When we do our High Country Cruises, taking photographs of where we go and what we experience is part and parcel of the trip, notwithstanding some gaps over the years. One of the things that sometimes causes a bit of head scratching and thought, is pondering where a photograph was taken. It’s been quite a challenge at times and errors have been made. I keep track of where we go (or have been of late) using the Memory Map mapping program (note, I’ve removed the link to the Memory Map site, as it’s been reported to have malicious code, it appears OK, but be wary), linked to a GPS receiver, so track recording is pretty simple nowadays. It wasn’t so easy in the paper map days, but things improved dramatically when hand held GPS units became available and track records could be transferred to a PC. Though that didn’t make identifying the location of photographs any easier (especially when you were still using film).
So I recently had a closer look at improving the correlation of our Cruise track logs and associated photographs, so that they were easier to pinpoint. Some people lament the fact that only a few cameras have a built-in GPS like mobile phones to make this easier but, personally, I think keeping the GPS and camera separate is a better option. For one thing, GPS technology has developed significantly over the years, such that we now have units with dual GPS systems allowing for both Navstar (US) and GLONASS (Russian) in a single unit, which can dramatically improve satellite signal acquisition and retention, especially when in difficult terrain. One day the EU may even get their Galileo system fully operational and then there’s even Beidou (China), amongst others. Mobile phones also have the advantage of A-GPS, which uses mobile phone towers when GPS signal is lost or poor, so should cameras also have SIM cards and mobile phone technology included?
The GPS device that I usually use to create a track log when on a Cruise is a tablet that I position on my dashboard, this serves a dual purpose of actively displaying where I happen to be at any point in time (showing a large and detailed map), as well as recording the track. When I get home after a Cruise, I simply transfer the recorded track to my PC as a permanent record of the Cruise. But as the tablet is only used for the longer trips that we do on our Cruises, when I’m not doing a Cruise, I still want to have a track log if I do some general driving for photography or go walking in the bush. Fortunately this is pretty easy nowadays as there are so many simple and easy to use devices that do just this. I have tried using my mobile phone, but the apps that do this (for my Windows phone) aren’t the best or require you to download your tracks to a server provided by the app supplier in order to use them. So my preferred method is a simple GPS data logger that does nothing more than record your track. Here’s a review of the earlier model to the one that I bought on eBay.
Once the track is recorded, all that needs to be done is to transfer it to my PC and then open a program that I’ve had for a while, but never really made a major effort to use. The (free) program is called Microsoft Pro Photo Tools that came out quite some years ago, but seems to have been discontinued, though copies are still available if you search Google (and it runs on Windows 10). Microsoft Pro Photo Tools is basically designed to allow you to edit the EXIF data in your digital image by taking GPS information from a track log and correlating it with the time stamp in your photograph, imprinting the coordinates into the photograph. Now Microsoft Pro Photo Tools isn’t the only software that does this, as there are numerous other products designed to do much the same. Even Adobe Lightroom will allow you to do this but, after trying it, I didn’t like it. Microsoft Pro Photo Tools is simple and easy to use so, until I find something better, I see no reason to change.
Once you’ve loaded the track log (in GPX format), you can load photos into the program and set the image date-time information to either that of the photos or the GPS track log. If there is a discrepancy between the camera date/time and that of the track log, you can adjust this in the settings quite easily. Once this is done, you select all the photos that you want to place on the map and then tell the program to place the images to the locations where they correlate with the track log on the map. Once you’re happy with the locations, you select Done and the photographs will have the GPS coordinates embedded in the EXIF of the photographs. You have to select File and Save to complete the process, otherwise the coordinates are not saved to the photographs. You can even view the map in aerial view.
There are a few other functions that the program does, such as undoing GPS information on a photograph, or creating a route from a series of images, which may work well if still images are taken from the likes of a dash cam, but that’s pretty much all that it does. Some programs will allow you to convert the track and pins (including photos) to a Google Map scene or the like, but Microsoft Pro Photo Tools won’t do that. For me that’s not an issue, as I’m not using this feature in my stories at the moment, as it’s more for my own use to identify where a photo was taken. If you do want to include your track on Google Maps, you can use Google My Maps to import a track and display it and/or send it to various social media. You can also add photos to any point on the map.
Click on map and watch it work.
As a footnote, The Columbus V990 produces a track record in CSV format and can be easily converted to many different formats using their accompanying Time Album software. It’s somewhat basic, but does the job reasonably well. The accuracy of the tracking is very good and I used the feature recently where I just left it on and when not in motion, the unit went to sleep (for around eight hours or so), consuming almost no power, and resumed instantly once movement was detected. One odd thing about the data is that my maximum speed at some point was recorded as being nearly 243 km/h, but I can’t find any such speed in the original CSV file (not that my vehicle could even remotely do that speed).
So with a couple of simple tools and techniques, you can easily find where you took those photographs and, just as easily, show those places and photographs to friends, or the world. As a final word, while a mobile phone does all of these things with it’s embedded technology, I much prefer other devices to retain their more mundane characteristics, such as a camera being predominantly a camera and not a Jack of all Trades. I have no issue if a camera takes an attachment, such as a GPS, but I prefer such things to remain separate items as much as possible. If you need mobile phone features, use a mobile phone.
Update: The software that came with the V-990 data logger tended to be a bit flaky in that, while it would record the tracks accurately, the conversion to GPX format wasn’t the same as that produced by the Memory Map program that I use on my tablet. This meant that, for some reason, the Microsoft Pro Photo Tools software wouldn’t identify the time stamp on the photographs to enable it to properly position the photographs on the track. So I went looking for an alternative CSV to GPX converter and found BT747, which is is designed to work with the MTK GPS chipset used with the V-990 and similar units. A quick test on a CSV file from our last Cruise showed that this software appears to work well, with Pro Photo Tools displaying the converted track correctly and positioning photographs correctly. The software is quick and easy to use and converts track files to numerous formats, but a bit more testing is on the cards.