Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Travel Photography: Geotagging, Part 1

Have you ever wondered what all the geotagging fuss is about, or what it actually is? Have you ever heard the expression, "Find your photos," and wondered what the heck that was all about?

Have you ever returned home from a long vacation, and started scanning through your photos, only to forget which church was which, or exactly where you took that great photo? We all have, at one time or another.

Year's ago I took detailed notes whenever I took photos on trips. More recently, I dictated the information into a digital voice recorder.

Here's the thing though, I can go on a trip for a couple of weeks and easily take several thousand photos, especially if they're wildlife photos. Not that long ago, on a "trip of a lifetime" to the Galapagos, I took more than 5,000 photographs in just a week of hiking, cruising, and snorkeling.

The best solution in the 21st century, I've found to record exactly where each of my photos was taken, is geotagging.
"Geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as photographs, video, websites, or RSS feeds and is a form of geospatial metadata. This data usually consists of latitude and longitude coordinates, though it can also include altitude, bearing, accuracy data, and place names."
Exif DataGeotagging photographs can be done manually or automatically. It can be accomplished via a GPS device, geocoding, geotagging, or Exif editing software. Some Point & Shoot camera manufacturers have added GPS modules directly into their cameras, while other cameras, especially professional quality DSLR's, are GPS capable and can have portable GPS devices plugged directly in to them.

Geotagging my photos has become a crucial step in documenting my journeys. It enables me to be able to precisely inform interested parties where the photograph was taken. By geotagging my photos I can easily use them to create a narrative of my travel experience.

Moreover, when I travel to places few have had the chance to visit, I can use the geotagged photos to help answer the question, "Hey, exactly where is that?" Using online mapping software like Google Maps or Goggle Earth, I can literally "map" my geotagged photos so everyone can can see the photo coupled with both topographical and geographical data displayed on the map.

My Nikon DSLR is GPS capable. It keeps GPS information in each photo's Exif data. I could enter the data manually, collected with one of those handheld GPS units, but that's just too much work, so I bought a GPS receiver for my DSLR. It's definitely the best travel photography accessory I bought last year!

Solmeta N2 GPS receiverI purchased the Solmeta DP-GPS N2 unit (from Nikonians) which plugs directly into my Nikon DSLR. Every time I take a photograph the camera pulls the GPS information from the Solmeta unit and stores it with the photo.

I use RoboGEO software which can read the GPS data (longitude, latitude, elevation) from each of my photos directly. I can then create a Google map which shows each of the chosen photo locations, or create a KML or KMZ file to import directly into Google Earth. Many photo display websites such as Google's Picasa, Yahoo's Flickr, or SmugMug can take your photos and map them for you in your photo area of their site, if the photos contain GPS data.

I highly recommend any traveler geotag their photos to enhance their memories of their sojourns.

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