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Monday, March 23, 2009

Where Were You?

GPS and geotagging are enhancing the photographic experience by helping photographers find, remember and share photo hot spots

Labels: Gear

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where were you
Canon WFT-E2A
Early GPS receivers were handheld devices about the size of a cell phone and most useful to hikers and adventurous outdoorsmen. A little innovation and a few years later, and voilà! What used to provide cryptic coordinates on a low-res grayscale map now delivers in full color with 3-D graphics and audible turn-by-turn directions. GPS technology is everywhere: in cars, phones—and cameras.

Location awareness built in to our favorite digital devices allows the delivery of highly pertinent information—details that are more meaningful when one needs to find the nearest highway, drive-thru or restroom. But specialized needs for photographers who venture off the beaten track mean that no matter how handy a GPS can be for daily life, it can be invaluable for traveling photographers.

GPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS

Whether built in to your camera, car or portable navigation device (PND, for short), GPS receivers rely on a network of geo-synchronous satellites orbiting the globe to provide precise positioning information. GPS units don’t send signals; they receive them from multiple satellites and, based on their differences, calculate the device’s precise position on the planet.

GPS gives photographers the ability to record precise location data, often automatically, into the metadata of a photo. GPS devices can be synced with image files after capture or, in some cases, connected to the camera to embed GPS coordinates directly into the file at the moment of exposure. These geotagged images are most useful when searching a large database for images of a specific location or for incorporating with other software that syncs map views with photographs. This seamless integration makes GPS a powerful tool for getting photographers to a favorite shooting spot again and again.

Aside from geotagging photos, nature photographers have long used handheld GPS portable navigation devices to find their way. These devices are designed to input waypoints to help blaze a trail and provide the digital equivalent of scattered bread crumbs should one wander off the intended path. Not only is this useful to keep from getting lost in the woods, but it can be equally valuable when traveling in unfamiliar cities.

For example, if you were planning a hike along the Appalachian Trail, you would first download and install into your device a map of the area you’d be covering. This would likely include topographical maps and details about notable points along the way. Then you’d set waypoints: lookouts, trail crossings, campsites and the like. Plotting ahead of time allows for a detailed plan of where you’re going so your navigation device can let you know if you’re getting off track and guide you back as necessary.

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