Where I went, what I saw

One of the great things about digital photography is that digital cameras store extra information with each photo. For example, it stores the date the photo was taken, essentially putting an end to conversations such as “I must have been 6 years old in that picture… see? There are training wheels on my bike!”. Photoshop and Picasa both have the ability to display the data (and will let you modify some of the fields); Flickr and Picasaweb will display the data if owner has the option turned on. There are also browser extensions – EXIF viewers – that allow you to see the data that’s stored on other people’s photos, if they haven’t stripped off the information before posting them. The EXIF data includes the camera settings (aperture / shutter speed / ISO / etc.) which can be really useful if you’re planning to take a similar shot.

But today I’m going to talk about latitude and longitude. I’ll cut to the chase and say that in figuring out the stuff I’m about to explain, the underlying goal was to end up with a map such as this:


Screenprint only. Click image for interactive map

When I upload my photos to, say, Flickr, I have the option of opening up a map and dragging the picture there to show where it was taken; the information gets stored with the EXIF data for the photo. Adding that lat/long information is “geotagging”. The drag-and-drop method works pretty well when there are landmarks, but what do you do when you’re in the middle of nowhere? And, dragging and dropping bunches of photos can be a pain.

If you’re using an iPhone or Android, you can have your lat/long information, obtained from GPS satellites, stored when you snap the picture. Nikons allow you to attach a device to the camera to store the information. For my Canons, though, I need to rely on a separate device to record the GPS data*.

A solution that I played around with last summer and revisited the other day is to use a combination of applications: an Android app called MyTracks and a desktop app called GPicSync. (I believe GeoSetter also works for this.) Both apps are free. MyTracks is used to record the GPS data, and GPicSync compares the timestamps on the GPS data with the timestamps on the photos to identify (and store) the location that the photo was taken. The result is a batch of almost-effortlessly-geotagged photos.

Here are the steps:

1. Turn on GPS and start recording in MyTracks

2. Walk. Take a photo. Store a waypoint in MyTracks (optional). Repeat.

3. Upload the GPS file created by MyTracks (I emailed mine to myself.) Load the photos up to the computer; select, crop, fiddle, and optionally rename them. (The names are used in Google Maps.)

4. In GPicSync: identify the GPS file and the folder where the pictures are stored. Update the UTC offset field (we’re -4 now in the northeast US.) Optionally click the box labeled “Google Maps Export”. Click the Synchronise! button.

Voila! The result (if everything worked according to plan): a folder full of geotagged photos.

The optional Google Maps Export piece requires a place online to store your photos, preferably not Flickr or Picasaweb because those two sites create long numeric file names for the uploaded photos (which you then have to plug back in to the Google Map point data). If you have another place to load the photos and thumbnails, you can have GPicSync create a kml file that can be imported into Google Maps, creating a map like the one pictured above. And if not, Picasaweb has a little map in the corner of your album that can be expanded to show your geotagged photos.

I expect that there will be a day in the not-too-distant future when all cameras have this functionality built in… until then, there’s GPicSync.

*One other option is to use an “Eye-Fi” brand SD card; however, they require a wireless Internet connection.  Also, there are devices that you can use to capture the GPS coordinates, but they still require a desktop app.


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