TEN years ago, driving around Yorkshire’s east coast, I stopped on a side road to take a picture of this particularly photogenic church. I’ve been trying to remember ever since where it was.
If I’d had a GPS device attached to my camera, the location would have been recorded automatically: map co-ordinates, street address, the lot. A decade ago, that wasn’t an option - but today you can have exactly that functionality for next to nothing, without the need to upgrade your camera. All you need is a smartphone in your pocket.
GPS trackers use satellite navigation to plot your movements on a map. The idea is that whenever you take a photo, the tracker supplies your location and embeds the details in the picture’s metadata - a process known as geotagging. Later, you can view your library as pushpins on a map of the world, zooming out and back in to street level to see where you’ve been.
Trackers have been available as accessories for top-end cameras for some time now, but they’re prohibitively expensive. That’s where your phone comes in: virtually all smartphones now have GPS built in, for use in navigation apps. All you need is a geotag app to harness the functionality.
All you do is make sure your phone and camera are showing the same time, and fire up the geotagger to “record” your movements. Every few minutes it takes a satellite reading and saves your location to a simple log file. When you get home, you import the file along with your pictures into your photo editing software; it compares the time stamp information recorded by your camera with the locations in the log file, and works out precisely where you were when each snap was taken. It then retrieves place name information from the internet so you don’t have to work out the co-ordinates yourself.
Software like Adobe Lightroom and Google’s free Picasa can read GPS information and plot your route on a map, and free programs like GPicSync can automatically mark up pictures from the log files.
The £3 Geotag Photos Pro app for Apple and Android phones attempts to get around the obvious problem of battery drain on your phone - GPS is a notorious high-octane user - by turning on the satellite only when it actually needs to take a reading. The price of the app includes a companion program to write the location info to your pictures.
Google markets a free alternative called My Tracks, which is suitable not only for camera tagging but also for recording your speed, distance and elevation as you run or jog. It will also read information from heart rate monitors and other biometric sensors you may care to connect. But its high battery usage makes it less suited than Geotag Photos Pro to all-day excursions.
Sadly, the technology doesn’t work retrospectively - so I’m no nearer to identifying the old church on the east coast. If you recognise it, do let me know!