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Playing Tag Part 2: How do I access and use my geotagged photo coordinates?

In my last post I mentioned the news that DSLR manufacturers are finally beginning to integrate GPS receivers into certain camera body models.  I also mentioned ways to retrofit cameras with aftermarket GPS receivers, and several commentators offered helpful ways to geotag photos using smartphone apps that match the digital time stamp on each image to the position recorded by the phone at that time.  (Make sure to carefully set the time and date for this method to work well.)  In this followup I’d like to demonstrate a few easy ways to recover the location coordinates from a digital photo.

First, it is important to understand that any digital photo includes an embedded file with all kinds of metadata about the image. This is known as the Exif file (Exif is short for Exchangeable image file format), and records information such as the exposure settings used, camera mode, lens information, time and date, and a host of technical data I don’t really understand or care to understand at this point.  But apropos to this topic, if your camera geotags a picture then the lat/long coordinates will also be found in the image’s Exif file.

There’s more than one way to access location data from an Exif file for an image.  Perhaps the most simple is to read the coordinates directly on the camera.  Most cameras allow you to select what to display when reviewing images, including GPS coordinates if they were recorded.  This could be helpful if you are phoning/texting/posting the location of a bird from the field.  Check your manual or look up instructions online for customizing the display windows available on your particular camera model.

CamBack

GPS Coordinates can be displayed on the camera itself if that is one of the display windows you’ve made available through the playback menu selections.

At home, one way to read an Exif file and find the coordinates on geotagged images is to open the picture in photo-editing software and look for a command such as “file info.”  Different software will have different ways to do this- if in doubt, Google search for something like, “how do I open exif file in _____”, putting the name of your software in the blank.  This method requires hunting through a fair amount of information but your GPS coordinates will be in the file somewhere.  Once acquired the coordinates can be pasted into Google Earth or Google Maps to see where the photo was taken.

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Different programs will likely have different menu options, but in Adobe Photoshop Elements the Exif file can be accessed through the File tab, then selecting “File Info”.

 

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By scrolling down through the Exif properties in the File Info, lots of cool data on the exposure including the lat/long coordinates can be reviewed.

 

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It is easy to visualize the exact position where the photo was taken by pasting the lat/long coordinates into Google Earth (screenshot here), Google Maps, or whatever mapping program you care to use.

 

Some software has a more elegant way to find your coordinates.  I like Adobe Lightroom for organizing my files and appreciate that it will display the most pertinent Exif file information including location coordinates for me without any extra digging on my part.  Even neater, by clicking the coordinates it will open Google Maps to show the exact position where the shutter snapped without the extra step of manually cutting and pasting.

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The right sidebar in Adobe Lightroom can be easily configured to show Exif data, including GPS coordinates on geotagged images.

 

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Clicking Lightroom GPS Coordinates takes you directly to the location in Google Maps, no copying & pasting required.

 

A final option I’ll mention are stand-alone Exif readers.  A quick search turns up many options for these, most of which I’m unfamiliar with.  But I have extensively used the top hit, Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer.  This is an online app, so there’s nothing to install.  Instead, you can navigate to a file by either selecting its URL if it is online (such as a Flickr image) or by selecting a file on your computer.  Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer will pull up the whole Exif file, chock-full of useful info summarized at the top of the page followed by  all of the Exif file including some really obscure stuff  farther down the page.  And whammo, a Google Map showing the location is also embedded in the page.

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When using the free online Jeffrey’s Exif viewer to study metadata for an image on your computer, first click on the “Choose File” button.

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Now you can navigate to the image file you are interested and click the blue “Open” button to select it.

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Finally, click on the “View Image From File” button to retrieve the Exif file information.

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Jeffry’s Exif Viewer has some really spiffy features, including a summary of what most photographers are most interested in like GPS coordinates at the top of the page.

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Another tight feature of Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer is an embedded Google Maps frame showing the location of any geotagged photo.