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.

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.)

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.