If you aren’t already familiar with GeoTagging – it combines two simple things; a picture and a location (in this case, a very specific set of coordinates based on latitude and longitude). It allows you to always know where your photos were taken (which is very handy for landscape, wildlife and travel photographers) as well as display photo locations on a map. Google Maps and Flickr both have great tools that allow you to click on the map locations and view the related pictures. (The picture at the top of the screen doesn’t really have anything to do with GeoTagging – I was just looking around on my hard drive for earth-like images and that one seemed fun).
Recently, I decided to jump on the GeoTagging bandwaggon. I do some landscape/travel photography and thought it would be neat to share them via a map view. I already have the first piece of the puzzle, the pictures. I recently purchased the other, a handheld GPS system. It’s the size of a cell phone (well, maybe a cell phone from 5 years ago when they were a bit larger). Among other things, it allows you to press a few buttons and record your current location. I did some research and chose the Garmin eTrex Legend.
The final step of the GeoTagging process is attaching the location to the photo. After several hours of research, it turns out this is by far the hardest part of the whole thing. I found several usable methods; some that work in my specific setup, and some that may not work for me but that may work for others.
I needed a solution that would attach my Garmin GPS data (which can be exported to a .gpx file, a common GPS file format) to photos stored as .dng (digital negatives – an Adobe format that is equivalent to RAW). I was looking for something as inexpensive as possible – idetally free. I was also looking for something that would work easily into my workflow – I didn’t wanted to have to add too many steps that aren’t in my download/sort flow already. I work on a PC, Windows Vista. [Note after original posting - my requirements (and as a result, what I searched for and found) also include being fairly entry level, especially with cost. My brother, a GPS expert, reminded me that there are many solutions in the $100+ range that will geotag photos very well. I tried to find something that will let me spend my money on photo gear and keep this part of things as a hobby. Just something to keep in mind as you read.]
What Didn’t Work
I’ll start with a brief look at what I tried, but didn’t work. While these didn’t work for me, they might work for you and your needs. Also, while I spent a good amount of time on the web, this list isn’t necessarily comprehensive and only includes programs for PCs – I wasn’t able to test anything for Macs. If you use a Mac, though, technology guru Terry White wrote a good review on GPS data conversion on the Mac (including a different GPS receiver than I chose). You can find it on Terry’s blog, here.
- PhotoMapper: This looked promising. Very easy to use initially. It did, however, end up crashing on Vista (meant just for XP and below, I suppose, although the web site wasn’t super clear). Also, it only wrote the information to .jpg files.
- PhotoMe: This looked very promising at first. It is primarily used as an EXIF/IPTC metadata editor. Its interface is simple and fairly intuitive. Unfortunately, it doesn’t batch process photos and can’t add new data, it can only edit. Because my GPS data wasn’t there to begin with , it wouldn’t add it.
- AiS Exif: Installed and couldn’t even get it to run. Not sure if I needed to install the .net framework. I didn’t want to invest that much effort to even get the thing off the ground. Also, a full license was $50, which detracted even more from troubleshooting.
- Downloader Pro: I didn’t try this one, but others have and give it high reviews. It is an alternate way to download files and attaches the GPS data as it does so. I chose not to use it because it costs $30 and it adds an extra, time consuming step (I wouldn’t normally mind paying, but if it adds another step too – that pushes the decision into the no category, even thought it is a pretty strong product.). Normally, I convert my files to .dng on import. This would require importing (and tagging) as raw and then a conversion to .dng.
What Did Work (and one that didn’t, but mostly did)
When it came down to it, price turned out to be a big factor. I couldn’t find anything that fit seamlessly into my workflow – everything ended up replacing Lightroom’s import feature, which I wanted to avoid. Several options mentioned above work with the workflow workaround, but I don’t want to pay for a feature that interrupts things that much. If I’m going to slow down my process, it had better be free. Also, I’m hoping that Adobe will eventually make this part of Lightroom.
So, without further ado, my top choice is ExifTool.
[Update after original posting: I recently found a new tool that uses ExifTool in the background that makes it even easier to use. It is definately my top choice! Check it out here.]
RoboGeo: Okay, I know what you are thinking (or should be if you’ve been paying attention) – “I thought you just mentioned ExifTool!”. I did – it was my final choice – RoboGeo was so close, though, that I wanted to mention it in this section. It works on Vista, it imports photos and .gpx files and can even automatically synch with my Garmin GPS receiver. And it does all of that will about 3 clicks. Here’s the few catches, though. First, it’s about $50 – and as you can tell from the rest of this post, I don’t particularly want to pay for this piece of software. Second, it has a fairly strange implementation.
One would normally assume that it would synch the photo that had the closest timestamp to a timestamped location from the GPS information. It turns out, though, that it needs at least two readings, one timestamped before the photo and one after. If you shoot the picture before the first or after the second, you are hosed – it doesn’t end up working automatically. You can set your GPS to constantly record points, say every 5 minutes to help a bit. But, any photos taken between GPS recording 2 and 3 won’t be automatically tagged, any between 4 and 5, etc. If it sounds crazy, it’s not just you, it is.
So, back to ExifTool, my tool of choice.
The number one reason I chose it, you guessed it, is the price. It is a whopping $0! Also, it works on Vista, can batch process files, and once I figured it out was fairly easy to use.
The downside is that it did take a few minutes to pick up – it works primarily from the command line (I listed the steps in this post, here, though, to help things along) and it doesn’t automatically tag the photos – meaning that it won’t automatically compare time stamps and insert the data. I have to choose the photos and then apply the location with the tool. For now, this will work, but if I was shooting landscapes professionally or if I just ever get tired of doing it this slightly slower way, I might continue looking for alternatives.