GPS adds dimension to online photos

GPS adds dimension to online photos

By ANICK JESDANUN, AP Internet Writer
Jan. 18, 2008

To plan an upcoming hike in the Alps, John Higham scoured scores of
photos plotted along his route on a digital map for clues to the
steepness of trails and the availability of accommodations or camp
sites.

These images were just like all the other vacation photos shared by
travelers and amateur photographers, except they’d been tagged with
location information in an emerging practice known as "geotagging."

Armed with such data, Higham didn’t have to search endless
combinations of keywords and guess how photographers would describe
images in captions. By zooming in on the map, he could easily find
geotagged photos along the Via Alpina and gain a fresh perspective.

"I do like to see a place before I go and study more about it," said
Higham, 47, of Mountain View, Calif. "This affords me a way of seeing
not just a map or satellite image but the landscape of where I want to
go."

That’s just one of the growing number of uses for geotagging, which
is largely practiced by tech-savvy and professional photographers but
is likely to expand. Global positioning is becoming omnipresent as more
cell phones and digital cameras have built-in GPS support.

"It’s something that will become integral to the way digital imaging
works," said Aimee Baldridge, a New York-based writer and photographer
who tracks trends with digital imaging. "I think it’s definitely headed
for the mainstream."

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a picture with geotagging can add a few hundred more.

Now, naturalists can map their bird sightings or chart out seal
populations. Archaeologists can mark where they unearth artifacts.
Travelers can wow family and friends and bring life to slideshows.

"When you add a map to a presentation, you’ve added another
dimension, especially if you say, `I took this great trip to China, and
it was 5,000 miles over the course of a month’ and they see a route,"
said Andy Williams, general manager with the photo-sharing site SmugMug
Inc.

Higham has used geotagging to help friends and family track his
yearlong journey around the world and a rafting trip later down the
Colorado River.

For paintball competitions, Mitch Richardson of Salt Lake City
geotags photos of an abandoned mining town nearby — he can mark places
to hide and hazards to avoid on a map.

Typically, a photographer carries a standard GPS device that records
location and altitude data every few seconds. That information then is
matched with the time stamp on photos, using software like Pretek
Inc.’s RoboGEO.

Devices that already support geotagging include some GPS-enabled
camera phones from Sprint Nextel Corp. and a newly unveiled gadget from
Pharos Science & Applications Inc. High-end cameras from Nikon
Corp. and Ricoh Co. can directly connect to GPS devices, while the
upcoming PhotoFinder from ATP Electronics Inc. will write GPS
information directly on a camera’s memory card.

And photo-sharing services like SmugMug, Google Inc.’s Picasa and
Panoramio and Yahoo Inc.’s Flickr let you manually add photos to a map.
Zoom in to New York’s Central Park, for instance, to find individual
photos taken at Strawberry Fields and other landmarks.

Google, meanwhile, extended geotagging to its YouTube video-sharing site last summer.

Professional aerial photographer Allan Goldstein gave up selling
archival images from the Chicago area years ago, finding specific
photos too cumbersome to locate on demand. He started the business
again in October after discovering he could simply tag each image with
its GPS coordinates.

But relatively few photos are posted with location information yet — Flickr estimates 5 percent.

There are privacy considerations, and the failure of
satellite-dependent GPS to work reliably indoors. Also complicating
matters is the fact that GPS devices tag the location of the
photographer, while the landmark being photographed could be miles away
(British entrepreneur Richard Jelbert attempts to solve that by
embedding a compass that can help calculate the landmark’s actual
location.)

But most importantly, geotagging still typically involves
carrying an extra gadget and fiddling with software on a computer back
home.

John Hanke, director of product management for geolocation
services at Google, said he expects more camera manufacturers to
include GPS this year and make it less cumbersome.

Dan Catt, senior software engineer with Flickr, sees huge potential as more people become aware of GPS and geotagging.

"That mainly comes down to GPS devices in cars and mobile phones
raising people’s awareness of location-based services," he said. "It
wasn’t really in people’s consciousness even a year ago. … We’re very
much at the beginnings."

___

On the Net:

Geotagged photos on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/map

Geotagged photos on Panoramio: http://www.panoramio.com/map

Geotagged photos on SmugMug: http://maps.smugmug.com

Jelbert’s geotagging site: http://picturemystreet.com

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