Sunday, June 7, 2015

Use Google to geotag your DSLR photos in Lightroom

Since Adobe came out with version 4 of their non-destructive Lightroom photo editing/organizing software, users such as myself have had the ability to add or manage geotag information in their photos. Hallelujah! This isn't a feature that appeals to everyone, but for those who like to take their cameras on the road, it's a great way to keep track of all of the great places you've been to. Companies such as Canon have tried to help photographers scratch their geotagging itch by releasing a couple of overpriced GPS units that plug into Canon cameras (or any camera with a hotshoe, really) and record GPS data into the image files of a few (very few) camera models. Great in theory, but since none of Canon's GPS units work with popular models such as the EOS 5D Mark II, most users are required to set the GPS device to record a tracklog, later on download the data to a computer, and then using a proprietary Canon utility, embed the GPS data into their photos. Not a horrible solution, in theory. But then some wise photographers who hate long workflows thought "Hey, why don't I bypass the slow, obnoxious Canon utility and import my tracklogs directly into Photoshop 4, 5, 6 or later?" This is where problems arose.

The tracklog format that Canon uses in the GP-E2 is sadly not an industry standard and cannot be read by Lightroom. This certainly does beg the question of why Canon would even release such a useless GPS device in the first place. But no matter, because this is where Google can save the day by solving a pesky format incompatibility, potentially lighten your load for things you carry, and probably even simplify your workflow. Say hello to Google Location History, the service that conspiracy theorists fear, employers love, and travel photographers should embrace starting yesterday. 

Google Location History

The basis behind much of Google and most that they aspire to do for the end user relies heavily on tracking where you are for the purpose of giving you the best local results. They record this data, if you let them, by using your Android smart phone or the Google search app on iOS. As a photographer, it becomes incredibly simple to download your location data from Google, convert it to a format that Lightroom can read, and then load it into Lightroom.

Step 1 - Enable Location Reporting: If you don't already have it enabled, the first step is to enable location history reporting from your Android phone or iOS device. Here are instructions on how to do this in Android and iOS.

Step 2 - Take Pictures: Make sure you bring your phone with you next time you go out with your camera. Your phone and Google will do the rest.

Step 3 - Download Everything: Once you've gone out, shot what you wanted to shoot, captured what you wanted to see, you need to get your photos loaded into Lightroom, and you need to download your location history for the day of your shoot. Navigate to and select the date you want from the calendar in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Once you've done this, click on the "Export to KML" link below the calendar. This will download your tracklog for the day you've selected in the data format that Google Earth uses.
Download your location data in KML

Step 4 - Convert the KML file to GPX: Unfortunately KML files cannot be used directly with Lightroom at the time of this writing (hint hint to anyone working at Adobe.) But the great thing is that there are countless free utilities, both downloadable and online, which will convert KML to GPX for you. Go find one, load your KML file and turn it into a GPX file. I always use the online converted at but by all means use whatever you find works best for you.

Step 5 - Load the GPX file in Lightroom and auto-tag photos: The final step is pretty straight forward. Once you have your tracklog in GPX format, load it into Lightroom under the Maps module. To do that, switch the Maps module.

Then load your track log by clicking on the bottom drop-down menu with an icon shaped like a sideways lightning bolt. Click on "Load tracklog" and select your GPX file.

If everything went right, you should now see your tracklog in Lightroom.

Next, select all the photos that you want to geotag. Once you've done this, go back to the sideways lightning icon drop-down menu and select "Auto-Tag Selected Photos" to match up your photos to your tracklog. An important thing to note here is that Lightroom assumes that the time and date of your camera is correct. If you haven't accurately set the clock on your camera, your photos might not be accurately geotagged. 

Give lightroom some time to do it's thing, and before you know it all of your photos should be geotagged. Great!

So there you go, a simple way to geotag your photos shot with a dSLR or other proper digital camera that doesn't have a GPS handy. I've used this with my Android phone and also my iPad - the results have been accurate, which is all I can really ask for. The only thing left to do is to see if someone will buy my Canon GP-E2...