Geotagging is something I’ve done intermittently over the last few years. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s simply adding tags to photographs which indicate where they were taken. This allows them to be placed on maps, or to find other images taken in the same place, or just to provide information that people might find interesting.

I used to do this with pictures I’d uploaded to Flickr – all I had to do was drag the images on to a map, and the special tags would be generated. Simple enough, but a bit tedious if there are a lot of images, and no use at all if you can’t remember where a particular image was taken. And so I pretty much stopped bothering.

A few months ago, I read something that reminded me of this, and how it could all be done automagically. This involved getting a GPS tracking device and some software which would read the data from the device and match the time in that to the timestamps of a folder full of images. Well, this worked, but the device was a bit flaky – being very small, it didn’t have much success in picking up a decent GPS signal in city centres, and it was a bit of a faff having to run the software to update the files before I could import them into Lightroom. So I stopped doing that, too.

But then, a few weeks back, I found that there was a better way. The excellent Jeffrey Friedl, author of (amongst other useful things) the Lightroom to Flickr export plugin that I find so useful, also likes to do a bit of geotagging, and has written a Lightroom Geotagging plugin, which will happily read a track file and apply the location data to all the selected images, which is a great deal simpler than using an additonal piece of software.

The only trouble was that I’d need a more reliable and useful GPS device. After reading Jeffrey’s review of his own device, I decided to get something similar, as I wanted to be sure any new toy would actually do the job I was getting it for. After some dithering, I settled on the Garmin eTrex Vista HCx, which possibly has more functions than I strictly need, but seemed a reasonable choice. Once I’d got it, found the Mac software on Garmin’s website [1], and bought and installed some more detailed maps of the UK, I was ready to play. I took it to work with me a few times, and sure enough, once it had picked up the satellites, it recorded my progress quite accurately. When surrounded by buildings in the centre of town, it can get a bit more vague, but in general it does very well.

The next bit was, of course, taking it on a photo walk, but what with one thing and another, I didn’t manage one of those until today. I wasn’t sure where I’d end up going, but I did remember to turn on the Garmin and put it in my pocket before setting off for the Jane Bown exhibition. After seeing the portraits, I decided to walk through Sandyford, with the intention of reaching the Armstrong Bridge, a place I haven’t been in quite a long time. I stopped to take various pictures on the way, and reached the bridge just as it started to rain. Rather than get myself and my 5D wet, I packed up and walked back to Newcastle, where the rain stopped. I did a bit more wandering, took a few pictures of the new bit of Eldon Square, then went home as it had started to rain again – more heavily this time.

Once I got home, I connected the GPS and attempted to geotag the day’s pictures. This didn’t work at first, because I was doing it wrong. I’d saved the track to a file and transferred that to the computer to use for tagging. Doing this results in a file with a list of locations but no times, which might be quite nice for plotting on a map, but a wee bit useless if you’re trying to work out where your pictures were taken. A quick bit of gooooogling[2] put me right – what I wanted was the live track data from the unit, not a saved version. I transferred that, pointed Jeffrey’s plugin at the file, and all 50 of today’s pictures were instantly labelled with their locations. The plugin usefully adds a link to Google Maps in the Lightroom data, so you can immediately see where the picture was taken, subject to the accuracy of GPS and the clock on your camera. Nice, works well.

Jeffrey issues his plugins as “donationware” – you need to register to keep full functionality, and registration is done by making a PayPal payment. The amount is entirely up to you – you can give as little as one dollar US Cent[3], which after fees would give Jeffrey nothing, or you can pay as much as you like. I like this plugin already, so I’ll be sending him some more money later. Apparently when Lightroom 3 comes out, it will be necessary to re-register, but I’ve no objection to that.

And, if anyone’s still reading, I also imported today’s pictures into Aperture 3 to see how it copes. Aperture actually has built-in support for geotagging, and was able to read the same track file I used in Lightroom. The process for tagging pictures confused me at first – you have to drag an image on to the trail on the map, then tell it to label the rest. Not difficult, but it wasn’t immediately obvious to me. It’s probably just a case of getting to know how Aperture “thinks” in general.

[1] The supplied CD is Windows-only for reasons that probably make sense to someone
[2] Binging might also have worked
[3] Jeffrey put me right on that one!

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