Keeping track of where you photographed that last spectacular sunset or a deer roaming a mountain landscape is a challenging task. This is where GPS technology is an outdoor photographer’s best friend. While popular spots like Delicate Arch or Half Dome are well documented, when you’re venturing deeper into the wild, having a tool to mark exact locations, times and dates of when the shutter was pressed comes in handy, especially later when you’re downloading and cataloging images. While GPS isn’t at all new, geotagging your images through the use of a GPS device is a fresh way to manage your photography.
Geotagging allows you to add geographical information to the metadata or EXIF file of your digital image. This data usually includes longitude and latitude coordinates, date, time and sometimes altitude, bearing and place names. Geotagging comes in different forms, but the most precise way is using a GPS device that logs your whereabouts and synchronizes your camera’s clock to the same time. This allows you to find the exact location of any shot.
Using software, combining a GPS unit with your camera or tracking coordinates with new external devices are some of the ways you can integrate this technology into your workflow. While some are easier than others, most of the techniques are easy to master.
Simply setting your camera’s exact time to a GPS unit that can log your whereabouts is enough to pinpoint where you took a photo. Geotagging takes it a step further by matching the EXIF data from an image with the GPS coordinates that were recorded while you were out in the field. Since most GPS devices can record your position, software is later used to geotag (also known as “geocode”) each image.
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|Tools like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth take a geotagged photo and input latitude and longitude coordinates to show a 3-D representation.|
Microsoft Expression Media 2 users can geotag photos using a Microsoft Virtual Earth feature that lets you plot locations on a world map. If the photo doesn’t have GPS information, you can add it by dragging the image to the map. The software positions a pushpin icon at the Virtual Map location corresponding to the latitude and longitude coordinates of the GPS data.
Not all GPS units can work as logging devices, and for geotagging, this is an essential component of getting the exact coordinates. You must be able to log your travels as well as have the ability to download location information to a computer. Consider portability so that the unit isn’t difficult to carry in the field, as well as GPS devices specifically designed for geotagging.
Handheld units are popular among outdoor photographers because of their size and ruggedness, as well as their dual ability to keep you from getting lost and to track your location. Magellan GPS units contain track logs, and the Triton series units are handy because the durable and waterproof devices feature color screens and preloaded maps.
Garmin also produces handheld GPS devices with track logs that trace your exact location by the second. The Garmin eTrex series has a track log of 10,000 points that you can use to identify an image’s coordinates, plus software that allows you to upload your journeys.
As geotagging becomes more popular among photographers, some companies have developed GPS devices that simply log information instead of providing navigation. GiSTEQ has a logger called the PhotoTrackr, which is a small unit that synchronizes with your camera’s exact time and uses software to write GPS information into the image’s metadata.
Sony has a similar device; the GPS-CS1 calculates and records position data, but it uploads to PCs only. The JOBO photoGPS is a geotagging device that’s powered through a hot-shoe, providing latitude and longitude coordinates, with software that writes information into the metadata. The device fits nicely on D-SLRs and powers off your camera.
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An interesting solution is the ATP Photo Finder, which works like a GPS logger, but sidesteps having to use a computer. You can insert your SD or Memory Stick card into the Photo Finder, which instantly geotags the photos. When you upload your images from the memory card, the GPS information is already stored in the EXIF data.
We’ve heard informally from several camera manufacturers that GPS functionality may be integrated into future camera models, making geotagging an automatic process in digital photography. That technology is still a ways off, however.
There are software programs that allow you to geotag images without GPS information, making it more like looking at a map and pinpointing your exact location from memory, which is less effective. With programs like Google Earth and Microsoft Virtual Earth, you can look at a 3-D representation of where you took an image and find its exact location, adding a new dimension to the memory of photos. You also can share your geotagged images with friends and family by uploading them to websites like Flickr, Picasa and SmugMug, all of which have geotagging functionality.
A Selection Of GPS Units
The Garmin eTrex Vista HCx is a handheld GPS unit capable of handling the elements and guiding you through unknown terrain. It logs your travels for easily geotagging images. The unit is waterproof and features a 256-color screen that’s easy to read, a barometric altimeter that tracks changes in pressure and a microSD card slot. You can plug in optional preloaded microSD cards with MapSource data. It runs on two AA batteries and weighs 5.5 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $250.
The GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr is a pocket-sized GPS logging device that geotags photos by syncing with the camera’s clock and using software to track location information. The unit features integration with Flickr, Google Maps, SmugMug and software capable of writing GPS data into the metadata. The PhotoTrackr is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery and weighs 2.4 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $100.
Lowrance’s iFINDER Expedition C features a unique Scout Mode that lets you mark area perimeters and find borders on the color unit. There’s a built-in electronic compass, barometric altimeter with weather predictions and microphone for recording notes to waypoints. An SD/MMC card slot lets you upload new maps and data. The unit is weatherproof with a watertight seal, weighs 8.6 ounces and runs on two AA batteries. Estimated Street Price: $275.
The Magellan Triton 2000 offers an all-in-one solution for outdoor photographers who need navigation, plus a few other helpful functions. Features include touch-screen navigation, a 2-megapixel camera, voice recorder, LED flashlight and SD memory card slot for integrating maps and other data. The unit has an electronic compass and built-in barometer to help you judge weather changes. It runs on two AA batteries and weighs 8 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $450.
The Sony GPS-CS1 is specifically designed to geotag images. It works with all digital cameras, regardless of manufacturer, calculating and recording the time, date and location of your photos when the camera’s clock is synced. The device uses a function called TRACE, which shows your travel route along with picture locations. The Picture Motion Browser software geotags photos. It runs on two AAs and weighs 2 ounces. Estimated Street Price: $125.
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