Geotagging Photos

A city within itself - walking through Chinatown in San Francisco

I love to geotag my photographs. I enjoy taking pictures using my smartphone, automatically saving all the location related metadata with the photo. 

I love capturing a scene using my DSLR, as it provides the obvious flexibility of controlling the camera settings to suit my creativity.  One thing, which is missing, is the location data in my DSLR shot photographs.

Over the past one year or so, I had been using Lightroom's Map feature to manually geotag my photographs. On many occasions,  I had to rely on memory to remember an approximate location to geotag a specific photo. And sometimes, I am lazy, and end up assigning a single location entry for a group of related photographs.

I do not like the fact that DSLRs still don't come with an inbuilt GPS, and I don't want to purchase an external GPS to connect my camera to. The other day, I was looking at a few  iPhone apps which will allow me to automatically associate location information with the photos. The one I liked, and have been using it since, is called Geotag Photos Pro for iPhone and Android. Together with Adobe Lightroom, it has made me happy!

In a nutshell, it captures your location (you can configure the sample geolocation snapshot time on the app), using GPS. It has an option to use the cell phone's GSM network to provide a more precise location, especially if you are walking in a city inundated with skyscrapers). You make sure that the camera time is in sync with the phone clock (the app shows you the phone clock with the seconds). You create a new "trip", click on the Record (Rec) button, and forget about it. Once you are done for the day, end the trip. The app creates a GPX file, and you have the option to upload to Dropbox account, or email it to yourself.

I use Lightroom to organize and edit my photographs. Lightroom supports importing GPX files to its Map section and automatically creates a track log for you, which you can use to auto tag location information.

Here is the step by step process to use Lightroom and GPX:

1. Open Lightroom, import the photographs and select the photos you want to geotag. 

2. Go to Map section. 

3. Click on the little icon next to the "lock" icon, and load the GPX track log. You should have saved the GPX file from your phone to your computer. My preferred approach is to link your Geotag Photos app to my Dropbox account, and on my Mac, I can access the files at ~/Dropbox/Apps/Geotag Photos Pro/.

4. Your track log will show something like this on the Map.

5. Now click on the icon again, and select "Autotag photos". It will go through the timestamp of the selected photos, and automatically assign location data based on the captured GPS location data from the GPX track log to your selected photos.

I have been using the app extensively over the past few weeks, especially while roaming around the city. It doesn't drain the phone battery much, and you can always control the sampling rate.

Last weekend, on my trip to San Francisco Bay Area, and driving along the California Highway One, I kept the GPS tracking ON on my phone, and was able to automatically save all location data in my photographs. Here are some of the photos from the trip, with geolocation information saved in the image file.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse at California Highway One

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse (37°10'56" N 122°23'34" W) is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of United States, and is located on California Highway 1, off the Pacific coast. The weather was splendid to capture a few nice shots of the Pacific Ocean.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco

The iconic Golden Gate Bridge in the city of San Francisco. 

Cable cars in San Francisco

The San Francisco cable car system is the world's last manually operated cable car system.

China Rock at Monterey Bay, California

A drive along the 17 mile drive on Monterey Bay gives you lots of opportunities to capture the blue Pacific ocean and the Pebble Beach.


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