Adding GPS coordinates, an inexpensive solution

Import GPS log from smartphone using PhotoMechanic

For some time I have wanted to add GPS coordinates to my photographs both to help with captioning and to provide a precise location for clients. The problem has been availability or apparent cost of GPS loggers for my camera systems (Canon and Fuji).

I recalled an article by David Kilpatrick in F2 Freelance Photographer magazine (July/August 2014) where he used a small separate GPS logger costing around £40 ($60) but it seems to be no longer available. There are others but many are rather expensive. I use PhotoMechanic to caption and keyword my pictures and I had noticed references to GPS coordinates and it seemed to be able to import GPS logs and apply them to pictures. The principal requirement for is that the GPS log file must be a gpx/ nmea format.

Use what you already have

Then it dawned on me, I carry a GPS enabled device with me everywhere in the shape of my smartphone. Mine is an Android Samsung Galaxy S4, two generations old, but a quick search of the PlayStore and I found several apps for recording location logs in a suitable format. I chose GPX Logger as it was free and well rated, there are others, and there will also be similar apps for iPhone. The logging app needs location services switched on which has a high battery drain and of course other apps, including Google, can track your location, often doing so even when the app is switched off. So this might not be for those who are concerned about such openness. Anyway, with location services switched on and GPX recording my locations I started taking pictures. I was only recording while I was actively shooting but I could have recorded my trip's wanderings an dused that in other software to keep track of my journey. I loaded the app, switched it on and used the default settings for logging.

Back home I downloaded the pictures and then imported the gps log from my phone. I had a couple of false starts where PhotoMechanic could not match the images due to the GPX Logger app and my camera having different time settings. After I checked the time difference PhotoMechanic allowed me to set a time offset and almost instantly the appropriate images had GPS locations in their file information. It was that easy. It would also show my track on a map before I updated the images.

So I can now add GPS coordinates to images where it is appropriate, particularly for travel and news pictures. I do not need to buy an expensive add-on for my cameras or even an inexpensive GPS logger that would be yet something else to carry and keep charged. I will now use my phone, which I will always have with me anyway, a free app and my preferred keywording tool.

There are many articles online that explain how to import GPS data into Lightroom using its Map module. It would appear that Capture 1 Pro, my preferred raw converter, does not import GPS log files directly. Phase One recommend Photolinker which is for the Mac and costs $29.99 - still cheaper than a dedicated logger (and you could still need the software anyway). For Windows, there seem to be several tools, including free ones, for geotagging from GPS log files but I have not tried any of them  so I am not making any recommendations. I always take my pictures through PhotoMechanic (on Windows) before conversion (rename, keyword, copyright notice etc.). That works fine as Capture 1 Pro can see the GPS data and even pass it to Google Maps to show the location in my browser.

An inexpensive and convenient solution to GPS geotagging

So it is good to find an inexpensive and usable solution to a need. The only thing I have not checked is the impact on battery life of having GPS location services enabled for extended periods. As the other use I am going to explore is using my phone  to track an extended trip so I can show it on a map. That will require extended use of GPS so I will find out what sort of battery life I get. I will update this article when I have more experience of how long I can use GPS tracking without recharging.

One final though, the GPS location is where you were when you took the picture which may be some way from the location of the subject. Capturing that information will be a manual exercise I am afraid, possibly using the GPS track as a guide. Not an issue most of the time but could be for landscape photographers when the subject stretches over several miles in front of the photographer.

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