Geotagging Photos: A Software Review and Tutorial

Readers often question whether geotagging photos is worth the time and effort. Of course, this is a personal decision based on, among other considerations, the volume of photos you take, the number of locations you visit over a period of time, and the importance of knowing the precise location where a photo was taken. Oh, and whether you have a bit of geek in you, like we do.

The sunset view we enjoyed while drafting this article — in context.

We still believe that geotagging is a valuable practice, particularly in the world of travel blogging.  When you upload your geotagged photos to your photo hosting site of choice (e.g., Flickr, SmugMug, Picasa, etc.), your audience can see a map like the one above (with geographic and topographic overlays) indicating where you took the photo.

So we offer a review of the latest photo geotagging software we use – PhotoLinker and HoudahGeo – and a brief tutorial on how to use it. With these software changes, our geotagging process has become more efficient, and dare I say, much more fun.

Technical notes: This tutorial is for those carrying external GPS dataloggers. We understand there will come a day when all digital cameras feature built-in geotagging. Until that day comes, however…

Dan and I both use MacBooks running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). The software reviewed below is for Mac users. My apologies to PC users; I won’t be offended if you stop reading right now.

We use the same geotagging process whether the photos are RAW (.NEF) files from our Nikon D300 or regular .jpg files from our handheld Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3.

Taking Data off Your GPS Datalogger

In our GPS datalogger review, we noted the requirement that our GPS datalogger be readable by the computer much like a USB drive, without the need for any proprietary software. The upshot: access to geodata is as easy as copying the files from the device to your hard drive.

Geotagging – Embedding Location Data into your Images with PhotoLinker

We previously used the free version of GPSPhotoLinker. It did the job in batch getotagging and manually adding location data to photos.

However, last year we upgraded to the paid version ($49.95) of this software (PhotoLinker 2.2.7), and we really enjoy the added functionality.  The latest version of PhotoLinker accepts a variety of GPS file types (including the .log files produced by our AMOD 3080), thus eliminating the step of converting the file to GPX format as we used do with GPSBabel.

PhotoLinker’s geotagging algorithm also no longer noticeably slows down my computer, and its mapping functionality makes it easy to manually geotag a photo using an address or location name. Here’s a walk-through of the three main methods I use to geotag photos using PhotoLinker: batch, manual using data from another photo, and manual using an address.

Batch Geotagging in PhotoLinker:

1. Go to Photos and select Load Photos form Files or drag and drop photos from your Finder window
2. Go to Tracks and select Load Tracks from Files or drag and drop GPS track files from your Finder window
3. Click on Geotagging Consule in the bottom right hand corner and click Auto.

4. Select the time zone for your camera with GMT settings. This will adjust the GPS files to the appropriate time zone.

5. Select your desired tolerance for geotagging in terms of seconds or meters. We usually choose between 600 and 1000 seconds to compensate for going in and out of buildings.

6. Select all photos (control-A) for geotagging and the console will tell you how many photos can be geotagged with the uploaded tracks and time constraints.

7. Click Geotag X Images in the right corner of the Geotagging Console box and then Write Changed Tags in the upper left corner of the window. This will embed the GPS location information into the metadata of the photo file.

Manual geotagging when you have GPS data from another photo
Let’s say you have a photo that falls outside the time constraints you have set, but you know it was taken near another geotagged photo, and you wish to geotag it with that photo’s location.

1. Click Manual in the Geotagging console.
2. Click on the photo with the embedded geodata. You’ll see the Latitude and Longitude data show up.
3. Then, click on the photo taken in the same/similar spot that is not geotagged. You’ll see that the same Latitude and Longitude information from the geotagged photo is there.
4. Click Geotag 1 Photo and voila, you have a newly geotagged photo.

Manual geotagging (when you have an address):
Say you took photos from a great meal at a restaurant, but didn’t have your GPS datalogger with you when you went out so you have no geodata. But, you know the address of the restaurant and want to geotag your food photos with that location. Here’s what you do.

1.  Click Manual in the Geotagging Console and click on the photo(s) you’d like to geotag.
2.  Type in the address (or street and city) at the top of the map. Zoom in and out to get to the desired level of detail and exactness.
3. Move the map around with the hand (you’ll notice the Latitude and Longitude information below changing as you do this) and put the desired geotagging point where the vertical and horizontal lines cross.
4. Click Geotag 1 Photo in Geotagging Console and Write Changed Tags in upper left corner of the window.

Note this address if you want the best Indian food in Prague, Czech Republic

Embedding Other Metadata into Photo Files
You can also use PhotoLinker to embed a title, description and tags/keywords to metadata of the photos. Choose Customize Metadata Tag Viewer under View in the navigation bar. Drag and drop the fields that you’d like to adjust (e.g., photographer information, copyright, etc.).

Be sure to click Write Changed Tags in the top left corner after making any changes.

Other Geotagging Software Options: HoudahGeo

HoudahGeo (Mac only, $30) also accepts a variety of GPS file formats, saving you the step of converting your files.

The HoudahGeo geotagging process is rather straightforward and quick. Step 1) Drag and drop photos; Step 2) Load a related GPS file; Step 3) Write the location data to the EXIF data of the photos (or upload directly to Flickr or Google Earth).

The downside to HoudahGeo, however, is that the interface does not make it easy to set time tolerance (where you have time gaps in your geodata). HoudahGeo also does not offer a thumbnail view of the images, nor the ability to add titles, descriptions, tags and other metadata to images during the geotagging process.

Correction: HoudahGeo does provide the functionality to add titles and descriptions through Inspector located in the Windows drop-down menu.

HoudahGeo also features mapping and manual geotagging functionality, but I prefer the implementation of these features in PhotoLinker.

Conclusion

For the flexibility and functionality of both batch and manual geotagging, we recommend PhotoLinker for its more sophisticated mapping options. It’s also just plain satisfying to document the ground you’ve covered: to map your trek or the day’s wanderings with a set of tracks and pin-marked photos to match.

A map of our Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal generated by PhotoLinker.

Disclosure: We were provided software licenses by both PhotoLinker and HoudahGeo for the purposes of this review. However, the opinions above are our own. Product links to Amazon include our affiliate code. The price to you remains the same, but we enjoy a small commission if you decide to purchase.

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Comments

  1. says

    @Migrationology: It may seem a bit geeky to go through this process, but having recently gone through thousands of photos from India and Nepal from 2008, I was SO thankful that everything was geotagged so that I never got confused as to where that beautiful temple was located or where we ate that awesome meal. Let me know if you have any other questions as you try it out.

  2. says

    HoudahGeo does offer the option to add descriptions, title, reverse geocoding data, … . You will find these options in the “Inspector” window.

    HoudahGeo does show image previews. You may activate the Preview window from the Windows menu.

    Best,
    Pierre Bernard
    Houdah Software s.à r.l.

  3. says

    @Pierre: Thank you for commenting and alerting me to a few of these functionalities in HoudahGeo that I had missed earlier when looking for them. It is a great piece of software and runs very quickly.

    I know see that the “Inspector” window allows you to add a title and description and embed this into the EXIF area. I’ve made a correction in the article above. Is there also an area to add tags/keywords (not connected with location – e.g., birds, beach, etc.)? This is useful when uploading directly from HoudahGeo to Flickr.

    I had found the preview image function earlier, but it only showed one image at a time. Since I’m usually batching hundreds of photos, it’s useful to have thumbnails of all the images at once allows me to easily scan through and pick out geotagged photos that are located near non-geotagged photos for easy manual geotagging. Is there a way to show thumbnails of all the photos imported?

    Thanks for your help in improving this review.

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