Geograph British Isles – photograph every grid square

Geograph British Isles, sponsored by the Ordnance Survey, aims to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland.

According to a recent article in the Daily Telegraph the three founders of the project – Paul Dixon, Gary Rogers and Barry Hunter – think of it  as a “modern Domesday Book”.  It was  started in February 2005 and  has apparently  built up a large following in Canada, New Zealand and Australia among people searching for pictures of their ancestors’ home towns.

You can find photos by browsing the map or by searching on keywords. The Advanced Search has options for grid reference, post code, place name and centre of county. You can specify the distance in kilometres (up to 10) from any of the above. The only option that did not work for me was post code.   Other advanced search criteria include contributor, a drop down list for category e.g. weir, date submitted and date taken. All submitters are required to assign a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence to  their photographs and to allow the right to use the work commercially, so this site is ideal if you are looking for photos that you can use in a presentation.

Geograph search results for Caversham weir:

Geograph search results for Caversham weir

If you wish to submit a photo you first have to register.  Once you have logged in, you have to  give the grid reference for your photograph.  Somehow I missed the easy route the first time I tried this and spent ages trying to work out the exact OS reference. The easier and better way to do this is to use the Map Placename Application. This uses Google Maps and you simply home in on your location. The  grid reference is automatically generated and you move on to step 2, which is where you specify the image file you wish to upload. On the same screen you need to supply  the grid reference of the “primary photo subject”, but if you have used the map to find the location this should be filled in automatically. For the photographer position you just drag and drop the relevant circle onto the map.

The next step is to add a title, description, primary geographical category e.g. floods, AA phone box, bus stop.  The date taken is automatically extracted from the EXIF (Exchangeable image file format) information but this can be changed manually – useful  if you never got around to setting up the correct date and time on your camera! Finally, you have to confirm that you agree to the  Creative Commons rights assigned to your photo.

There is a lot on this site and it may not always be obvious to users how to  search, and for those who wish to submit photos it does require time and effort to upload images.  From the searchers’ point of view it is  worth it: the highly structured  records ensure that precision and relevance is high. Family snaps are rejected!  The FAQ clearly states that while people can be in the photo, they must not be the photo.  If you are  looking for photographs of locations in Great Britain and Ireland this is an excellent place to start, but be warned  – it is addictive.

10 thoughts on “Geograph British Isles – photograph every grid square”

  1. Yes, it’s an interesting site and the search facility is horrendous! I think it really lets it down big time. You can get the postcode option up if you use the old search option – I found that the default advanced search didn’t have postcode either.

  2. Hi Phil,

    The “old search”? I must confess that I am addicted to this site now, but am now finding it very frustrating when it comes to search. If only I could remember the route I took last tine I would be able to find that wonderful photo! I think they need to do a major cleanup/revamp of the site so that there is consistent search AND submission regardless of the path you follow through the site.


  3. The search on this site is horrible! It takes forever (seemingly) and is confusing as all get out. But what great results when one finally gets it to work. This is a great resource potentially; it just needs a bit of tweaking to make it really user friendly. P.S. Congrats Sue on having 4 photos up on site.

  4. Hi all, I am the developer primarily responsible for the search, and wonder if I can solicit some feedback with the aim to improve the search.

    Its always been the aim to make the search as simple as possible for simple searches, but that there are more advanced options if wanted.

    With regards to postcodes, there was an issue a few weeks ago, but I think its fixed, are they still giving issue?

    Maybe a couple of examples of what you entered, and what you expected to see, would be incredibly helpful.

    It might not be appropriate to discuss here, so you could either use the onsite forum, the contact form, or contact me directly geograph[at]

    Thanks for the feedback!

  5. Oh! But I did forget to thank Karen for the detailed review, so Thank You 🙂

    Also re finding retracing images, if you are logged in the site will remember your previous searches, so you can run them again, just click ‘search’ in the sidebar.

  6. Hi Barry,

    Thanks for the comments.

    “With regards to postcodes, there was an issue a few weeks ago, but I think its fixed, are they still giving issue?”

    Yes they are.

    If I search on my postcode RG4 5BE I get the message “Invalid Postcode or a newer Postcode not in our database, please try a different search method.”

    If I search on my old postcode RG4 0BE it does come up with results. The postcode was changed 5-10 years ago so I don’t know why the new one is not being recognised.

    I’ll contact you directly about some other issues that I have.



  7. Ah, I see, newer postcodes…

    Yes we use a database from about 12 years ago, simply because that is the best possible datasource we can get for free (and legal!)

    To use a more uptodate (and accurate) database of postcodes, would mean purchasing a licence of the data, which would start at about £2500 a year. Considering the project runs on minimal money, that is basically out of the question (it would then be our single biggest expense!)

    A ridiculous situation I agree, but while there is a monopoly on the data we the british public without deep pockets are stuck. See


  8. Hi Barry,

    One way round the old postcode problem is to suggest to people that they only search on the first half. I only searched on my full postcode because the example on the search screen is a full postcode. The first part (in my case RG4) would be good enough for me. That may not work for everyone, though, especially if completely new postcodes have been allocated to new building developments.

    I do appreciate the problem regarding licences for the post code database. It is a ridiculous situation, as you say. Surely they could make a more recent version (say 5/6 years old) generally available. I guess we just have to keep campaigning.



  9. “old postcode problem is to suggest to people that they only search on the first half”

    Good idea. I’ve made it suggest trying first bit it the full postcode doesnt work 🙂


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