Photo Adventures With GPS

You’re probably familiar with the metadata that’s embedded in digital photos—information your camera automatically adds to each image file—such as the time stamp, camera model, lens and camera settings and more for every shot. What most digital cameras don’t log automatically is where you shot each image. That’s where geotagging comes in. With a handheld GPS unit and appropriate geotagging software, you can “tag” each image with its latitude and longitude information. Some systems also will record elevation and even the compass direction at which the camera was pointed for the shot.

Nikon Coolpix P6000
Nikon’s first GPS-integral digital camera, the little 13.5-megapixel P6000 has a 4x, 28-112mm equivalent zoom lens and can geotag photos as you shoot them.


One obvious reason is so you can find the precise spot again. If you want to return to a particular place at another time or season when the light will be different, you’ll know exactly where to go—especially useful when you’re in unfamiliar terri-tory. It also adds an extra dimension to your photo travelogues.

Plus, in the digital world, it’s easier to share our photography. Including location information when you post photos in galleries and contests can inspire others to visit those locations for great photos of their own.

The most practical reason, though, is organization. Apple’s Aperture 3 and iPhoto ’09 will automatically map your photos and translate your GPS coordinates into searchable place names. Google’s Picassa and sites like also have geotagging features.

Sony’s GPS-CS3KA doesn’t automatically tag images as you shoot; rather, it saves the GPS data on a Memory Stick or SD card in the unit. You then transfer your photos and the GPS data to your computer, and the provided image-tracker software links the data to the photos.


A handful of cameras have geotagging GPS units built in, which makes the process simple: Shoot your photos, and the location data is automatically added to the metadata for each image as you shoot.

Leica V-Lux 20
This new 12.1-megapixel compact model has a 12x, 25-300mm equivalent zoom, 720p HD movie capability and a built-in GPS to record location data for your photos.

If your camera doesn’t have this capability as stock gear, there are a number of geotagging GPS accessories available that connect to your camera. These also record location data as you shoot each image—just like a built-in GPS, only you have to acquire and carry the separate unit.

i-gotU GT-120 Travel & Sports Logger
i-gotU GT-120 Travel & Sports Logger: The GT-120 logs location data, then you let the supplied software sync it with the photos and tag the images. The unit is water-resistant, handy for outdoor recreational use.

With any digital camera, you can use a handheld GPS to record location data, then use geotagging software to sync the GPS data to your photos in your computer. Exact details vary from software to software, but basically, you switch on the GPS, make sure it has acquired satellites and is ready to go, then start shooting. When you’re done, open your geotagging software, download the photos from the camera and the tracklog from the GPS, and let the software tag the images. The key here is that your camera’s date and time need to be in sync with your GPS receiver so the software can match the time stamps on your photos to those of your GPS positions.

Nikon GP-1
Attach the GP-1 to a compatible Nikon DSLR, and it will automatically geotag your images as you shoot them. Data includes latitude, longitude and altitude.

The most labor-intensive way to geotag your photos has the advantage of working with any GPS unit that has a display panel, and any digital camera: Each time you take a photo, photograph the screen of the GPS to record the location data. Then, when you get home, manually enter that data in the EXIF metadata for the image in your computer—no special software required.

Some geotagging software lets you assign a location to an image by navigating to the location where you took it on a map. This is best done when you originally download the photos, of course, and can remember where you shot them.

Jobo photoGPS
This shoe-mount geotagger records location data as you shoot, but doesn’t attach it to the images. That’s done in-computer via provided software and an Internet connection to the photoGPS web server. The appended data includes latitude, longitude and height, and reverse geocoding can translate that to address data (country, city, street, even nearby points of interest).


  • Switch the GPS on and let it acquire the satellites before starting to take photos. This could take up to several minutes with some units, depending on satellite alignment and various other conditions.
  • The GPS unit must be able to “see” the satellites to operate, so you must carry or mount it so it can see them continuously. The system won’t record tagging data if the GPS loses satellites or goes to sleep. Your camera strap is a good place for a geotagger; your pocket isn’t.
  • ome shoe-mount GPS units use their own batteries, while others use the camera’s battery. If you have only one camera battery, you may want to get a GPS unit that uses its own batteries. Also, if the camera enters sleep mode, a camera-powered GPS will power down and have to reacquire satellites when you rouse it.

  • Apple Aperture 3
    This newest version of Apple’s imaging software includes a Places feature that can read location data, use reverse geocoding to translate it into actual location names, and display the images on a map.

  • Some geotagging units are compatible with a wide range of cameras, while others are dedicated to specific models (Nikon’s GP-1, for example, is compatible with many—but not all—Nikon cameras). Make sure the GPS accessory you’re considering is compatible with your camera.
  • Some geotagging units come with software. There also are a number of geotagging software applications on the market that can use data from just about any GPS.

  • Panasonic Lumix ZS7
    Featuring a 12.1-megapixel image sensor and 12x, 25-300mm equivalent zoom lens, the ZS7 can shoot AVCHD Lite video and has a Travel Mode to add latitude and longitude data to photos and movies.

  • Most geotagging systems tag only JPEG images, not RAW files, in part because JPEG is an open format, while RAW formats are unique and proprietary, and partly because most photographers don’t want software altering their RAW files. If you want to geotag RAW files, make sure you obtain software that can do it.
  • Many geotagging units are made abroad and come with instruction manuals that aren’t terribly clear. It’s a good idea to do an online search for units you’re considering in order to see what user comments are out there, bearing in mind that anyone can post an opinion online, so you’ll get a wide range of reviews—from the knowledgeable and objective to the not-so-knowledgeable and -objective. Online sources like Adorama, Amazon and B&H allow purchasers to post reviews; these can be valuable sources of user feedback as well.
  • Red Hen Blue2Can
    Compatible with select Nikon DSLRs, one part of this two-piece unit plugs into the camera’s 10-pin connector, while the other is positioned to see the GPS satellites and transmits data by built-in Bluetooth connection. Photos are geotagged as you shoot them. www.redhensystems

    Samsung CL65
    The 12-megapixel CL65 can shoot 720p HD video, has a 5x zoom lens and Bluetooth connectivity, and features a built-in GPS for geotagging.

    Sony Cyber-shot HX5V
    Featuring a 10.2-megapixel Exmor R CMOS sensor, a 10x, 25-250mm equivalent zoom lens and AVCHD video capability, the HX5V also has integrated GPS and compass for geotagging.

    Eye-Fi Explore X2 8GB Memory Card
    This unique unit combines a Class 6 SDHC memory card with Wi-Fi wireless photo and video transfers from your camera and the ability to record location data via WPS from a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot. Upside: Simple, works with any SD-compatible digital camera. Downside: Works only in range of Wi-Fi hotspots.

    Microsoft Pro Photo Tools
    A free download from Microsoft, Pro Photo Tools lets you import GPS track data, automatically tag both JPEG images and RAW files, and reverse-geocode (translate) the data to place names (country, state, city and even address).


    There are 29 NavStar GPS satellites orbiting the Earth twice a day some 12,000 miles above. Each satellite sends UHF radio signals that can be picked up by GPS receivers down here. The radio signals travel at a specific speed, and by measuring the time it takes signals from different satellites to reach it, the GPS unit can determine its distance from each satellite. It then uses trilateration (essentially, 3D triangulation) to calculate its position on the Earth’s surface (to within about 15 meters with typical handheld GPS units).

    It takes a while for a GPS unit to acquire the minimal number of satellites needed to do its thing, and this can be a problem for “decisive-moment” situations. You still can take the photo, but the location data won’t be recorded if the GPS unit isn’t locked on.

    We don’t have room here to cover all the details of GPS operation, and knowing all the details isn’t necessary to geotag your images. If you want the full story, google “how GPS works,” and you’ll find some excellent information.

    Leave a Comment