How-To: Using your cell phone and a BT GPS device for better photography

So today when I got to the mailbox outside I found the bi-weekly edition of c’t, a German computer magazine. They had a short story about injecting your photos with GPS positions. They even released a piece of Java software which runs on your cell phone.

So the basic problem is this: You take photos and want to pin them to a map. Currently there are only a few options out there that do this right out of the box. Nikon and Canon have some expensive add-ons for their high-end digital SLRs. Well I don’t have the money to get an EOS 1D or something near that price range. So am I out of options? Well without a tiny piece of work, yes I am.

Fortunately we have creative developers, cell phones with Bluetooth and Java capability and – since the invention of portable navigation hard- and software – wireless GPS receivers. All you have to do is install a piece of software like TrekBuddy on your mobile. I own a Sony Ericsson K610i but from what I’ve heart most of the recent cell phones come with a Java-stack that is compatible with Bluetooth devices like a GPS receiver.

After extracting the downloaded piece of software you simply send the .jar file to the mobile device which will ask you where to install it. After starting it up I had to create some directories on the memory card of my cell phone, where the created GPS logs will be saved. After the first start of TrekBuddy have to edit the settings according to your device. For example set the right path to the memory card (in my case “file:///e:/other/“) and activating the actual tracklog which I set to the GPX 1.1 format. The last setting is important because after the shoot you have to combine the images with the GPS data and the software – GPSPhotoLinker – I used for this needs it in this format.

Now. Before you start your shooting sessions you need to activate the software, the GPS device and wait for a satellite lock so the device knows where it is. The TomTom receiver I used tells you by blinking green light and you will see a number on your cell phone screen which tells you how many satellites it is seeing. TrekBuddy also gives you the option to upload your own maps to the cellphone. So you could even manually navigate through a foreign city if you needed to. I haven’t looked deeper into this feature so I cannot tell how good or bad it works yet.

After the shooting you load your images to your desktop and copy the created .gpx file from your cell there, too. Then it’s time for the “magic”. You start GPSPhotoLinker and load the GPX track. On the “Manual” tab you can see the created points. After that it’s time to load the images. I tried Canon’s RAW format and also the JPEGs. Both worked without any problem.

For the combination of both “datasets” to work it’s important that the time in your camera and cell phone are synchronised as this is the key for the application to put the GPS data into the image’s metadata. In the “Batch” tab of GPSPhotoLinker you can set some further options. After being happy with all settings you can just hit “Batch save to photos”. This might take some time depending of how many images you loaded into it. After the job is done, you can then import the updated RAW or JPEG files to your favorite editing applications. I guess Lightroom and Aperture both can identify the added metadata directly without any further modifications. Or, if you have JPEGs and only want to upload the images up to a photo-sharing site like Zooomr or Flickr, you can directy upload them without the need to nail each photo to the map by hand. Both sites had no problem with identifying the geotags. Only Zooomr seems not to like images that come out of Aperture with additional information.

This “tutorial” is far from being perfect but it should point you into the right direction if you are lazy and sick of putting each single photo on a digital map. Feel free to fill up the comments with questions. 🙂