Geotagging on purpose and by accident

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Geotagging means putting a geographical location with a photograph to tag where it was taken. Flickr pioneered geotagging in 2006 with map pinning features on their website. With the advancement of consumer level GPS tools more people participated in adding location tags to their photos. Now that smartphones have cameras that automatically save the geographical coordinates when enabled, geotagging is commonplace for many photographers whether they know it or not.

Why Geotag?

I love to use geotagging when I’m traveling because it’s like putting a virtual pin on the map of earth to show where I have been. I only have a small portion of my public photos currently geotagged in Flickr, but you can get a good idea of how the idea works by looking at this map. Note – geotagging is not limited to Flickr, I’m just using my Flickr photos as an example.

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By adding geotags, you embed the actual location of the photo into your EXIF data which means it is written to your photo file. This is a great way to add valuable metadata to your picture that will tell others about where it was taken.

This also means that you might unwittingly share locational information that you don’t intend to if you aren’t careful with your settings. You will notice that most of my geotagged photos are outside of my home state of Utah. The only nearby photos that I feel comfortable marking on a map are taken at very public locations where there are many people (like a Jazz Game) and I only share those photos after I have left the area so as not to advertise my whereabouts. Others might feel differently about this level of privacy (wanting more or less), but this is what feels good for me.

As a general rule, I turn off my iphone GPS location settings when I’m home and I turn it on when I’m traveling – but I’m very careful about posting pictures publicly when I’m traveling and I wait until after the trip is over before sharing any of them online.

How to Geotag

There are many ways to get geographical coordinates attached to your photograph.

  • Use a camera with built in location services (such as an iPhone) and make sure the location settings are enabled.
  • Take a photo with an iPhone at your shooting location to mark your spot and then shoot the rest with your regular camera. You can manually add the same coordinates later on when processing the photos.
  • Use a GPS device and make notes to manually add the coordinates to your photo when uploading.
  • Use an eye-fi card or a GPS camera attachment or a GPS enabled camera that will record the geotag with your photo (check your camera manufacturer for options).
  • Look up the addresses where you took the photos and add the coordinates manually when processing. (Thank you Google search!)
  • There are web and smartphone apps that will help you with geotagging. Be sure to check the settings on some social sharing apps such as Instagram & Twitter to be sure you are getting the level of privacy you desire.

Here’s a photo I took in Arizona in 2009 using an iPhone 3 camera. I didn’t want to take all my photos with the phone camera, but I did want to record the coordinates.

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Because I had the location services enabled (check the settings), I can find the exact point on earth where this picture was taken.

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This places it on the map at the spot we were at in Arizona

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I used these same coordinates to tag the other photos I shot at the same location. You can find this information from your photo by examining the EXIF data in a photo processing program. I like to cheat and use the easy way by looking at the uploaded photo on Flickr. Simply use the drop down menu under “actions” on your photo and choose “View EXIF info”.

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I’m sure some other online sites allow access to this information as well. In my research I found that geotagging is enabled in Picasa. Check the FAQ section for your favorite photo sharing site if you want to find out about geotag capabilities.

Anyone who knows me, knows about how much I love Flickr so I’m sure you aren’t surprised to hear me say that I haven’t found a site that manages geotagging better than they do! I especially like that Flickr lets you manage who can see the information on photos that you share. You can even set up geofences to prevent you from accidentally sharing a photo embedded with your own home or work coordinates – you set up the boundaries!

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Geotagging the manual way

What if you don’t have a smartphone, or a GPS device? What if you want to tag a photo that was taken before you went digital? There are plenty of ways to add the coordinates on your own.

I have a photo of a lighthouse in Oregon that has no metadata attached, but I was still able to map the coordinates and tag it geographically because I just looked up the address of where the lighthouse is located. It helps that I remembered the name of the lighthouse – lol!

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Most of the time, you can figure out the location of a photograph. I didn’t have any GPS devices with me when we went to Totem Bight in Ketchikan, Alaska, but I was able to find the coordinates by checking it out on a Google map.

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I like to manually add these geotags using the Flickr map tools, but you can also edit your metadata in programs such as Lightroom 4 to include the same information. Some older programs might require plugins to work around geotagging limitations.

Really helpful geotagging links

You might even enjoy some of the geotagged communities on sites such as Flickr where you can share you photos and even enjoy those taken by other photographers at the very same place. One of my favorite things to do there is to explore the map and see sites around the world from the comfort of my own computer.

Today’s a great day to check out the locational settings on the photos you take and share. If you don’t want to advertise the exact point on the map where you eat breakfast, be sure you are wise about what kind of information can be viewed in the photos you post online. If you want to create an amazing visual trail of the places you’ve been, geotagging is a fabulous tool!

katie big

P.S. Anna was the random winner from the journaling challenge post. She received a $10 gift card from one of our amazing featured designers!