Geotagging or Geoencoding is the process of adding GPS data to your photo’s metadata, and it’s a lot easier than you might think. It’s a lot easier than I thought, at least. For the longest time I was under the impression that I would need to have some sort of fancy camera adapter or other expensive piece of hardware to accomplish it. Not so! Besides a camera you’ll only need a GPS device (just a GPS track will do, if you can get one from someone else on the trip) and a piece of geoencoding software.
If you’re anything like me you’ve already got a camera and a GPS with you when you’re out hiking or backpacking, so you’re already most of the way there. All you’ll need is a piece of software to connect your photos to the locations in a GPS track. The software looks at the timestamp of each GPS track point and matches it with the timestamps of your photos to insert the correct GPS coordinates into each photo’s metadata.
The real beauty of the software is that you can use it for tracks and photos as far back as you have them. Even better, most of the software I’ve seen has the ability to compensate for incorrect timestamps. The comes in handy when, for instance, you have forgotten to re-set your camera for daylight savings time or after returning from a trip to China or some other far off land. My camera clock is off more often than not it seems.
The software should also be able to ‘fuzz’ it’s searching. This means you can set what the margin of error is if the software doesn’t find any photos with a timestamp within X number of minuts of a GPS timestamp. If you had turned your GPS off when you got to camp but then gone on to take some pictures an hour later, you could tell the software that it’s OK to look for photos that are more than an hour away from any particular track point.
So then, the big question…How do I select which software to use? If you’re not using lightroom to manage your photos, you’ll either need a stand-alone program like myTracks (Mac) or GeoSetter (PC), or search around to see if any plugins are available for your photo-management application of choice. If you’re using Lightroom I’d highly reccomend Jeffrey Friedl’s plugin. It’s very easy to install and use and it integrates nicely with the Lightroom workflow. It’s donationware, which mean’s to fully unlock it you will have to pay at least 1 penny, but it has a 30 day trial period.
Maybe you’re wondering why you’d ever want to do this? I can think of a number of resons! Say, for instance, you’re planning a winter trip of a backpack you had previously done in the spring. You remember a photo you have of a fantastically scenic spot along the river and you’d like to camp there, but you’re not sure if you’ll be able to find it. Luckily you have the exact coordinates the photo was taken, making it easy to make a waypoint in your GPS. Another example for the hardcore photographer, maybe you want to get back to a specific spot to photograph it in a different light – you have the coordinates baked right in to the image. Really, why wouldn’t you want that information in there!
Do you have a Geotagging program that does a phenominal job, or a story about how geoencoding you photos proved valuable? Let me know in the comments!