Blast from the past: images from Peru

After several years of thinking and saying that I should do something about my old color slides that are only gathering dust in a corner, I finally did it: I sent a few hundred old pictures to Scancafe to have them scanned. It takes quite a bit of time to get the scans back, but it’s worth it. The quality is better than I expected, and even if I had somehow access to the right kind of scanner (the average scanner just won’t do it), I would have spent many hours doing this.

So I got the DVD today from Scancafe, and I keep looking at these pictures from Peru, taken during five weeks of field work in the Talara Basin, I think seven years ago, followed by a week of vacation in Cusco and Machu Picchu. They are either very good, or I had too much of a good time.

In either case, I’ve got to go back.

Why is photographic metadata not treated properly?

I am looking forward to the day when there will be a good industry standard for adding metadata to digital photographs. Right now, it is a real mess, especially if you want to add new information to the photos that have already been downloaded to the computer.

More to the point: as I mentioned before, I have a small GPS receiver that I like to use whenever I am doing geological field work or I am just hiking (is there a difference? 🙂 ). In addition, I cannot do any of these things (hiking or fieldwork) without having a camera with me and taking pictures all the time. And, when I get home, I try to add the approximate geographic location to at least a number of photographs. This can be done using a variety of software packages that write the geographic coordinates into the EXIF part of the image file, the part that contains all kinds of information about the picture, such as date taken, camera manufacturer, camera model, exposure time, etc.

To combine the geographic information from the GPS with the photos, I am using GPSPhotoLinker, which is by far the best application among those that I have tried (and I have tried many). The nice thing about it is that you don’t have to process the photos one by one; the program has a batch mode that does everything in one go, using the time stamps in the photographs and the time data from the GPS unit. [There are other programs that claim to be able to do this, but GPSPhotoLinker actually works.]

In my case, the problems start when I try to edit the pictures with iPhoto. I am a big fan of iPhoto, I think it is a fantastic photo management program, but apparently it is unable to properly deal with the modified EXIF data. If I embed the geocoordinates before taking the pics into iPhoto, they show up correctly in iPhoto, but then they (at least some of them) get corrupted when I export the images from iPhoto (usually to put them on Smugmug). So the only option is to geotag the photos after they have been edited in and exported from iPhoto. Fair enough, I can live with that. The problem is that with the new version of iPhoto (iPhoto ’08), GPSPhotoLinker cannot write the coordinates to the exported images.

Scheisse mare, as my friend Radu would say (“mare” means big in Romanian, if you want to know). The only workaround I have found is to open the exported images in Adobe Photoshop, and save them again as JPEG files; after this operation – that probably rearranges the EXIF data – GPSPhotoLinker works fine.

Part of the issues are probably rooted in the fact that the EXIF part of the image can be located anywhere in the file. There is a good reason why the longest section of the the Wikipedia article on EXIF is entitled “Problems”.

I hope that things will improve soon. In the meantime, if you have a good workflow or workaround for doing automated geotagging on a Mac, please let me know.