Scanned Photos & Geolocation

posted in: Desktop, Digitizing Life, Google, Mobile | 0

Many cameras (and camera phones) nowadays include a photo’s geolocation data. Simply put, that’s the latitude and longitude of where the picture was taken, so that it can be viewed on a map.

That information can (and should) be stored within the image itself, in what’s called the file’s metadata. Metadata is essentially supplemental information about the image, including who’s in it, subject matter, and so forth.

As a part of my ongoing project, I’m in the process of scanning boxes upon boxes of old images, and adding them to my online archives. I highly recommend that anyone with old prints do the same, and sooner rather than later. Many of mine (even fairly recent prints) are beginning to fade, and by digitizing them with a scanner, I’m stopping future degradation.

Along the way, I’m learning all kids of great tricks for restoring many of these old photos (to the extent that can be done), and I’ll touch upon some of those another time, but the biggest hassle I’m facing is adding the geolocation information to them.

Unlike pictures taken with a modern camera, scanned images won’t contain geolocation data. At the end of the day, the scanner can only know where it’s located, not where the photo it’s scanning was originally taken.

scanned-photosFor example, I was scanning some old images of my grandparents farm in Central Illinois, but once digitized, the only thing my computers and software can know was that they were digitized here in San Diego.

If I want them to show-up on a map, I need to somehow manually specify exactly where the image was originally captured (in this case, Central Illinois).

At first, I assumed this would be a relatively simply process. I figured there’d be all kids of little applications that would just let me just drag my pictures onto a map, and they’d add the geolocation data to the file for me.

Unfortunately, that turned-out to be much more difficult than I expected.

There are plenty of (overly) complex applications that would do the trick, but with goofy interfaces that made it much more of a chore that it had to be, especially given the sheer volume of pictures I’m working with.

Some required that you download data from a GPS unit that you can “attach” to the JPG as geolocation metadata, but I wasn’t about to go driving around the country doing that.

Others seemed to (kind-of) do what I wanted, but were so unnecessarily counter-intuitive that I gave-up.

Still other solutions would let me upload my image to a service, and add the geolocation data there, but that didn’t help with the files on my computer.

I just kept looking (and looking, and looking) for a simple application that would just let me drag a JPG onto a map, and be done.

So far, the only one I’ve found is Picasa (from Google).

The application has some features that I really appreciate, not the least of which is that it’s free, and free is good.

Picasa makes it easy to tweak your images, and publish them to Google+ and Picasa Web Albums, both of which I’m doing anyway, as a part of my effort to digitize everything, and store it in the cloud, but the Picasa application streamlines that process.

It’s also the only application I’ve found (at least among the free, or open source ones) that simply lets me drag an image onto a map, and be done with it. It updates the geolocation information in the metadata of the file, and the process is completely hassle-free.

The down-side to Picasa (in my case) it that it seems like overkill in many regards. The way it organizes and displays “albums” is not consistent with the way I’m organizing them, and something as simple as finding a specific file to drag onto the map can be a headache.

If you’ve found a simpler way to accomplish geolocation with scanned images, please let me know in the comments.