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I share a lot of “behind the lens” photographs on my Instagram page, and one of the questions I get most frequently is “what’s that thing on top of your camera?”. The answer is that it’s the Canon GPE-12, a small GPS device that sits on the hotshoe of my canon 5D Mark III. When turned on, it logs the information and embeds it directly into the metadata of my photograph, making it possible to view where each photograph was taken in software or on photo-sharing websites.

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This image, originally shared on Instagram, shows my camera set up with the GPS device attached at the top (in the hotshoe).

Some cameras come with the built-in ability to add GPS data to images, such as with the Canon 6D. Some allow you to add accessories to your camera, just like I do with my Canon 5 Mark III, and others have no GPS capability whatsoever. (If you want to learn how to add GPS data to photos in post-processing, jump to the bottom of this article.)

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This image, shared on Google+, shows how the location information can be viewed alongside the photograph.

What I like about adding GPS data

I do a fair amount of traveling, and I enjoy having that data so that I can look and see where I was when I photographed something in particular. It’s particularly useful when I am traveling overseas and have absolutely no idea of where I am located on a map at a given time. The ability to see all of the little dots of where I created photographs is really quite fun. :)

The GPS map view in Lightroom.

The GPS map view in Lightroom.

It’s also a useful too to know where an exact spot is located in case I need the information down the road. In fact, just recently I had someone ask about one of my photos and what its exact location was. It turns out that he liked the location so much that he plans to propose to his girlfriend in that spot! I was happy to share the location with him, all thanks to the help of the information that was stored using my useful little GPS receiver.

Some things to consider when using GPS

Location information can be exciting, or it can be something that we want to keep private. I tend to share all of the metadata of my images when I post them online, but for some photographers that location information is sacred! I totally understand if someone wants to keep a certain spot to themselves, or just doesn’t want the world knowing where they are for every photograph, so in those situations GPS may not be the best choice. There are also privacy considerations to keep in mind; I don’t share the location of my home (or anyone else’s for that matter) in public view.

In either of those situations, you can either switch the GPS information off on your camera or device, or remove the GPS information from your photographs on the computer. If you use Lightroom, you can do this with one-click during export: just put a check-box in the “Remove Location Info” box and the GPS data will be erased. (The information will still be retained on your original file.)

You can easily remove location information when exporting a file from Lightroom.

You can easily remove location information when exporting a file from Lightroom.

How to add GPS data without GPS camera equipment

If you don’t have a GPS-enabled camera, or a device that you can attach to it, there are other ways to embed this information to your images. My preference is to use my smartphone. Basically, I photograph a few images at the same location where I am shooting with my DSLR, and then sync the location metadata from my smartphone over to my RAW files. (Here’s an article on how to use Lightroom to add GPS data from another source, such as a smartphone.)

You can also use GPS logging devices, or smartphone apps, to do something similar. I don’t have any experience with either of those methods, but I did find some useful information on one of these devices over on Terry White’s website; here’s the link.


lavender-square-150pxNicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.

You can read more of Nicole’s articles HERE, and view her work and website HERE.


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Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. It is my opinion that geo-tagging images is very important and that we should all be doing it. Our digital images have the capability of lasting centuries or more. Geotagged images will help those in the future understand today. Imagine the value of geotagged images from the Civil War (which of course don’t exist). All of us should geotag by default…removing the geotags when appropriate.

    I used to merge my digital image files with a gps track. I now have a ‘Promote GPS’ that sits in my hot shoe. It looks similar to the device in the image at the top of this article. Works great.

    If you use Lightroom and if your images are geotagged you are sitting pretty.

    Cheers

    Reply
  2. I use Geotag Photo for my iPhone. At $4.99 for the Pro version (basic is free to test it out), it’s a whole lot cheaper than a camera-mounted unit. A bit more trouble and you have to remember to start it and tend it, but then we’re all highly-able photographers. If we can balance ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and so on, we can surely handle that.

    Reply
  3. I have a Canon 5D MK III and the Canon GPS unit, but I don’t see any GPS info in Lightroom?? The unit clearly got the GPS signal. I have the latest Lightroom (CC via the Photographer’s package w/ Photoshop).

    I almost forgot about this problem entirely until I read your post. I will be going to the Amazon next week to support a surgical charity project, and should probably get this working. Any ideas what might be wrong? That is, do you know of a common failure point when the GPS lights indicate it has a signal, but later importing into Lightroom shows no GPS data?

    Reply
    • Hi Burt, I don’t recall having to set anything up in-camera to get it working. When you have the GPS attached and you view the LCD in live-view, if you click the INFO button a few times (until you get into one of the detailed info screens) does it show a GPS icon flash just above the exposure meter? That is the indication that it’s working properly in-camera.

      Reply
      • I am pretty sure I checked all that in the field, but got back and discovered no GPS info in Lightroom. I just went up to the rooftop terrace now to do another quick test. Looked fine in the camera settings again (no change from before), but the quick snaps I took WORK FINE now??? Yep, on importing to Lightroom, I got all the info I expected this time. No idea why it didn’t work on the last two field shoots. Now hoping it now works next week on the Amazon shoot…

        BTW, I am a HUGE FAN of yours, Nicolesy! I follow your blog via RSS feed, and have bought several of your books. I keep dreaming of becoming a decent food photographer (hobby only), but so far have only shot food I am about to eat, which only so-so results. One of these days, I am going to do it “right” — if only I can get my wife to stop hovering and wanting to have dinner right away! :)

        I retired to Ecuador last year, and am now having a ball living “the next adventure.” I invite you (or anyone reading) to visit my travel/photo blog at http://www.BurtTalks.com to see how much fun living overseas can be.

        Reply
        • Just one thing to keep in mind, if you are indoors then the GPS may not work properly (the signal is not strong enough to go through some solid objects to reach the satellites).

          Thanks for the kind words, too! Enjoy your next “chapter in life”. :)

          Reply
          • Yeah, I know about that. The last two shoots that failed were both outdoor around lakes in the Cajas (mountain peaks in Ecuador). The GPS indicator light was properly flashing once every few seconds (it flashes twice every few seconds until the satellite signal is received).

            Oh well, it is working today. Hope it works next week too… :)

  4. If you’ve got a smart phone, there’s also gps4cam. One of the very nice features of it is that you don’t have to worry about what time your camera is set to or if it exactly matches the GPS time – gps4cam automatically manages all that for you. In fact, if you’re out with others, they can get their photos geotagged as well!

    Reply
  5. How do you handle using the GPS and a flash at the same time?

    I am geo tagging with an external GPS and then bringing everything together within Lightroom. The key here is ensure the time on your camera is correct to match up with the GPS time.

    Reply
    • That’s one of the great things about gps4cam – you *don’t* have to worry about having the camera time correct. That makes it much easier for me.

      The way it works its magic is that the app generates a QR code after you’re done, and you take a picture of that with your camera. The QR code contains the current GPS time, and the image you capture of the QR code has the camera time, so the associated desktop software knows how the camera time correlates to the GPS time and handles the difference automatically.

      Reply
    • If you wanted to use the hot-shoe for a flash or radio trigger, then you’d have to forego the GPS for those shots. Assuming you are within the same location for most of the shoot, then you can always put the GPS on to get one geo-located photo, and then sync the rest on the computer: http://photofocus.com/2013/07/16/adding-gps-data-using-lightroom/

      Reply
      • That seems so DUMB to me. This GPS is darn expensive. You think they could make a hot shoe extension, so we could put a flash on top of it… :(

        When I use a Canon ring flash for field macro shots, I cannot use the GPS. I am moving around all the time, so just doing one GPS and the rest flash is both a PITA and not fully accurate.

        Major bummed out about Canon lacking to think this through and provide a simple solution.

        Reply
  6. One of the reasons I chose Nikon over Canon when I bought my DSLR is the greater support Nikon had for GPS.

    First I had a GPS receiver that sat on the flash shoe but that’s cumbersome.

    So I got an Opteka bluetooth receiver that fit against the side of my D7000 but is a fraction of the size of the wired GPS receiver.

    And I got a GPS receiver with bluetooth to pair to that receiver. I keep it in my pocket, it gets about 12 hours per charge and it has an excellent MTK GPS chipset which can acquire signals more reliably than other GPS receivers, including on airplanes.

    Total cost, about $90-100.

    Having a GPS integrated is appealing but the GPS chipset may not perform as well. However Nikon said you can use external GPS receivers with the D5300, for instance.

    Reply
  7. I use gps4cam to track my location when out on a shoot. I later download and import the tracking data into Adobe Lightroom. Always matches up perfectly. The app is a lot cheaper than a dedicated GPS device from Nikon.

    Reply
  8. I just take an iphone picture and add it to the group in lightroom. I can then use it to geotag all the others. Lightroom for iphone makes that even easier.

    Reply
    • Nick — That will at least tell you what town you were in, but not much more than that. A good GPS will tell exactly where you were and what direction you were facing. That information can then be used to merge other angles of the same item, or as scouting shots to check angles for a future shoot, etc.

      Reply
  9. I have a GPS receiver which has a digital compass. But I found the results inconsistent.

    The bigger issue was that there isn’t software that shows the orientation. I got Google Earth to show it a couple of times but I’m not going to embed every image I have in GE.

    Reply

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About Nicole S. Young

Photographer, author, entrepreneur. I love photographing food and landscapes, and have written several how-to books on Photography, post-processing, and creative inspiration. You can find more about me on my blog, online store, as well as on Google+ and Twitter.

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