Photograph by Jim Richardson

Photograph by Jim Richardson

Wherever You Go There You Are—Precisely

Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.

"Wherever you go, there you are." This is sage wisdom that I was ready to credit to Yogi Berra (always a fairly safe thing to do when it comes to this sort of rubric) but it turns out to be sort of ancient, actually. Putative credit for this bit of intellectual flotsam goes back centuries!

Never mind, I have another question this morning. OK, sure, it's a truism and I'll not argue. There you are. But ... how do you know? Got any data? (Pundits without data are as endangered as polar bears these days.)

Well, here's how you know. You buy this amazing little device called di-GPS and attach it to your Nikon camera via the supplied cable. Turn it on and within minutes it will find itself and start piping GPS data to each and every picture you take. Open that picture in Preview on your Mac and you can pop right over to Google Maps and see exactly where you were. There you are, with data to prove it.

Knowing where your photo was taken is incredibly useful and valuable. You can see one use by going over to my website, Jim Richardson Photography, where I have a map of geotagged photos from my latest cruise of the British and Irish Isles. But I'll write further about that later. Right now just be aware that this is about the easiest way to get that data into your pictures that I have found. There are other solutions but they all have some limitations. For instance, by various means you can carry around a GPS device that will track your location during your daily wanderings, then marry its location data with the time you took your picture later when you download. It adds another step to the process and is fraught with ways to screw things up, in my book.

And there are other on-camera GPS units, but they have serious shortcomings, too. The trick is that the GPS unit needs to be up and running, to know where it is, when you turn on the camera. Most GPS units power down when your camera meter turns itself off. Then you are going to be somewhere when you see a picture to take and you are not going to want to wait five minutes while your on-camera GPS looks around for satellites. Really, it can take that long. One answer to that is to set your Nikon to the GPS option which, essentially, tells your meter NOT to turn itself off. That's a real battery drainer.

The di-GPS has another answer. The camera meter can turn off but the di-GPS unit stays on, constantly updating its location like any well-behaved GPS unit. Then when you turn on your camera or simply press the shutter release halfway to wake it up, the GPS link is reestablished in less than a second. It does drain battery power some, and you'll find you'll need an extra battery at hand on a long day. But it is a very, very good compromise and I find it quite workable.

If you are a Canon user, you'll have noticed that I sort of jumped right over that little issue up at the beginning. That's because the Canon cameras don't have the necessary slot to plug the GPS unit into. (Sorry, I didn't do it.) There is a workaround but you won't like it. You buy the appropriate Canon WFT Wireless Transmitter for your camera and then you will have the necessary connection. This will only cost you upwards of $750. (I said you wouldn't like it.) You might just want to buy a Nikon D5000 (with provided kit lens) for the same money and be done with it, but I doubt that's what you'll want to do. (If I were you I'd be calling Canon to ask when it is going to get its act together. It does most everything else right.)

Of course you don't have to do the GPS unit at all. You can just go into Flickr or some other geotagging program and manually locate your photos on a satellite photo. But telling your photos where they were taken is not quite the same as having your photos tell you where they were taken. Not as accurate, either. (And really, will you remember where you were five years from now when some stock agency asks where this photo was taken?)

One last point. There's another, very simple, way to get geotagged photos: just shoot them on your iPhone. Any picture you take on a second-generation, GPS-equipped iPhone is automatically geotagged. Nice.

So, there you are. Precisely.