Location Metadata Options

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Today’s Question: After your recent discussion of cameras that include GPS capability, could you recap the general options that are available for getting GPS-based location metadata added to my photos?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In my mind there are four basic options for adding location information to your photos via GPS. Those include “location snapshots”, recording a track log while you are photographing, using an accessory GPS receiver that connects to a camera, or opting for a camera with a built-in GPS receiver.

More Detail: If your primary camera does not include a built-in GPS receiver, there is still a good chance you have a camera (such as a smartphone) that does include a GPS receiver. If so, you can use the GPS-enabled camera to capture what I refer to as a “location snapshot”. This basically involves capturing reference photos of key locations with your GPS-enabled camera, and then using the embedded location metadata from those photos to add location information to the photos captured with your primary camera that does not include a GPS receiver. The disadvantage to this approach, of course, is that there is more work involved in adding location information to your photos.

Another approach that involves two devices is to record a GPS track log with one device during the time you’re capturing photos with a camera that doesn’t have GPS capabilities. As long as you ensure the clocks on both devices are set accurately, you can later synchronize the photos with the track log to add location information to your photos. You can record the track log with a variety of GPS navigator units, or with a GPS app for a smartphone, for example. Then, using software such as Lightroom Classic CC you can synchronize the photos and track log to add GPS coordinates to the photos. This approach provides location information for potentially all of the photos you capture, without accelerating the drain of your camera’s battery.

For some cameras that do not include a built-in GPS receiver there are accessory units available. These generally plug directly into the camera, and draw power from the camera. You therefore gain the convenience of automatic location information for potentially all of the photos you capture, but with additional battery drain and an additional device attached to your camera.

Finally, you can find a variety of digital cameras (including digital SLR models) that include a built-in GPS receiver. Provided you have a good GPS signal (such as by ensuring you have a clear view of the sky during your photography) this can enable every photo to have location information embedded in the metadata. This is obviously quite convenient. However, having the GPS receiver enabled can also significantly reduce the life of your battery.

I feel that the convenience of having a built-in GPS receiver is worth the additional battery drain, in part because for me location information is generally useful for the photos I capture. In my experience, having the GPS receiver enabled cuts my battery life about in half, requiring me to be sure to have one or two spare batteries available for extended photography outings. The key is to consider the various options available to you, and decide which approach to GPS location tagging for your photos makes the most sense for your particular needs and preferences.