Geotagging your travels: why you should, and how to do it

geotagging your travels

Even casual travelers know the wonders of GPS. It’s hard to imagine how we functioned on the road just a few years back without a satnav at our disposal, and now that our smartphones are also well equipped to guide us from point A to point Z (and everywhere in between), having a true sense of direction isn’t quite as necessary as it once was. But GPS satellites are useful for quite a bit more than just routing us. In the photography world, geotagging is becoming an increasingly attractive way to effectively track ones travels in a unique, refreshing visual fashion.

If you aren’t familiar with the term, geotagging refers to embedded GPS data on each image, which can then be read by various photo applications and mapping software. When you take a photo using any existing DSLR, a great deal of “metadata” is embedded onto each image; this data enables individuals to see what aperture, shutter speed, white balance setting and focal length (among other things) were used when a particular shot was composed. These pieces of information are remarkably useful when comparing shots after the fact, and geotagging adds one more vital bit of data to the mix: coordinates. Read on to find out how you can start adding GPS data to your images, and why you should make the effort to do so.

%Gallery-115291%The easiest way to make this happen is to buy a camera with a GPS or Hybrid GPS module built-in. A number of newly introduced compact models include this. Fujifilm’s FinePix XP30 has inbuilt geotagging support (not to mention a rugged, waterproof casing), and Casio’s Exilim EX-H20G is a non-rugged alternative with integrated geotagging. It’s an easy feature to find — either a camera has it built-in or it doesn’t, and manufacturers will generally go out of their way to ensure you know if a particular model does.

geotagging your travels

If you aren’t in the market for a new point-and-shoot, existing DSLR owners can upgrade their camera to support geotagging. Nikon makes a module of their own that fits certain models (GP-1), and if your camera doesn’t have a first-party add-on, Gisteq offers a (mostly) universal solution that connects via Bluetooth (PhotoTrackr Plus and PhotoTrackr Mini).

geotagging your travels

Once your camera is equipped to embed geotagging data, all you need is a program that’ll read that data. Apple’s iPhoto (displayed throughout this post) is a great example; any image that you load into iPhoto can be sorted by ‘Places.’ If you have an Internet connection, you’ll see pins populate the map (as shown here) in order to represent all of the locales where photos were taken. Google’s Picasa is another solid option, as is the popular Flickr.

geotagging your travels

What you’re left with is an incredibly visual way to look at a trip you recently took, all by way of photographs. In a way, these specific location points tell a story in an of themselves. Rather than simply telling friends and family that a certain group of photos were taken in Montana (for example), geotagging allows them to see exactly what routes you took on a road trip and precisely which trails you skied at Whitefish Mountain Resort. If you took multiple images at a certain place, you can easily sort those by selecting a single pin. The images throughout this article show (most) of the photos I took on my Casio Exilim EX-H20G while in northwestern Montana, including a number of shots while on Big Mountain itself.

geotagging your travels

On a grander scale, geotagging all of your images for the foreseeable future would enable you to create a lifetime travel map that visually shows where you’ve been in the world. It’s certainly a lot easier than trying to remember every off-the-wall stop you made, and it’s most definitely more satisfying than some Bucket List you’ve generated in Microsoft Word. On a smaller scale, sending your child off to camp with a geotagging camera would allow you to see where all the counselors shuttled your young one around — after all, kids have a thing for not keeping a very detailed journal, and this would make their job of explaining what all they did a lot easier.

geotagging your travels

Interested in getting started with geotagging? Listed below are a few recommended GPS-enabled cameras, geotagging add-on dongles and photo applications that work well with geotagged images.

GPS-enabled point-and-shoot cameras:

Geotagging add-on dongles:

Geotagging applications:

Gadling gear review – i-GotU GT-120 GPS logger

You’ll have no doubt noticed a bit of a GPS trend today here on Gadling, and in line with that, I’m going to introduce you to the Mobile Action I-GotU GT-120 mobile GPS logger.

This tiny device looks quite unimpressive, but actually houses several handy GPS functions in one product.

The GT-120 can function as a USB GPS receiver, providing your location to a variety of GPS enabled applications. The device also stores several days of your location tracks, allowing you to read your position and overlay it on a Google map in the included tracking software. When importing your tracks, the application can even match the time and location with your photos, adding geotag information to your shots.
The i-GotU comes with a USB cable and a silicone jacket, and the receiver is waterproof. To operate the unit, you are provided with just one button, and 2 LED lights. There is no user interaction other than turning it on or off. All the settings, including its tracking interval are controlled through the software.

The USB cable connects the device to your PC, and charges it. Battery life during my test was good for several days. Inside the device is 16MB of flash memory, which is enough for 65,000 tracking points. I found the GPS signal sensitivity to be pretty good – but it did take a good clear view of the sky for its initial fix. Once it grabbed the signal, I was able to hang it from a clip onto my camera bag, and the tracks during the day appeared to be constant, with no loss of signal.

The software is easy to use, and simple questions guide you through the process of importing the data and syncing with your photos.

Trips are imported quickly and can be named, describing what you were doing when you were using the device. From within the software, you can also sync your PC clock with the GPS clock, and display the most accurate time, allowing you to set your camera clock to the current time. Using an accurate camera clock will increase the accuracy of the geotag information written to your photos.

The desktop software extends beyond your PC – once imported, you can share your map, tracks and photos with the world using the @trip site, provided by Mobile Action for free. The site is way more than just a place to store your tracks – it actually functions as a full trip blog allowing you to leave a full visual story of your trip. See this example for how great trips look.

Final thoughts

Despite a couple of minor issues with the device (Windows 7 drivers were not available when I stated testing it), I’m very impressed with this little tracker. It also takes a little getting used to the 2 LED lights, and figuring out what they mean.

The ability to function as a regular USB GPS receiver, a tracker/logger and a geotag adapter means your investment gets you three different devices for the same price. The company behind the GT-120 also offers a Bluetooth enabled version, the GT-200. This device adds the ability to connect to the receiver using Bluetooth.

The GT-120 tracker is available though a US retailer for just $69.85, with free shipping. The hardware is similar to some other products on the market, but the combination of the excellent desktop and web based software make it a real winner. I had a lot of fun reviewing my tracks from a couple of days, and matching my photos to my exact location. If you use a geotag enabled photo sharing site (like Smugmug), you’ll be able to instantly link to a map of the photo location.