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Originally published Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 8:06 PM

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Tagging your summer travel photos with GPS location info

There are several ways to get GPS data onto your images. Apps are handy, and you can use a GPS-enabled camera phone to snap a reference photo and copy its information to other, related images made with a non-GPS camera.

Special to The Seattle Times


Practical Mac

As the last bursts of summer highlight the early turning leaves, you may still be able to squeeze in a vacation, weekend camping trip or day hike before the weather turns. And when you do, you’ll probably have a camera with you.

But where will that be? A photo’s location is an important piece of information that can be recorded and viewed on the Mac, iOS devices and popular photo-sharing services.

The iPhone and cellular-enabled iPad models include a chip that notes the Global Positioning System location and writes that data to photos you capture. If you’re shooting with a camera that doesn’t include GPS technology built in, you have a few options.

You could buy an adapter for your camera that adds GPS data to pictures as you capture them. Those devices tend to be limited to a small number of DSLR cameras and can be pricey. For example, Nikon’s GP-1 costs about $200.

Casual photographers are more likely to use either an external GPS tracking device or an app on the iPhone, such as MotionX-GPS ($1.99, or Geotag Photos Pro ($3.99, They construct a tracklog of your locations and create a GPX (GPS Exchange) file that can be read by many photo-management applications.

In Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, for example, you can import the tracklog and then auto-tag photos whose image-capture times match up with the tracklog’s timeline.

The approach used in Apple’s Aperture is a little more involved: After importing the tracklog, you must drag a photo you shot during that timeline onto the path you traversed on a map so the time stamps line up. As soon as one photo is placed, others in that time span can automatically be tagged.

If you use Apple’s iPhoto, you’ll need an outside application such as Houdah Geo ($29, and import your photos and the tracklog into it first. After the GPS information is assigned, Houdah Geo can export the tagged photos into iPhoto.

Working with tracklogs may be too complicated for many people, but there’s a great, low-stress way to capture location data — as long as you remember to do it. Using an iPhone or other GPS-enabled camera phone, take a snapshot of a location you want to remember. You then use that photo — or rather, the image’s GPS data — as a location reference for the shots you capture using a non-GPS camera.

When you return to your Mac, import the photos from your camera and your phone into your photo software, copy the GPS data, and add it to the shots you took at the same time.

Aperture includes a nifty way to do this from an iPhone. Connect the iPhone to your Mac via sync cable, and then, in Aperture’s Places module, choose Import GPS from iPhone from the GPS menu below the map. You can then choose your reference photo and extract just the GPS data without importing the image itself.

In Lightroom, you do need to import the tagged photo, but it’s easy to propagate the data to other nearby photos. First, select the shots you want to tag in addition to the reference image. Make sure the tagged shot is the “target” image (click it after you’ve made your initial selection) and then click the Sync Metadata button. In the dialogue that appears, enable the GPS checkbox and click Synchronize to copy the coordinates to the other selected photos.

And if you use Apple’s iPhoto, you can accomplish the same task by copying and pasting. Select the reference photo and choose Edit > Copy. Next, select the photos you want to tag and choose Edit > Paste Location.

Just as you’re likely to travel many routes to take good photos while you’re on vacation — even if that’s at a local attraction or park — there are several paths to getting GPS data onto your images. When it can be as easy as snapping a reference photo, adding that information starts to become second nature.

Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to More Practical Mac columns at


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