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?”
If you took the photo with a smartphone, the answer to the question isn’t difficult. Modern smartphones use their internal GPS to automatically tag the location of each photo. 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 Nikon1 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 taking photos over a wide area, especially if you are continually on the move.
One option is to tag the photos manually. This option is available if you’re using Lightroom, Adobe’s excellent photo organizer and editor. Lightroom has a map option that 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 affects 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 regularly, myTracks also records the exact time 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 synchronized2. If you do not have the capability to actually synchronize the two settings, it is usually sufficient to be sure that the time on the camera agrees with the time on your phone. This synchronization is important. If there is a major difference – an hour, for example – between the location time captured on the phone and the metadata time, no photos will be tagged.
Second, the myTracks app must 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 move around over distance, the more often you should have the app updating. However, more frequent updating will affect battery life on your phone.
One of the best things about the myTracks app is that it is free. You can buy an upgrade that 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 do not 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 lots of pictures, I highly recommend this app as a companion to your photoshoots.
- Since I use Nikon equipment, I address the Nikon app option here. However, Canon and Sony have similar apps.
- Not having the camera and phone set to the same time is the most frequent error I’ve seen from this app. It most often occurs when daylight saving time comes or goes. The phone automatically updates but the camera does not. (I note this from experience.) However, Lightroom does provide the ability to adjust the metadata time stamp in bulk if you have a series of shots in which the time is off for this reason.