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Geotagging in Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Lightroom simplifies many aspects of managing large numbers of images. One thing it won't do though is help you add longitude and latitude metadata. There are other programs that will do this of course, but if you can do directly in Lightroom, so much the better. With the growing popularity of geotagging, I wanted to let you know about a great Lightroom plug-in you can download to do this.

First, a bit about geotagging for those not yet familiar with the concept. Your digital camera will happily record metadata about the shutter speed, aperture and other shooting data and embed it as part of each image. If you've ever tried keeping track of such data when shooting film, you know how wonderful it is to have a camera that will do this for you. But if you travel much, it can be difficult to keep track of where you shot all those great images. Yes, it's a picture of a pristine mountain lake, but which lake? If you're not careful, you may have no way of telling in the future. If you could just add longitude and latitude data to the other metadata embedded in each image, your worries would be over.

The Lightroom Plug-in ManagerThere are two main approaches to achieving this objective. First, you may be able to record location data in real time. Your camera may have a GPS receiver built in or have provisions for attaching a small GPS to its UPS port. If it does and you choose to go this route, your images will end up with longitude and latitude right out of the camera.

But built-in GPS receivers are rare, and add on ones tend to cost a lot more than stand-alone GPS receivers. Add on ones can also be cumbersome since you end up with an appendage hanging from your UPS port to contend with while you're shooting. Most of these devices affix to the camera's flash hot shoe too which makes it difficult to use flash. Or even a hot shoe mounted bubble level so you can keep the horizon level.

Which leads me to the second main approach: a GPS logger. These are small stand alone GPS receivers that automatically record waypoint data to internal memory at set intervals. With a sensitive enough antenna, you can actually keep a GPS logger in your pocket and still have it keep a satellite fix allowing it to keep track of where you've been all day long without you worrying about it or getting in your way while shooting.

This approach does have one significant drawback though in that the details about your location are in the GPS logger's memory, not embedded in your photos. The GPS logger gets its time from the same satellite network that tells it where it is, so assuming you make sure the clock in your camera is set accurately before you start shooting, it is possible to line things up after the fact and geotag each photo by matching timestamps.

Geoencoding Plug-in options on the File menuCreated by an American now living in Japan, Jeffrey Friedl's Geoencoding Support Plugin for Lightroom is one tool that can help perform this feat. But that's only the start of what it can do.

Before it can do anything though, you'll need to download it and install it. It's distributed as donationware, so you are free to download it and try it out before making any commitments. If you like it, all he asks is that you make a donation to pay him for what you feel it is worth. It works on both Windows and Mac OS. After you download it as a zip file from Jeffrey's website, unzip it and add it to your Lightroom modules folder. Depending on your operating system, you can find the correct folder based on the following:

  • On Mac OS: "~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Modules" for just the current user, or "/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Modules" for all users
  • On Windows XP: "C:\Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom\Modules"
  • On Windows Vista or Windows 7: "C:\Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Modules"

Copy the "gps-jfriedl.lrplugin" folder contained within the zip download to the correct location on your system, then start Lightroom. From the Lightroom File menu, select File >> Plug-in Manager and click on "Add." Navigate to the location you placed the lrplugin folder and click on "OK." Now you can start using Jeffrey Friedl's cool plug-in.

To tag images, select the ones you want to work with in the Library module and select File >> Plug-in Extras >> Geoencode. Use the Grid view to see your entire shooting session at the same time. If you have a file from your GPS logger with the needed waypoint data, select the "Geoencode from Tracking" tab and point it to your tracklog file. If you forgot to set your camera's clock when Daylight Saving Time changed or if your camera clock wasn't set correctly for any other reason, you can compensate for it here.

But even if you don't have a GPS logger, the Geoencoding Plug-in can save the day. You can enter your own longitude and latitude if you have it, or use Google Earth to search for the location and import the needed data that way. There are plenty of other options too to make things easy for you. This is one area where Jeffrey's plug-in really excels. He obviously has invested some real thought into covering most every conceivable way of getting location data added to your images.

Once you have geocoding metadata added to your images, the Geoencoding Plug-in has support to let you see that data. When installed, it adds a Geoencoding selection to the drop-down list in the Metadata panel. There's even a button there to open your favorite mapping site so you can see just where a given longitude and latitude actually is.

By default, the plug-in keeps location data separate from your images as "shadow GPS data" but there is an option to have it write it directly to your XMP sidecar files as Lightroom does with regular metadata. Either way, the plug-in also adds support to inject the GPS data into images you export using any of the standard Lightroom export plug-ins.

All in all, the Geoencoding Plug-in is a great piece of software and includes more options than most other geotagging programs I've tried. Definitely recommended.

Date posted: January 9, 2011


Copyright © 2011 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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