corrections and ideas for improvement are welcome.

Andrew Findlay
Skills 1st Ltd
August 2002