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.
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.
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.
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.