How To Read & Write GPS

This describes how to read and write GPS using GPS devices, Google Maps, Bing Maps and XnView. (Updated from July 2010)

If you simply need an efficient way to add GPS to your digital images, get GeoSetter. It has Google Maps included and it’s free. In one program I can find the co-ordinates, add them to the photos and save templates to re-use. Everything else I’ve seen is just harder.

Picasa is popular because it’s free and it links directly to Google Earth. But, Picasa has some serious problems and limitations as I noted previously in Picasa Summary.

I mostly use Photo Mechanic for IPTC and GeoSetter for GPS so I don’t need anything else. Both of these are able to export KMZ files with embedded metadata for viewing in Google Earth (Photo Mechanic with JPGs only and GeoSetter with JPGs and TIFFs) and, frankly, they do it a lot better than Picasa which tends to be short on metadata options. But if you prefer not to use this software, there is an alternative to Picasa for writing and reading GPS without disturbing your IPTC tags.

GPS Devices

Obviously, if you have a GPS device that records your position every few seconds in a downloadable text document that’s the easiest way to go because you can record your position, within a few seconds, as you’re taking your pictures. How far can most of us move in a few seconds unless we’re taking pictures out of a car window? If you’re moving at 30 mph that’s 44 feet in 1 second, I believe.

So, if your device is set at 5 seconds that could be 220 feet. That’s quite a ways. But generally, traveling on foot with your camera, 5 seconds will put you in close proximity to the exact location of your shot. Photo Mechanic, for instance, can synchronize the GPS data with the timestamps on your photos. So can GeoSetter.

If you have photos of your ancestors’ homes or other locations that you recognize, you can get close enough to street level through Google Maps or Bing Maps to be able to match them with the correct co-ordinates. This is a good thing for future generations who would like to have that information. I know from going through my photos that I know a lot of things about them that will be lost if I don’t write it down. So, now’s a good time.

If you don’t have Photo Mechanic and you don’t have a GPS device and, like me, you are not a fan of Picasa … and you’re still wondering how to get GPS co-ordinates into your photos, here’s some other ideas.

Reading GPS from Google Maps

Finding GPS co-ordinates, Google MapsIf you have a specific address, just type it in. Then zoom down to street level. Google Maps never gets the location quite right, so you’ll have to drag the red arrow to where it belongs. This is done by putting your cursor on the correct spot, right-clicking and choosing “What’s here?” This will move the red arrow there and put the co-ordinates in the search box all in one step.

The New Google Maps puts the co-ordinates directly in the address bar as part of the URL, after you close the search box, and can be retrieved from there although I still have no idea how to change the location of the red push-pin.

For now I’m staying with the classic Google Maps and fortunately they’re not forcing us to upgrade yet.

Reading GPS from Bing Maps

Bing Maps is sometimes more accurate about landing on specific addresses but not necessarily. If it’s not, first you have to ‘Save’ it anyway and that will open your ‘My places editor’. The orange marker will change to a blue pushpin. Hover your cursor over the pushpin and click ‘Move’. This pop-up will tell you what to do next.

How To Find GPS co-ordinates, Bing Maps

Delete all your other mis-marked markers so you don’t confuse yourself.

Bing is from Microsoft so I guess that explains why finding the co-ordinates is so roundabout. Once you have your pushpin centered on the right spot, go to My places editor/Actions/Export/ and choose either option. GPX or KML.

Export KML, Bing Maps

You can open either one with a text editor (right-click/Open With) and there you’ll see the co-ordinates. Something like this:

Address blah blah


Also note, just to be contrary, Bing lists the co-ordinates as Longitude, Latitude rather than the standard other way around. If you find yourself looking at Thailand when you thought you were aiming for Colorado, just remember I told you that.

KML is a Google Earth file so you can go that even longer way around instead. The point here is to get the co-ordinates so you can add them to your photos.

GPS is EXIF info, not IPTC, so what you need is software that edits EXIF.

I’ve already written previously about how to write GPS to your photos using GeoSetter.

Writing GPS with XnView

You can also add GPS co-ordinates using XnView. I haven’t come across anything yet that isn’t a poor second to GeoSetter so I’m just offering this as an alternative if you want one.

First, download the ExifTool Executable.

Unzip the folder and rename exiftool(-k-).exe to exiftool.exe.

Drop it into the XnView AddOn folder.

AddOn folder, XnView

Now, when you select a photo or multiple photos you’ll have the option to Edit GPS data under Edit/Metadata.

Edit GPS data, XnView

Assuming you’ve found your co-ordinates somewhere else, just enter them here.

Edit GPS data, XnView

Reading GPS

Anything that can write GPS can also read it, obviously. It’s part of the EXIF information, which includes things like camera manufacturer, resolution, exposure, shutter speed and so on put there by your camera. When you add GPS it goes right along with it.

XnView makes a pretty good viewer for non-techie relatives to read your IPTC data. And, as it turns out, the GPS co-ordinates as well.

EXIF info, XnView

Way down this EXIF list are the GPS co-ordinates that I added.

XnView does not have an embedded maps feature but it does have an option called ‘Open GPS location in GeoHack‘. Right-click on any thumbnail that has GPS co-ordinates embedded and it will open a Wikipedia page with more maps than you could ever need for viewing your location.

Reading GPS, XnView

GeoHack, XnView

You can also create slideshows in XnView including your choice of metadata with the images. Photo Mechanic does the same sort of thing.

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