Geotagging Photos With The Apple iPhone 3GS

Meadowlands Flickr Map

A while back I posted instructions on geotagging photos with any GPS capable cell phone or device. Prompted by a question from one of my students (oh hey, I should talk about my new gig sometime!) and the fact the post is one of the more popular around here I thought the post deserved revisiting.

Since 2008 I’ve updated my camera body, gotten an iPhone, and streamlined both the number of devices I carry and the workflow for getting geographic data into my photos. Still, the premise of the old post hasn’t changed — you can encode any photo you take from any digital camera you have by syncing the photos timestamp with your saved GPS information.

Here’s how I’m currently tagging photos from my Nikon D90 with information saved on my iPhone using the RunKeeper Pro app.

Tracking everything with RunKeeper for iPhone 3GS

In an effort to consolidate the number of gadgets I carry everywhere I broke down and got an Apple iPhone 3gs with built in GPS support. There are a few good GPS tracking apps in the app store but I’ve settled on RunKeeper Pro to track my bike rides, hikes and photowalks. If you want a free app that /just/ records location info to create tracks I hear that Instamapper is nice (and has apps for other phones as well).

RunKeeper Download Screenshot

As a side effect of tracking and publishing (even privately) this workout data to the RunKeeper service I have easy access to download GPX formatted tracks for each outing from their website. Whichever app you settle on the goal is to get a standard GPX file containing the tracks pointing to where you’ve been that outing. This combination retires the Sony device I had been using and kills the needed step of manually converting the data file outlined in my previous article.

Still syncing tracks with GPSPhotoLinker

Not everything is new. Once I have downloaded the GPX tracks file and the photos to my computer I’m still using GPSPhotoLinker to batch sync the GPS info to the photo metadata before importing those images into Adobe Lightroom.

The Whole Workflow

Without recapping each step of the process here’s a quick and dirty diagram of the updated workflow of getting geodata onto photos I take as I prep to import them into Lightroom.

Workflow Diagram with RunKeeper

Lightroom Plugin by Jeffrey Friedl

Though I haven’t change when in my workflow I sync the images with the geodata out of habit, Lightroom 2 users will be happy to know there’s a plugin to sync geodata with items already in your library so you don’t have to change your existing import from card (or device) process. Jeffrey Friedl’s GPS-Support Geoencoding Plugin does a graceful job of handling some of the various metadata issues that had driven me to my habit of adding this data before Lightroom imported the files. Instructions on his blog.

iPhone GPS Hints

The first few outings with the iPhone I was worried about battery life, keeping the signal, the lack of ability to run the GPS app in the “background”, etc.

  • You don’t need your iPhone out & “on” while you record for it to hold a signal. Just click the sleep button while the GPS app is the open app and stick it in your pocket.
  • Usually when I’m out taking photographs I’m not taking breaks to check mail or use the web so the lack of multitasking isn’t a big issue.
  • Don’t fret much if you need to make a call. You’re not moving much as you shoot and talk [unless you’re doing so out your car window, in which case I hope you’re not driving too!] so you’ll only miss a beat and can easily resume recording when you resume shooting.
  • Check the RunKeeper Forums which has a lot of people discussing best ways to track activity, hold onto signals, and use the many other app features.

Another Apple iPad Take

Went though a draft of this in my head as a funny Q&A with myself — 19 questions asking if I’d need the newly announced device to help me get existing work done better or if I could expect to jump in tomorrow helping clients create content for a newly introduced publishing model all answered with a simple “NO”. Followed by question 20 “will I still preorder it?” answered with a “Probably”. What I realized as I typed it up was that it all came down to work value vs. consumer value. As someone who is a somewhat recent iPhone owner and a long time Apple laptop user there was no solid work value I could find in this new type of 3G computing device but there is still plenty of consumer value as a consolidation and update of devices we’ve seen before.

Falls flat on my “Work Use” criteria

I’m a web developer working with middle to large size development and design teams. I’m not a middle manager or department lead, I don’t do a ton of presentations to clients and as a freelancer don’t attend daily conference room based meetings. I used the iPhone features I already have to stay connected while on the go, and when I need more then email, web and online tools I need a lot more and need to carry the laptop. Text editing, source control, multiple web browser installs and extensions, fully featured Photoshop are where my bread is buttered and a device that grew up from the iPhone instead of down from the laptop [like the MacBook Air] just will always fall short there.

As a photographer shooting purely for fun this doesn’t really help me for the same reason. I wouldn’t be using it for sales, but photo management and editing. Until there are more 3rd party apps that follow the new iWork or iPhoto model we saw demo’d today [I’m looking at you Adobe — bring me iPad Lightroom or Bridge] this just doesn’t do enough. The first thing I’d want to do with this is sit down with a cup of coffee or a beer after a shoot and get a head start on my workflow by integrating with my existing library, tagging and rating that turns 300 photos into 10 or 20 I want to process further. Slideshows are great if I’m meeting with clients, but the iPhone is “good enough” for for me on the go and I don’t have cause to carry this /just/ to show some photos off.

If your work involves communication more then or as much as content creation this may very well be a great device in the workplace, but for me, until it becomes something more or something I’m helping clients create content for it [more smaller publishing outlets in the future?] it just doesn’t help me out.

Still a great consumer device

Take “getting work done” out of the equation and what are you left with? A device for consumption of media by consumers. So what’s the iPad offer to that market?

A full color eBook reader that matches the Kindle DX in size, and (may) do a better job with the PDFs I randomly pick up here or there [like David Duchemin’s Craft & Vision series for photographers]. The market already puts a value on this type of device at $489.

A WiFi enabled photo frame when not in use. Though prices have come down in the last year or so, good size & quality screens w/ wifi updating will still run you $200-$300+.

A nice extra screen for watching video, video podcasts, or other content throughout the day, freeing some existing monitor space or making me more mobile around the house [someone get netflix or hulu running on this thing and you really get me charged here]. Thus removing any desire for another monitor or a netbook I may have had.

Add a few favorite games or [another] device running iTunes remote to control my music from one room to another to polish it off and you have something I can really see myself using around the house and for a price that can fit an established marketplace and a tech geeks budget.

Desire fits the pricing model

At the end of this day of lots of news, commentary and discussions I’m left with the following conclusion — at the entry point of $499 for the 16GB WiFi only model there’s a LOT to like about it and I see a good market for it [stealing sales from Kindle DX and Apple’s own iPod Touch]. At $829 + $30/month for the 64GB model with unlimited 3G data usage it just doesn’t do enough to carve out a new space between an iPhone and a laptop + wireless card for many people to justify the cost & it becomes a niche device like other existing tablets [or even the MacBook Air].

We didn’t get a magical new device made from unicorns and rainbows today. It isn’t going to change the way I work. Won’t [yet] change the publishing industry. But that’s all ok. What I do see is a solid offering by Apple and a solid start for a new device type at a good entry price point. And for the much smaller % of people that will find use in the 3G features or iWork & email on the go they can get all that, too.

A Best Camera: The Casio WQV-1 Wrist Camera

Commercial photographer and serial iPhone camera user Chase Jarvis has recently popularized the idea that “the best camera is the one that is with you” in a big way. Armed with a camera small enough that you’re willing to carry it everywhere you become free to capture moments, record mental notes, and other save images that would have otherwise passed you by. Though his weapon of choice is a cell phone camera my weapon has recently been an artifact of a decade ago picked up off of eBay — the Casio WQV-1 wrist watch camera. Though it only takes postage sized [120×120 pixels] black and white images it does so in a way that satisfies my bestcam needs.

Chase Jarvis Late Train Home new profile pic Enter

Ancient BUT Charming

Everything about the Casio Wristcam screams ancient technology — from the sub megabit images, to the slow slow buffer, to the infrared syncing of data from the watch to your desktop computer. (Remember Palm Pilot organizers?)


Casio had made a few models of watch cameras in the 90s with this model being the first — later models had quicker buffers, longer lasting batteries and even color images, but the line didn’t seem to last very long. They can often be found on eBay, but fluctuate wildly in starting price.

With all its flaws and having been far surpassed by even the worst of camera phones, the images from this original spy style watch camera often capture the essence of the subject — and its this quick, sketchbook style documentation of an object that I’m looking for when I’m on the go and want to remember a moment for a later, more serious or deliberate photo session.

Following The Best Camera Idea Through

This “best camera” notion is something that I long ago realized and took to heart and has dictated a lot of the style and subjects of my photography a mix of landscapes, observational and local travel style photos. It is also why, on the morning of September 11, 2001, I was carrying a camera on my commute into Manhattan that historic and haunting morning.

Chase has taken so many photos with his iPhone camera that he put together a book of the snapshots, moments and saved images in a recent book entitled The Best Camera and has an iPhone app and photo sharing site of the same name.

Buy The Best Camera Is The One That's With You by Chase Jarvis on

Your own best camera doesn’t have to be a wristwatch or a camera phone — I carry a point and shoot digital camera or my DSLR with me quite often. But if your only camera is one that you leave behind more often then not consider buying something you’re willing to travel with as a compliment.

Related Links

5 Favorite iPod Touch / iPhone Games

Everyone loves blogs full of lists, amiright? Why not another one? I’ve been carrying around a first gen iPod Touch for a little while now and while I’m not addicted to the app store, I have tried a few games here and there and find most don’t have good mechanics or longevity and get deleted not long after I’ve got my $1.99 worths from them, but these 5 games are the real deal.

Turf Wars

Take the addictive and ongoing community bits and gameplay of Facebook’s Mafia Wars and combines them with a working GPS map of the real world and ability to claim real world places like foursquare and you have TurfWars. People across the world from New York to Sydney are fighting it out for Capo of their local neighborhoods and using their influence to generate money and fame. Check out the live online map of claimed turfs and popular cities.

TurfWars screenshot

The positioning doesn’t require an iPhone with GPS, and also works with whatever wifi based magic LocationServices does if you have an iPod Touch. This is a free game, though paid version are available if you’d like to start with additional bonus points. Interesting tech, addictive game. And if you play, add me to your mob! GARUM501.

Zombieville USA

On the eve of Halloween its fitting that the 2nd game in the list involves killing zombies. Bloody, repetitive, side scrolling, zombie killing. Kill more zombies and earn better weapons so you can kill more zombies. By far one of the more entertaining games I’ve played on the iPod! From the game FAQ:

Zombieville screenshot

Q: How many levels are there?
A: The game goes on forever, until the zombies finally catch up to you and snack on your tasty brains

Mmmm. Brains… Check out the trailer and more at the official site!


Need to concentrated on something else and clear your head if only for a minute? The fast paced and intense gameplay of Canabalt requires your full attention as you run across rooftops escaping from some Terminator like future. Play in your browser too!. Canabalt.

Canabalt screenshot

Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

For fans of the series this would be CivLite — missing some variety in strategic options and multiplayer ability, but the game translates fairly well to the portable format. Like with all Civ games, hours have mysteriously vanished while playing. Civilization Revolution web site.

Civilization Revolution screenshot


When what you want is some mindless time killing and don’t want to play solitaire or sudoku the old favorite FlightControl is there for you. In the game you play air traffic controller managing the landing of a busy airport and helipad by ‘drawing’ each aircraft’s flight path with your finger. A minute to learn. A lifetime to master. On sale now for just $0.99! More at the Official FlightControl site.

FlightControl screenshot