Location, location, location

Our digital photos are everywhere; on our laptops, our Facebook profiles and our blogs but they’re also being used to map parts of the earth by appearing as ‘geotagged’ items on programs such as the popular Google Earth. Online services such as Google’s Picasa have made the practice of geotagging our photos on a digital map (or associating photos with where they’ve have been taken) an easier process, but is this exercise worth our time and effort, or is it just a fancy showpiece?

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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  March 9, 2009

Our digital photos are everywhere; on our laptops, our Facebook profiles and our blogs but they’re also being used to map parts of the earth by appearing as ‘geotagged’ items on programs such as the popular Google Earth. Online services such as Google’s Picasa have made the practice of geotagging our photos on a digital map (or associating photos with where they’ve have been taken) an easier process, but is this exercise worth our time and effort, or is it just a fancy showpiece?

Where are you?

When it comes to geotagging, the latitudinal and longitudinal data of a photograph is all that is needed to be able to geotag an image.

This data can be captured with a camera that is GPS enabled, a GPS unit attached to a camera, some of the latest mobile phones and numerous online services. Once this data is captured, it is stored in the EXIF (Exchangeable Image Format) of a photograph.

The EXIF of a photograph stores a photo's metadata, which includes other information such as the camera model and make, and information that varies with each image such as orientation, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, metering mode and ISO speed information.

EXIF was created by the Japan Electronic Industries Development Association (JEIDA) and although it is not necessarily an industry standard, its use by camera manufacturers is universal.

As it stands, only a few cameras, such as the Ricoh 500SE, Nikon Coolpix P6000 and some higher-end mobile phones have a built-in GPS receiver that stores the location information in the EXIF header when a photograph is taken.

For other digital cameras, a separate GPS receiver that fits into the camera can be used. There are a range of GPS receivers out there and most of them are affordable, ranging in price between US $75 to $125.

These receivers can be cumbersome though as they each work differently and can be annoying to carry around. The most prominent example of one of these devices is the Sony GPS-CS1 device, which attaches to your camera and records your location. This particular device, of course, is primarily compatible with Sony digital cameras though the GPS-CS1 is not widely available in the Middle East.

If you don't have the latest GPS enabled camera or you're not keen on carrying a separate GPS device around with you to record the geographical metadata, then photographs can also be geotagged with the latest mobile phones.

The iPhone 3G is equipped with a GPS receiver, and uses the receiver to geotag the EXIF data in photographs taken with the device.

The first generation iPhone is not equipped with GPS but it uses nearby cellular phone towers to triangulate and approximate the location at which the picture was taken, which is then added to the EXIF data associated with the picture.

Even Nokia have jumped on the geotagging front with the Nokia N96, Nokia N78, Nokia 6220 classic and Nokia 6210 Navigator, which all offer geotagging features.

Alternatively, you can use software to view and edit EXIF data. You can download software such as Exif Reader, which is freeware that provides EXIF data that can also be stored in a .csv format. And then, there are online services available for geotagging, especially Picasa's Google Earth.

It's as easy in many instances as uploading your photos onto the Picasa system and then associating the photo you've taken with an area on a Google Earth Map. Picasa writes the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates to the EXIF data of the photo.

Google's Picasa service makes it easy to geotag photos. As long as you have a Google account, you can log in, sign up with Picasa and then geocode photos to be associated with the location where your photos were taken.

You can also render your photos public so that others can view the locations of your photos as well, and if you have Google Earth loaded up on your computer, you can add your geocoded photos to your photo folder and email your friends your photos in a Google Earth file format.

Using Picasa, all you have to do is select the photos you'd like to send and click on Tools > Geotag > Export to Google Earth File and you can then email the file in Google Earth format, which is a .kmz format, and email it to your friends. Your friends, of course, will have to have Google Earth installed on their computer to be able to open the file.

Street view

Associating images with areas on maps has already been taken to the next level. Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides 360° horizontal and 290° vertical street level views and allows users to view parts of some regions of the world at ground level.

Thousands of locations in the United States, France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have been included in Google Street View.

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