A few weeks ago, I went on a hike to Treasure Island, and I thought it’d be a good opportunity to try out the state of the art in simple photo geotagging, so that people could see photos of my trip on a map. My first test involved:
- Uploading the photos to Flickr using FlickrExport for iPhoto
- Finding the spot for each for photo in Google Earth, creating a placemark, and copying the latitude and longitude into
geo:lon=tags on the Flickr image.
- Using Scott The Hobo’s Flickr Photoset Maps to turn the geotagged photoset into an online map.
The resulting map is pretty nice, sluggish Yahoo map aside, and the process wasn’t too painful. The worst pain point was the cut-and-paste geocoding process.
First step: get the photos into Picasa, Google’s excellent free Windows photo organizer. I used FlickrDown to download the photoset from Flickr to my Windows box. It was simple, though I was sad that there was no way to preserve my photos’ tags. I then downloaded the new version of Picasa from the Picasa Web Albums site. (You need to get this specific version to be able to do the fancy stuff I’m about to describe.) Picasa immediately found and imported the downloaded photos—so far, so good.
Next, I went through and geotagged the photos using Picasa’s integration with Google Earth 4. I highlighted some photos in Picasa and selected the
Geotag With Google Earth option hidden away in the
This took me to a slick geotagging interface in Earth.
Basically, you just drag and zoom around in Google Earth until the crosshairs (which are anchored to the middle of the display) are resting on the point that you want to tag the photo with. Then you just hit the
Geotag button, the view bounces to give you visual feedback, and it moves on to the next photo. This was so much more pleasant than manually copying the location to Flickr. When I was done, it brought me back to Picasa. The photos all had little crosshair icons in the corner, indicating that they had been geotagged, and a quick look at the
Properties dialog seemed to indicate that the location had been added to the image’s EXIF data.
Now that the images were geotagged, I found that I could use the
View in Google Earth... option to see the photo on the map. It seems that this is implemented using some sort of dynamic folder in Google Earth called
Picasa Link that constantly queries Picasa for images with geotags in their EXIF—so effectively, you can browse your Picasa library geographically using Earth! I tried adding a random geotagged phonecam image from the web, and sure enough, it showed up on Earth.
OK, so now that I had found geotagged image bliss, how could I share it? I tried the
Export to Google Earth File option in the
Geotag menu, which yielded a nice Google Earth KMZ file with the photos embedded.
Since Google Maps recently added support for viewing KML files, I decided to see if I could view my photos there. The results were not so hot.
As you can see, it wasn’t a total bust—the locations show up correctly—but the actual photos were nowhere to be found.
Since I’d seen examples of photos on maps, I was sure it could be done—maybe they just wanted the photos to be linked from the web. The Google Earth UI didn’t seem to give me any way to replace the photos with web links to photos. However, KML is a straightforward XML format—hand-editing ahoy!
(Incidentally, I was hoping that when I uploaded the images from Picasa to my Picasa Web Album account, it would do something smart. Sadly, Web Albums didn’t show any recognition that the images were geotagged, not even in the EXIF section. I’m sure that they’ll eventually sort that out, maybe by automatically generating KML links to Maps.)
Back to the hand-editing; first I had to unzip the KMZ file that Picasa had generated. (It’s just a normal zip file, rename the
.zip and you should be able to unzip it normally.) The only file that I needed was the
doc.kml file; the rest of the archive just contained the photos and thumbnails. I stripped out all the style stuff at the top of the file, since Maps didn’t seem to be paying attention to the icons anyway. Then I replaced the contents of the
description tag in each placemark with an image reference and link to the images on my Picasa Web Album. Then I uploaded the KML file, and it worked!
The result isn’t quite as nice as my original map, because I didn’t immediately see a way to get smaller images out of Web Album, but it does the job.
The verdict: geotagging with Picasa and Google is a dream, viewing geotagged Picasa photos is awesome, but the web mapping part of the Google photo story needs work.
(Incidentally, while you’re checking out my Treasure Island album be sure to try pressing the left and right arrow keys while you’re looking at pictures—you can flip through photos really quickly in Picasa Web Album!)