Photography & Filming

Is Tagging Your Photos With GPS Coordinates Useful?

I’ve been making a tutorial about the Map Module in Lightroom Classic for the Dutch Photographic community. It can be a lot of work collecting and adding GPS data to your images. Does this information have any use at all, or is it just nice to have?

It may be helpful to know where a photo was taken. Perhaps you remember it very well, but as time passes, the memory can become less clear. Especially if you travel a lot, it may become difficult to know exactly where the place was, should you return one day.

You can keep track, of course. I used to write the location in a photo album, and often, the exact place wasn’t that important at all. But with GPS built into a camera, it is possible to record the exact spot where you stood when the image was taken. It can even record the altitude.

A GPS Module Inside the Camera

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II has GPS built in, just like the Canon 5D Mark IV. Sometimes, I used it, sometimes, I simply forgot to turn it on. The nice thing about built-in GPS was the automatic tagging of the coordinates while photographing. Now, I have the Canon EOS R5, which doesn’t have GPS built in. You could say that’s a shame, but if I think of the number of times I needed the coordinates that were recorded with my previous cameras, it doesn’t really matter. Not for me, at least.

Using a GPS Data Logger

There is another way of recording GPS coordinates. With a GPS data logger, your hikes can be recorded. Synchronize the time of the GPS data logger with the camera, and it becomes easy to retrieve the coordinates afterwards.

Instead, I installed a simple GPS data logger on my smartphone. It does the same trick, although I don’t like to be dependent on the smartphone for so many things. I would prefer a separate GPS data logger, if I could find one. But it works, and the app on my smartphone records my travels. This way, I can place the coordinates in the EXIF data afterwards.

The Map Module in Lightroom Classic

I use Lightroom Classic to manage my photo database. It has a map module built in, something that’s often overseen. If your photos have GPS coordinates, the software will place the image directly onto the map. 

Lightroom Classic allows you to import a GPS data track also. You have to be careful, though, because if you have passed through any time zones, you need to correct the imported data track by the amount of hours. If you do, it’s easy to tag all images with the correct GPS coordinates with a single push of the button, so to speak.

I’ve done this for my photo travels to Norway, Iceland, France, and Luxembourg, I recorded the GPS coordinates every single day and imported the tracks into Lightroom Classic. This way, the GPS information was placed in the EXIF data, and Lightroom Classic automatically added additional location information.

Now, I know where my photos were taken. I can trace my travels in the ,ap module inside Lightroom Classic and… well, that’s it, really. I can’t think of anything else to do with the information besides looking at the Map module.

With every export, the information is added to the EXIF information of the JPEG image. The information is read if I upload the image to my Flickr account, and people can extract the precise place where that particular image was taken. Of course, I can decide to remove the location information during export, as Lightroom Classic gives you the choice. 

Do You Need All That Information?

It can be nice to have a complete set of EXIF data for every photo: the exposure settings, what kind of lens and focal length you used, the brand and model camera, and, of course, the time and date. The coordinates can be added, just like the location info. If your camera has a built-in GPS module, the coordinates will be added without putting extra work into it. 

But if you need to use an app or a dedicated GPS data logger and you need to do all the extra work of importing data tracks and synchronizing the timestamp for a bit of information, which is probably almost never used again, I wonder: what’s the use? Isn’t it just a waste of time?

There are a few times, though, that the coordinates were useful for me. I’ve been scouting for locations in France for my upcoming photography masterclasses. In this case, it was very handy to have the information at hand. It makes it easy to see where the best locations are and if they’re suitable to my needs. On the other hand, I was also making notes, and I had done some homework to find a lot of those locations. I already knew where they were located.

Besides that, I still have my smartphone at hand, not necessarily as a GPS data logger, but to take some quick snapshots. Those also have GPS coordinates, making locations almost always traceable. I almost forgot to mention a drone, which relies on GPS to find its way. The photos taken with these devices also carry GPS information within.

Perhaps It’s Not That Useful After All

GPS coordinates for your photos is a nice thing to have, and even without a built-in GPS receiver, it’s easy to get the exact coordinates for every photo you take. Software like Lightroom Classic will help in placing the images on the map. I think it’s a good thing that this is possible.

Alas, I can’t see much benefit. What’s the use? On top of that, if you want to prevent the exact location from being openly available when using an image online, you need to take precautions to remove that piece of EXIF information.

Perhaps there is a good use of GPS coordinates for your photos. If you have a reason why you should go to all the trouble of adding this information to the EXIF data, I would love to hear about it. And while you’re at it, let me know if you are using GPS coordinates yourself in the comments below and why. I’m looking forward to your response.

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