Geotagging

How to use technology to stay organized and track your photography

This Article Features Photo Zoom

geotagging
A white wolf in British Columbia.

Like many photographers, I take a lot of photos and struggle with the organizational aspects of my imaging workflow. While I do my best to tag images when importing them to my PC, I typically rely on the date and my memory to find the photos I’m looking for.
That was before I started using geotagging. Geotagging is a way to add location or GPS data to your photos to help you organize, search, find and share your images. In the past, it was difficult for even the most advanced photographers to geotag images. There was a patchwork of technology that could do it, but it was by no means easy. Recent technology has taken geotagging mainstream, making it accessible to all photographers.

One problem that most outdoor photographers have is staying on top of their photo-tagging. When you’re on the road much of the time, it’s hard to find the time to manually tag each photo you’ve taken from your travels. I look back at photos from a few years ago, and I’m lucky if I can remember the country I was in, let alone the specific location.

To solve this issue, I started carrying a GPS so I had a way to remember where I took my photos. I discovered that with the right combination of cables, I could connect the GPS receiver into my D-SLR, and it would embed the GPS coordinates into the metadata of my images, including RAW files.

geotagging
Photo-sharing sites like Flickr take geotagging a step further by allowing users to put their images on a map and create a visual record of where each shot was taken. After uploading an image, there’s an Additional Information section on the right side of the page where you’ll find an “Add to your map” link. A new map pops up on which you literally can place your photo.

While this ensured my images always would have location data embedded in them, GPS coordinates are just a set of numbers, and the actual location isn’t easily recognized. So, if you take a picture of a white wolf in British Columbia, you don’t get a tag that reads British Columbia, you get one that reads 49°, 22.38 N 123°, 5.88 W. To most people, this information is meaningless. And while I had the essential data I wanted, there were no tools to help me search, organize and share this information online. As I talked to other outdoor photographers about geotagging, I realized a lot of people were struggling with the same issues.

The good news is that today there are new tools for tagging, searching and sharing images with location data. The most accurate and automatic way to geotag your images is to carry a handheld GPS. Certain D-SLR models allow you to connect a GPS directly to the camera, automatically recording the latitude and longitude into the file. But you also can create a track route on your GPS and import the track route to your PC, then extract the GPS coordinates into your images. As the director of Microsoft’s Rich Media Group, I have a preference for Microsoft’s free Pro Photo Tools, which can be downloaded from www.microsoft.com/prophoto. Pro Photo Tools allows you to import the track route and automatically tag the images with GPS coordinates, which then convert the coordinates to plain text such as the country, city, state and address. This information is stored in the image file itself, including RAW files.


This Article Features Photo Zoom

geotagging
Major advancements in geotagging technology are making it easier for photographers to pinpoint where they captured their images. Downloading GPS coordinates into a program like Microsoft’s Pro Photo Tools allows you to automatically tag images and get city, state, country and address information. Having this kind of data is useful for searching, organizing and sharing your photo archive. If you don’t want to carry a GPS device, applications like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture include specific fields in the metadata for recording location data.

For outdoor photographers who need the highest level of accuracy, a handheld GPS is a good idea because it’s automatic—you simply have to turn it on and start recording a track route. In addition to popular handheld GPS units, such as Garmin, there are now numerous units designed specifically for geotagging. The biggest limitation is that GPS receivers only work when they have line-of-sight access to the network of GPS satellites, which means they don’t work indoors. A new and innovative geotagging device from Eye-Fi makes use of WiFi location data, rather than GPS data, to geotag images. This has the benefit of working indoors, but only works in locations where WiFi is available.

If you don’t want to carry a GPS, there are several other easy ways to record location data to your images. One simple way is to tag your images with the location where the image was taken. This can be done using any application that supports metadata tagging, including the popular Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Apple Aperture and Microsoft Expression Media. These applications support a variety of metadata formats and include specific fields for location and hierarchical keywords. I recommend applying these tags when you first import or copy images to your computer while the location is still fresh in your mind.

Another fun and exciting way to geotag your images is to use an application that allows you to drag images onto a map. When using this method, you can select one or more images and copy them onto a map, then you can refine the location by dragging the image around. This will get you GPS coordinates as well as the location text.

Several popular photo-sharing sites, such as Flickr or SmugMug, support displaying geotagged images on a map. Simply upload your tagged images to these sites, and you can make a visual record of your locations—visitors easily can see where the image was captured. (Note: You may need to set the preferences in your sharing site to display location data.)

Geotagging also can help you get that award-winning shot. Last year Outdoor Photographer, PCPhoto, Canon and Microsoft put together a pair of programs—the OP and PCPhoto Top 100 Iconic Photo Locations projects. They can be accessed on the OP and PCPhoto (www.pcphotomag.com) websites. There, you can see the GPS coordinates and map locations for some of the world’s best photo subjects.

geotaggingThe Top 100 Iconic Photo Locations project was a joint effort by Outdoor Photographer, PCPhoto, Canon and Microsoft to create a map of the best photo locations around the globe. Powered by Microsoft Virtual Earth, you can click on a geographic region to view the locations, learn more about specific destinations and get photo tips.

Geotagging offers a powerful way to automatically tag your images without spending a lot of time keywording. It’s an important tool for outdoor photographers of all skill levels. By simply carrying a GPS device, you can add a new dimension to your organization that will make finding images much easier and faster—particularly in the distant future.

Josh Weisberg is director of Microsoft’s Rich Media Group and leads a team that’s focused on building better technology for digital photographers. He’s Microsoft’s resident expert on metadata and is the founder and chairman of the Metadata Working Group.

27 Comments

    Just visit metagps’s website and seems its M2 is still not available and happen to see another one http://www.e-geotag.com which called Easytagger GPS and feel more competitive. It adds a logger inside besides record gps information simutaniously. Also it supports heading too.

    You don’t need Mapsource to get GPX files from your new Garmin GPS units. There is an option in the setup menu to use your GPS as a USB mass storage device. located there is a list of GPX files from every day you turned on your unit. every track log ever recorded boy your GPS is conveniently stored in GPX format.

    To deal with this problem ( I have a Canon, so can’t plug my GPS into my camera ), I’ve written a piece of software ( Exif Harvester ), which now provides geo-tagging support. It would really have been easier for me to simply use something else on the market, but anyone who builds software for a living seems prone to reinventing the wheel from time to time. 😀 Plus, it was a good learning experience.

    You didn’t mention this specifically in your article, but I do think outdoor photographers are wise to carry a hand-held GPS unit, with maps and a compass. While these things don’t work in all situations, maps fall out of date, and batteries die, the devices can be wonderfully helpful. Especially for people who hike in the snow, or other situations where it can be easy to lose the trail. There are units that perform only as data loggers, which work well enough for geo-tagging purposes, but if you ever find yourself “turned around,” they aren’t much help.

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    Hi friends, I just finish of develop http://www.whereisthepicture.com and i think that maybe can be interesting for you.

    You can upload a picture with gps information, like photos from iphone, smartphones, etc and then the system show you de position where was maked the picture.

    At the moment is only a version beta, but I hope you enjoy it!

    Regards,

    Paco Fernandez

    Another option (for those who have smart phones) is to get a geotagging app. I bought the Phototrip app for $0.99 for my iPhone and used it on a trip to Europe. I made sure my Canon DSLR and the iPhone were synched to the same time, then set the app to create a “waypoint” every 10 minutes – and in some cases I added a specific waypoint for a special location. When I got home, I used Breezesys’s Downloader Pro which merged the GPS information downloaded from the iPhone and the raw images from my CF cards. I used Downloader Pro because I already owned it, but I believe the freeware tool Geosetter will also add the GPS information (and there are probably others as well).

    Now all of my trip’s photos are geotagged for much less cost than buying a separate GPS unit.

    For around $90.00 on Amazon you can get an Eye-Fi Pro 8GB, Class 6 SDHC Wi-Fi Card, with a lifetime geotagging chip, and a free downloadable Droid App that allows you to send your pics wireless from any Wi-Fi hotspot to your laptop, or online picture storage. No more running out of space, no GPS gadgets to buy, lose from the hotshoe, or software to buy and find out that your OS is not compatible. I think I like this better; tried some of the other methods and they … aren’t optimal to be polite.

    Most geotagging applications work only with jpg files. I carry a QStarz gps with me to record my track but then have a laborious process to follow if I wish to geotag the raw files that I take with my Sony A900. Even the Sony gps will not geotag raw files.

    The AMOD device hangs from your belt – does not have to be attached to the camera, taking up space and possibly the flash shoe.
    HoudahGeo (for Mac) links the GPS info (from the AMOD) to the camera files (RAW and JPEG).

    For a couple years we’ve been using Photolinker for Mac. As the article mentions, sync time on your camera and GPS units, then your first step upon transferring images to computer is running GPX and image files through Photolinker. Images will all be geotagged for use in desktop and web apps, it’s awesome! Now I know EXACTLY where I took that particular polar bear image! http://www.earlyinnovations.com/photolinker/

    I use my iPhone as a GPS data logger. The big advantage is that it uses GPS outdoors and automatically switches to WPS (WiFi based position like the EyeFi) when indoors.
    I’m a Mac user, so the latest release of iPhoto with the Places functionality makes it very easy to organize my photos based on location.
    The iPhone app I use for geologging is GeoLogTag. It’s easy to use and accuracy is very good.

    http://www.galarina.eu/GeoLogTag/News/News.html

    After using several different software packages for geotagging, I went for Geosetter (http://www.geosetter.de/en/). I found it superior to everything else out there, on the market. What I REALLY want, is like what Nikon has, but for Canons. The ability to just plug in a GPS unit, and auto-log the coordinates when you take the picture. Better yet, add a small compass to it, so it shows location, AND direction. I know my android G1 has the above capabilities. I like MS programs, and I keep meaning to check out the Pro Photo tools again. When I last tried them, they were still pretty new, and not very feature complete.

    I have been using gpicsync (code.google.com/p/gpicsync/)for a long time. I like it because it will tag RAW files, something other programs sometimes have problems with… It takes GPX files, and a directory of images, and tags away. It will even generate a google earth kml file that can be handy for uploading to a website to share. Also — if you geotag, Lightroom will show coordinates that can be clicked which will open a browser and then go right to google maps 🙂

    I bought a Jobo PhotoGPS last year because I do not want to be tied to the camera by USB cable. This is a simple to use hot shoe mounted device which allows me to attach the geotags to my photos when I download them to my PC. My only irritation has been that some of the tags come with only arabic or chinese characters for the street address depending on where I use it, if somebody out there knows an easy way of translating these into English I would like to know about it.

    Unfortunatly direct connection of a GPS is not common until now. Nikon is on top with some DSLR (D2x -D3x, D90, D200-D700 and the new D5000).
    I use the “Solmeta Geotagger N2 Kompass” as it saves the direction of view, too. It writes directly to NEF and/or JPEG. It is placed on the hotshoe and connects directly to the body with a short cable. Easy!
    Info (mostly in German) on http://www.gps-camera.eu

    Being both a GIS analyst and a photographer, what’s frustrating is that we’re stuck with using Long/Lat when geocoding our pictures. Which makes automating the integration of geocoded photos into a GIS project just that much more difficult when we’re working in UTM, or Albers, or some other coordinate system.

    Long/Lat is not really the best choice for land navigation and topo issues.

    Hi, how can I contact with Josh Weisberg? For there will be a new and more convienant geotagging device available on the market.

    Wanna introduce it to him.

    I have used Geosetter as well and was impressed by how easy it is to do bulk geotagging. However, the software is very slow to write the geolocation information to the pictures. Also, many times it doesn’t connect very well to the server for geolocation information. After a while I started (again) using Picasa…their newest version supports geotagging very well via Google Earth…so you have to have both installed.

    To OrganizePictures,
    Take a look at this if you are planning to add geotags with Picasa (at least with version 3.5.0 []79.74,0]).
    In: http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Picasa/thread?tid=56c7f584f0691581&hl=en

    Here is a summary of the changes Picasa made to the metadata (the image was a JPEG image straight from a Pentax K20D camera):

    1. The caption was written to the IPTC Caption-Abstract.

    2. All maker note information was COMPLETELY DELETED! (So all information about camera-specific settings is lost.)

    3. The byte order of the EXIF was changed from big-endian to little-endian! (Which goes against the current MWG Recommendation.)

    4. The EXIF software tag was changed! (From “K20D Ver 1.00” to “Picasa 3.0”.)

    5. An EXIF ImageUniqueID tag was added.

    I bought a Garmin eTrex Vista HCx for geotagging images from four cameras. I intended to use Garmin’s MapSource software to create gpx files that Pro Photo Tools 2 could import and add to images. No joy. MapSource crashes on my Windows 7 64 bit machine every time I try to save tracks to gpx files. I found a freeware program EasyGPS that does work with the device for creating gpx files, but, if I use Pro Photo Tools 2 to add the GPS data to the files from the gpx files, it always adds the location for Osborne County, Kansas to my files when I add them to the images . Again EasyGPS to the rescue. If I use it to add the coordinates to my files they show up properly in the files. So I use EasyGPS to download from my device, to create gpx files and to geotag the files. I still find Pro Photo Tools useful for converting those coordinates to a place name/address.

    Geosetter can’t download from the device.

    Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information? It is extremely helpful and beneficial to your readers.

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