The Best Geocode Photo Tutorial of All TIme

Woo, you can do that? It's not that hard.
Ken Harper
Assistant Professor, Newhouse School

It's just beautiful here. Horses, mountains and a good amount of goats abound. We've all been shooting images of the land while we're out on assignment. The land plays a vital role in this community, it's a central reason people stay or move here. While we were out scouting some locations around the K Diamond K Guest Ranch News21 Fellow, AJ Chavar and I decided to geocode where we were when we shot every image. I was impressed at how easy the whole process was and how this added bit of information can help give the story a sense of place. Aj has created a great step by step tutorial on how to geocode your images. Give it a try.

Geocode Basics

Geocoding takes advantage of GPS location coordinates and your camera's timestamp metadata to plot your photos on a map. This process is very useful for travel images, location based information, and presenting your work in an alternate format. Additionally,  with the web trending towards location based services, and gadgets like the iPhone as well as consumer cameras from Nikon and Canon jumping on the geotagging wagon, it will only be a matter of time before all cameras automatically include GPS coordinates with their images. For now however, there is a simple way to do this using a few tools most photographers have at their disposal, as well as a few new ones.


What you need:

1. A camera that records the timestamp info to the image metadate, pretty much all cameras do this, but your cellphone may not. Additionally it is VERY important to keep your camera's clock synced to the timezone you are in.

2. A GPS tracking device, this can be any number of devices, from the GPS you may use in your car, to a number of third party products. I recommend AMOD's GPS device for its affordability, form factor and the sheer amount of info it records (not just coordinates but altitude, heading, speed and more). Another nice thing is that it records your route, so in addition to having locations for all of your images you can see everywhere you travelled plotted on a map.

3. Some software: this tutorial covers using Adobe's absolutely fantastic Lightroom 3 (about $300), as well as a free and excellent utility call GPSBabel+. You will also need Jeffrey Friedl's Lightroom Geoencoding Support Plugin, and his Flickr plugin, if you are planning on displaying your geocoding on Flickr. Both plugins are donationware, and I highly recommend that you spend the money if you are serious about geotagging your photos, These plugins are the best out there, and no one paid him to spend the time developing them. Download them at: You can use the very lengthy (42 days) free trial for this tutorial.

4. Patience: this may feel like a lot of steps, and its likely you may mess up the first few times you try this. Thats OK. Once you get the workflow down it will feel like second nature, I can run all of the steps to geoencode my shots in a few minutes, depending on the number of images and the file sizes the computer is processing.


How to do it:

1. Turn on your GPS device and make sure it is recording your location. With the AMOD this is as simple as holding the on button and placing it in a location with a clear view of the sky until the satellite icon starts blinking. You may occasionally lose service while shooting, and thats OK. As long as it regains its service (it always has for me) the software can make a best guess as to the location of shots taken while the unit was out of service.

2. Start shooting, if you feel the need, check to make sure that the camera clock is correct before beginning. If you want to be super accurate (and the more accurate your clock is the more accurate your image locations will be) look up the atomic clock online and do your best to sync the clock to it.

3. Download your images into Lightroom.

4. Drag your GPS file of the GPS device and on your computer. The AMOD uses a standard USB for this, and it saves the file in .log (NMEA 0183) format. If you don't know what that jargon in the parenthesis meant, Thats OK, I don't know either, but it is important to remember this format.

5. Open up GPSBabel+ and browse for your file from the AMOD. After it loads, change the file type to NMEA 0183 Sentences (told you it was important). Change the output file type to GPX XML. This is the type of file that the Lightroom GPS plugin works with. Save the file and name it.

6. Go back to Lightroom select all of your images and then run the plugin (for directions and steps on installing and running please refer to the link above to Jeffrey Friedl's website or go to the Adobe Lightroom Support website).


OK, now we're ready to encode!

In the plugin window select "Tracklog," browse for the .gpx file we created, and set the following options:

1. Timezone: Your timezone (remember to adjust for daylight savings time)

2. Fuzziness: I use 2 seconds, but you can use 1 or 300. The AMOD tracks its location every 1 second so anything over 2 seconds in the plugin is overkill.

3. Compensate for Camera: change this only if you know you are a few seconds behind or ahead of the actual time.

4. Select "Add Map URL"

5. Set "How to do it" to process all of the selected images.

6. Hit the "Geoencode Images" button and let it do its thang.

7. Hit "Dismiss" when its all done (no clue why its not named "close").

8. Sweet! You just added the GPS data to the XMP files of your images. 


We have a few more steps

You'll want to do to make the metadata read best in Lightroom and other services.

1. With all of your images still selected go to the "Metadata" menu in Lightroom and select "Save Metadata to Images" (the shortcut is command+S)

2. Now open the plugin again and select "writeback." Make sure it is set to process all your images and then run it.

3. Leave the plugin and go the metadata menu one more time, making sure all your images are still selected. This time select "read metadata from files."

4. Guess what? You just embedded the GPS info directly into all of your images' metadata! Now, no matter where your image goes the location will be embedded in it. If you want to check your images are where they should be, you can go into the plugin dropdown again and under the Geoencode plugin you will see options for viewing your selected photo or photos on a variety of maps. Go ahead and check out all the sweet work you just did! (it wasn't THAT bad, right?)

5. Where to go from here: Now you can upload your images to a variety of services, Picasa, Panoramio, Google Earth, and Flickr all accept geoencoded images. I recommend using Flickr, because Friedl's Flickr plugin for Lightroom ensures that the images make it online with their GPS coordinates, and are automatically mapped (a feature missing in Lightroom's basic Flickr export). Friedl's Flickr plugin works exactly like the one already built into Lightroom, all you need to do is make sure that the "Flickr:Geoencoding" option is ticked off when you set up the plugin. For more specifics on setting up the plugin, visit Friedl's site (linked above).


Time to Show Off!

Now that your photos are on Flickr, you may want to make an embeddable map, like I did above. Here is down-and-dirty on getting that done.

1. Organize the images from the location you want to map in photoset on flickr. For instance: "Hawaii Vacation."

2. On the page for that set, right click on the RSS feed icon and select "Copy Link Address"

3. Go to Google Maps, and select "My Maps," on the left under the blue bar.

4. Make a new map with a title and description, and then click "Import"

5. Paste the RSS feed link from Flickr into the field, but before you hit "save," append this code on the end: &georss=1

6. Save the import link, save the map, and you're done! Google lets you link to the map, or gives you customizable embed code when you click on the "link" button in the upper right of the map.



You're all done! Kick back with some sweet tunes and frosty beverage, and show off your newfound techspertise--along with the places you got to use it!