Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Identifying your travel photos when you return home - Part III

GPS device atop a DSLRThe Photo Identification series, discusses one of the most classic problems of the vacation photographer, identifying one's photographs after returning home. When people look at their photos weeks after making them, it can be difficult, if not impossible to remember where each one was made, and what each images' subject is.

In Part I, low-tech identification methods were discussed, such as written journals, marking maps with photo locations, and using identifier photographs. In Part II,  hi-tech identification methods which are automatic or close to it, such as using GPS technology was discussed.

In Part III, I conclude the series with a discussion of software to input missing GPS data, correct already embedded data, and locate GPS coordinates for input into image exif data, and using only manually collected information about one's photo locations.

There are two basic types of software used to input GPS location information into existing digital photograph exif data; text and graphical.

If you have several hundred photos in which to embed location data, and already have the data for each photo, using a program such as RoboGEO (text method of GPS data entry) is the most efficient method of accomplishing your task.

In programs like RoboGEO, once the photographs are chosen, there are a variety of methods to enter the GPS data. It can be typed into the program, one entry at a time, uploaded from a GPS unit which can connect to a computer, or it can use a mapping program as a GEO coder which can be linked to the mapping program.

Microsoft Pro Photo ToolsOnce the data has been entered into the GPS waypoint table, the photographs and the GPS waypoint data can be matched automatically or manually. I generally match manually to ensure accuracy. Even a few hundred photos, can be matched manually in minutes.

With RoboGEO's compatibility with many GPS data files types, you can generally take your GPS unit, connect it to your computer, upload its data, and let RoboGEO embed the location in the photo exif data.

The graphical programs for GPS data entry are extremely easy to use, if you've been keeping some kind of location record to help you identify your location using a mapping product like Google Maps, Google Earth, or Microsoft Live Earth.

You start with some of the methods I describe in Part I of this series; journals, map identification marking, and identifier photos. You can also utilize programs like Google Earth which have street view photos, in some areas, to locate the exact position where you took the photo. Those street views can be especially helpful in naming and describing specific locations.

My favorite GPS graphical entry programs are Microsoft Pro Photo Tools version 2, a free product, and Photo Mechanic version 4.6x, which is my image browser and workflow accelerator. It costs $150 but is worth every penny to me for its workflow abilities to ingest my photos, rename them in sequences, automatically enter a batch description, keywords, copyright and IPTC data, plus GPS information.
In the case of Microsoft Pro Photo Tools you first open your photo files in the program, then open the map panel. After that, it's as simple as dragging each photo to the map. Once you've placed the photos on the map, you can save the files with a single save, which embeds the GPS data in each of the files' exif data.

Photo MechanicPhoto Mechanic, by Camera Bits works a bit differently, and has two features which sets it apart from Pro Photo Tools for me, but of course, Photo Mechanic isn't free.
In Photo Mechanic, you choose the photos you want to set with their GPS coordinates in its browser. Then you go to the “Set GPS Coordinates” dialog box. Here you'll see the photos one at a time, with larger thumbnails than in Pro Photo Tools. To the right of the photo and its data is your map. If there is no GPS data in the photo, the map will be at the home spot. You move the map to the general area of where the photo was taken, then move the photo marker to the exact spot desired. Once there, you click on the “Accept Location” button. You then click on “Apply” to write the coordinates into the photo's exif data.

This is where Photo Mechanic shines. If you've chosen multiple photos with the same location, you can just click on “Apply to All.” If you've chosen a few photos with different locations, but close to each other, the map will stay where it was for the prior photo, so you can just keep nudging the marker for each photo, and apply the different coordinates one at a time. Then if the last few photos were taken together, you can use the “Apply to Remaining” button.

Hopefully the three articles in the series will help you locate and tag your photos with what each are, and embed their GPS coordinates. If you use Smugmug or other map friendly gallery software, you'll have the bonus of enabling your viewers to see where each of your photos was taken on a map generated automatically by the gallery software.


Sharri in Newtown said...

Great finish to the series Ned. I took a look at Photo Mechanic and decided to get it. Thanks for the great advice.

Mark in DC said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I've been using Photo Mechanic for about a year (great program) and didn't realize you could batch assign GPS coordinates. Now I know I can and how to do it, thanks to your article.

Stephen said...

Terrific article Ned. As stated before, some really simple tips that I hadn't considered, including the notebook and identifier photos.
I use the GP-1 currently. It's not the best at acquisition, but I noticed that if I open the photo in Picasa, a Google maps sidebar pops up and locates the shot automatically.
I'm going to the big city next week and was wondering if you had any experience with GPS units in downtown areas with lots of tall buildings blocking satellite signals? I have a feeling the unit will not be very useful in those situations.
Thanks again for the excellent article.

Ned S. Levi said...

Thanks very much.

Unfortunately, many who have reviewed the Nikon GP-1 online have indicated it has a weak receiver. Jonathan Crowe, a fairminded reviewer from the MapRoom noted that among tall buildings his lock "faded in and out: I’d go from solid green to flashing red and back. Sometimes photos shot continuously would be geotagged intermittently — e.g., of three photos taken in a row, numbers one and three would be geotagged, but number two wouldn’t."

On Amazon there are similar comments. Many have said the unit drains their camera's battery much too quickly too.

I use the Solmeta DP-GPS N2 (Purchased from Nikonians). It gets syncs to the satellites quickly, and even holds the sync in big cities, even in NYC. It also holds the last known location if you go inside, and will embed that location, which makes perfect sense to me. It has its own internal battery which has lasted more than 12 hours for me, and is quick to recharge.

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