Photo Geotagging – My Workflow

I was asked recently about my GPS tagging workflow. Something which I haven’t given much thought too, and I haven’t been that doing that  consistently. This post basically describes the method I find most convenient now.

Tools used

Logging GPS data with Moves app

There are a number of ways to get the GPS data needed to tag the files. I have tried several. GPS photo loggers can collect a lot of data and usually have a pretty good battery life. But there are not many options, most are not mac compatible. I tried one of these, but got a faulty unit and gave up on it. Full GPS units, like Garmin, also collect data that can be downloaded. But the units are generally  bulkier and the screens require more battery usage. iPhone apps are good, because I always have my phone with me. I have used a few different apps here too, Runkeeper is good if you want to also track your exercise progress, but I have used it just because it outputs GPX files. Placetagger is another app that is good for just recording a GX track, and now that it saves the files directly to dropbox. Saving the export step. Both apps worked well, but I found that I would forget to turn them on, and  they had a pretty big hit to the battery life of the phone.

Moves App Screenshot
Moves App Screenshot

The Moves app is always on. So there is never the need to remember to turn it on. It has a fairly low battery draw. But it does have some, so I do carry a backup battery for my iPhone. It records locations, so I can easily review the days activities. it also records my steps, bike rides etc. And it does a really good job identifying them. But the moves app itself only provides a visual way of seeing your daily activities, and only exports images of the day.  Once the developer opened up the app to other developers it became possible to get the raw GPX data out, and is now my primary method for recording my data for Geotagging.

Downloading the GPX Data

The Moves Export  ( service allows you to pull down the Moves data in a GPX format. You have to setup moves to share the data, and give Moves Export permission to access the data. But once you have completed that, it is really easy to pull down each days data file.

  • Start at the “Your Storylines” tab,
  • Navigate to the day
  • Click on the “GPX” button.

If you are looking for a particular day, it may seem cumbersome to navigate day by day with the forward/backward arrows. But you can easily just change the date in the URL string, which  ends with soemthign like startdate=20140228 (startdate=yearmonthday) to the date you want to download. If moves has data for that day you will be able to download it.

Merging data tracks with Adze

Aperture (Lightroom behaves similarly from my understanding) does not work well with multi-track GPX files. Which is most GPX files from moves. There are not a lot of GPX editing apps for Mac. And from the few I have seen, Adze has the best UI. Most of the time I simply use it to merge tracks, but I have also used it to deleted errant GPS points with the GPS point editor. You can also export a KML file if you want to view your location data in google earth.

Adze Screenshot
Adze Screenshot

To merge a multitrack GPX to a single track file

  • Open the GPX file,
  • Select all tracks
  • Choose Merge Selected Tracks from the select menu
  • Save (or Save as…)

Tagging image files in Aperture

Aperture and Lightroom store the location metadata in the applications database, and do not in the original RAW files. Aperture’s tagging is a little different than others I have seen. I believe Lightroom simply tags the selected files based on their times. Another app I have used, GPSphotolinker, also uses the times. Aperture requires you to drag the selected files over the point on the GPS track that matches the first image. This usually is not too hard and would theoretically allow you to shift the set if you time was off a few minutes. But if you have a lot of overlapping tracks, it can be harder to live up than you expect. Otherwise the steps are strait-forward.

  • Load the GPX track
  • Select files and drag them to the correct point on the track for the first track

I used to use GPSphotolinker. Which gave the option of recording the GPS data in a sidecar file, or in the original raw file. But since it no longer works with the current Mac OX. They do make a commercial program called Photo Linker Pro which is compatible, but is not free like GPSphotolinker. I am sure it is an excellent program, but I decided to stick with the Aperture only method instead of buying another app.


Geotagging Japan on the iPhone with Placetagger

I just finished up a month long trip to Japan.

My first thought was to purchase a dedicated GPS tracker. Based on reviews at amazon I ordered an AMOD AGL3080 logger, but unfortunately I reieved a defective module. Without enough time to get a replacement I decided to return this and try using the GPS built into my iPhone and went about searching the iTunes store for the best app to log the GPS coordinates. Placetagger appeared to fit the bill, so I purchased it and logged as much as I could of my trip. The app had pretty good reviews and they recently added an update. Unfortunately the app did not live up to my expectations.

The app has several good feature, a simple to use interface, icloud support, and exports data as a standard GPX file.

Some of the critical problems I ran into

  • The app crashes at random times: Once I realized this I was pretty good about checking my phone often to make sure it was still running. But there were several times I forgot. Fortunately it does not loose all the data before the crash and I can see from the log at what point it stopped logging.
  • Unable to export some data: I didn’t realize this until way too late. When you choose to export data on the iPhone the app launches a email message with the attached GPX data file, sometimes the file never shows up.
  • Appears to stop logging sometimes in the background: I would switch over to mail/instagram etc and often forget to bring Placetagger back to the foreground. It appears that it doesn’t always log when in the background.
  • The app won’t show the GPS coordinates on a map outside the US: When you select a GPS log it will just show you a blank map of the US. No idea why the map would be limited in this way. But this was not a big issue for me since the goal here is to get the GPX data file to my desktop to geotag my photos.

With a few changes it could be very good app.

  • To start with fix the bugs: Until that is done I would not recommend using this app.
  • Pause / Resume: Through the day I would stop for a meal or coffee and don’t need to log, why not let the user pause logging. Perhaps in set intervals of 15 or 30 minutes would be a nice feature that would have the app logging again without the need to go back and select resume.
  • Save GPX data files directly to dropbox: The whole point of this is to access the GPX files for tagging, eliminate the extra step of mailing each file.
  • View the frequency: The Precision to Battery Life slider is great, but I would like to know how often if is actually logging.

Internet access in Japan using an iPhone and B-mobile

Previously I have taken my iPhone and relied on wifi access where I could get it. But unlike the US free wifi was not that common. Few cafes or hotels offered the service. Wifi service is a little more common now, I wanted a more consistent connection for checking mail, instagramming or accessing FB and of course maps. 

There are a number of different SIM cards you can get for a smartphone with an unlocked SIM. Many offer voice and data and some just voice. But all I really needed was data. B-mobile was the only service I know of that offers a data only plan. For around $40 (¥3,500) you can get a sim (or in my case a micro-sim for the iPhone 4S) with 1GB of data, which was just the right amount of time for me. The card is available at the Yodobashi Camera/Bic Camera or Yamada Denki.    

A few things to be aware of:

  • You must have a phone with an unlocked SIM slot. Many companies will unlock your SIM slot for international travel so check with your phone service before your trip. 
  • To activate the SIM card you must call an activation number from a Japanese phone. The card isn’t active until the 1PM next day. 
  • 1GB is a lot of data but if you use the phone often you can burn through that pretty quick. Many apps run in the background constantly downloading and checking updates. I suggest downloading a data monitor app. I used “My Data Manager” for iPhone which is free. You can also turn on airplane mode, or temporarily disable “Cellular Data” to minimize data usage.  You can of course purchase another card or refill your current card.
  • ImageThe network settings for 3G data need to be configured for B-mobile. I didn’t realize this at first and for the first day thought the SIM card was not working. 


Update: It does appear that B-mobile has a visitor card in 14-day and 1 month variations that does not require activation and can be picked up at the airport.