We’ve all been there. We take several photos of a memorable trip, a special event, or just photos of some interesting things that we see. But then, one or two years later, we look at a photo and ask ourselves, “where was that photo taken?”
The answer to the question isn’t difficult if the photo was taken with a smart phone. Modern smart phones use their internal GPS to automatically tag the location where a photo is taken. That is, unless the user has turned off location services. But if you’re a DSLR photographer, the answer can be more difficult. Very few DSLR cameras have built-in GPS capability. The same is true for the new mirrorless cameras.
The SnapBridge Option for Nikon
Most modern Nikon cameras will link to a phone app called SnapBridge which, in theory, uses the phone’s GPS as a source to tag photographs. However, in my experience, this option leaves much to be desired. The refresh rate of the location information isn’t sufficient when one is taking photos over a wide area, especially if you are continually on the move.
One option is to manually tag the photos. This option is available if you’re using Lightroom, Adobe’s excellent photo organizer and editor. Lightroom has a map option which allows you to manually click on a map location to tag one or more photos. The downside of this is that it can be very time-consuming. This is especially true if you are looking at a large number of photos taken over a wide ranging area, as one might do while traveling. However, until recently I knew of no better option.
Then a friend of mine introduced me to an app called myTracks, created by Dirk Stichling. This app is available for both Apple iOS and Android devices.
MyTracks runs in the background on your phone and keeps track of your location as you move around. It is also adjustable to update as often as every five seconds. Frankly, I haven’t found that to be necessary — about once every 30 seconds seems more than adequate for street photography, even when I’m covering a significant amount of area. More frequent updating also has an effect on battery life.
When you’re finished with your photo session, myTracks creates a standard GPX file which can then be uploaded into Lightroom. Once your photographs are uploaded, there is an option to correlate photos with the myTracks file.
How does it do that if there is no location information from the camera?
The answer is that it uses time. Every camera timestamps the metadata for each photograph that it takes. In addition to recording a GPS location on a regular basis, myTracks also records the exact time that each location is recorded. Therefore, it is simply a matter of correlating the timestamp in the photograph’s metadata to the timestamp on the GPS location.
Of course, for accuracy two things are required. First, the internal clock of the camera and that of the phone must be synchronized. If you do not have the capability to actually synchronize the two settings, it is usually sufficient to just be sure that the time on the camera agrees with the time on your phone. Second, the myTracks app must be set to update often enough that there is a relatively close time stamp to correlate to the photos. This will depend on the type of shooting you’re doing. Obviously, the more you are moving around over distance, the more often you should have the app updating.
Probably one of the best things about the myTracks app is that it is free. You can buy an upgrade which will allow you to store your tracks and view them on a desktop computer. However, I’m not using this app to determine such things as how far I walked or how fast. Therefore, once I’ve uploaded the location file and used it to tag my photographs, I really have no need to look at it again. So for my purposes the free app works just fine.
If you’re an avid photographer, amateur or professional, who takes quite a few pictures, I highly recommend this app is a companion to your photo shoots.