Google Earth Photos Layer Changing, Losing Panoramio Photos

The shuttering of geo-located photo sharing site Panoramio continues. It has survived as a faint shell of its former self in read-only mode for a while now, since November 2016. But it looks like the end is finally near. If you’re a Google Earth user, you may not even know really what Panoramio is, but this will likely affect your experience.

If you view a geo-located photo in Google Earth now, there is a good chance you’ll see the following message: “The photos layer is changing soon.”

Google Earth message - photos layer is changing soon

The photos that you can view in Google Earth of whatever neat place on the globe you are visiting have largely come from Panoramio for many years. It was a community of photo sharing enthusiasts who uploaded their photos and tagged locations, with consistent moderating. One result over time was a large collection of quality location-relevant shots pinned to the map and viewable in Panoramio, Google Earth, and Google Maps. Panoramio users (including me) gained a bit of satisfaction seeing their photos fill in the blank spots on the map and register views. And of course people using Google Earth and Google Maps gained the ability to see these photos, making those tools more useful and fun.

According to the announcement, those photos that have not been migrated to Google Maps will soon no longer appear. Those photos that were migrated should appear in the photo layer of Earth/Maps. Migration requires a Panoramio user to have linked their Panoramio account with a Google+ enabled Google account. We really don’t have any way of knowing what percentage of users did this. Some will want their mapped photos to live on, while others will want to just leave after being turned off by Panoramio’s closing.

Google has invited people to contribute photos to Google Maps with their Local Guides program, and those contributions are growing. Those appear in Google Maps’ photos layer right now, but not in Google Earth. Maps previously included Panoramio photos, but I believe Panoramio photos have already been removed from Maps. Google will likely switch from Panoramio to Google Maps for the photos layer of Google Earth during this change.

We will have to wait and see what that change will look like. I had expected some loss of quality because Panoramio really had a ton of good photos from people who considered themselves photographers (alongside a few amateurs like me). Maps will have a lot more cellphone photos. I think moderating them will be key. I’m not exactly sure, but I think Google hired moderators that reviewed Panoramio photos for inclusion to Google Earth. In the new setup, Google may be counting on having enough users that care about relevant photos on the map to keep the selfies and food photos from overwhelming the geographically useful photos.

I do see a lot of good photos from Maps now. There are a lot more 360 degree photospheres uploaded to Maps, and I wonder if those will appear in Earth. One major difference is that when contributing to Maps, you are required to link your photo to a marked point of interest. I believe this requirement will remove a lot of usefulness of the photos layer for undeveloped areas, parks, etc. because there is often no matching point of interest. I can’t upload many of the photos that I had with Panoramio so that’s why this is a part of my wishlist for Google Maps. The coverage around the world of the photos layer will also change with the different user-base.

Mike Bevington Quote

“Day 19 on this trip and it keeps getting better every day. I can no longer say ‘I would like to have seen Montana.'”

“The Park Service does an excellent job managing these massive national treasures. If you’ve not been here yet, do yourself a huge favor and come. Like it says on the Roosevelt Arch over the main entrance, ‘For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People.'”

–  Mike Bevington

Windows 10 Photos App Blurry Display Problem


The upgrade to Windows 10 brought with it a big change to a seemingly small and basic app. The Windows Photo Viewer was switched out in favor of the Photos app. Actually the Photos app was introduced with Windows 8 and fit right in with its heavy emphasis on touch-friendly interface. People have used these photo viewers to open up their photos (or any other images) with a simple double-click. The image displayed fit to the window for best viewing. Basic functions allowed you to page forward and back through all the photos in a folder, start a slideshow, zoom in and out, and rotate. It’s really a great way to look at your pictures and you don’t have to bother with any photo management software. In my experience, it beats the way things work on Mac as well.

Thankfully, the replacement Photos app allows you to do most of the same things. Back when I updated to Windows 10, I read that people were able to go back to using the older Windows Photo Viewer with a registry change. But I figured I’d stick with the new one and go with it. That was despite a few minor problems and inconveniences I found. From what I’ve read, many issues have been fixed, but a several nagging ones are still around. Lots of people still prefer the older program. Discussion of some Photos App issues are here on Reddit.

The “Blurry Problem”

To get to the point finally – I didn’t notice it at first, but I think I had an inkling in the back of my mind that something wasn’t right viewing my photos. Well, recently I finally had it hit me. I was looking at photos of a past hiking trip to pick one for printing as an 8×10. I looked at one that I remembered as being pretty good, but when I looked with a careful eye, it turned out to be kind of blurry. At that point I actually opened the photo in a web browser to compare, and that’s when I noticed it did indeed appear much more blurry in the Photos app.

Someone might say that’s just how the Photos App chooses to render and display resized/zoomed out versions of images. It’s lower quality, so what? Maybe it’s faster that way. But there is problem with that (besides it being blurry enough to affect print decisions and give a poorer viewing experience). The app actually does render a better quality image; it just doesn’t show that version when you first open an image. I learned that the Photos app can display a clearer version. The displayed image after zooming in and back out is sharper than the one originally displayed. That occurs when the Photos app is using your entire screen or not, or if you used the full-screen button.

I can go further than that. On some occasions, when first opening an image, I’ve seen the Photos app display a better quality version for a split second. Then it softens or blurs into the worse quality version. It happens quite quickly so I didn’t notice it at first, but I can repeat this.

Examples, Test it Yourself

I made a bunch of PNG screenshots of this phenomenon and put them up on OneDrive as demonstration. The screenshots after initial opening are a bit blurry and have smaller file size than the screenshots after zooming in and out (smaller file size = lower quality). The originals are there too so you can try it if you like.

Help Get This Fixed

Now this may not be occurring for everyone, but there are plenty of people that have noticed it. A Microsoft Community thread “Photos app often displays sharp images as somewhat blurry (includes example)” has posts from many. I’ve been posting there lately as I worked to help identify the problem. If you notice this also, please post your experience, and vote up the issue in the Feedback Hub once that is available. UPDATE: This topic is now a feedback entry in Feedback Hub for Windows users. Please click to view the topic and vote it up!

I hope that Microsoft can correct this since it really bugs me.

Geotagging Previously Taken Photos with GeoSetter

GeoSetter (by Friedemann Schmidt) is a Windows program that does a great job helping you set the location for your photos. In this article, I will go in depth on how to use this tool. If you are interested in a Mac program, or a more general overview of geotagging, see my previous post – How to Geotag Old Photos.

With GeoSetter, you can geotag photos manually by using the map. Or you can geotag automatically using a GPS track file such as .kmz or .gpx files. It allows you to save latitude/longitude coordinates (and in some cases altitude) to the EXIF data of your photo files. In the background, it uses the open source exiftool program for saving changes. GeoSetter’s interface includes Google Map display, file browser with thumbnails and previews, and track overlays. Most importantly, it features manual and automatic batch geotagging. The author hasn’t updated the software in a while, but I found it really easy to use for both methods of geotagging. I like seeing the results when the map updates as I browse through my photos. The program has great documentation as well. You may find something else out there, but I’ve tried a few, and this is what I use.

GeoSetter geotagging program screenshot

Manually Geotagging Single Photos

It’s easy to geotag a few photos with GeoSetter.

  1. Open the folder with your photos in the file browser area, and click the photo that you wish to geotag.
  2. Find the right area in the map (you can search to get there quickly).
  3. Click on the map to pin the location.
  4. Click the “Assign position marker to selected images” button in the toolbar above the map (red pin with left arrow). The new coordinates will now show red underneath the photo.
  5. Click the floppy disk icon to “Save all change to image files” or use Ctrl-S. This writes the changes to the file(s).

Of course, you can assign the position on many photos before hitting the Save button to save a bunch in a batch. It may take a minute so that’s a good way to do it.

Once the location is saved in the file, the photo is ready for map displays wherever they are used. This includes uploads to photo sharing sites such as Flickr (see Flickr’s photo map), or uploaded photos of places in Google Maps (How to Upload Great Photos to Google Maps), and many others.

The altitude (or elevation) will not be set using this method. There is no source for that information like there might be in a GPS track.

When Using a GPS Track, Timing is Everything

Geotagging photos automatically using a GPS track is a great way to go. Of course you need to have recorded a GPS track at the time. You do have to be careful about the photo timestamps though. Programs like GeoSetter rely on the time saved in the photo for finding where the photo fits along a GPS track. If the time is incorrect, it won’t match up correctly with the points saved in the track file and the location chosen will probably be way off. Conveniently, you can use an option within GeoSetter to offset the time for purposes of setting photo coordinates.

GPS receivers and apps record the current UTC time into the GPS track in the resulting GPX file. UTC does not have a daylight savings time shift like many places do. So even if you have your camera’s time set correctly, you may still need a correction. When I last geotagged some older photos, I had the time set correctly on my camera, but I had to adjust for 1 hour in the GeoSetter dialog to sync them properly. After that, the result was excellent. I had a few photos where I took one both with my camera and my phone (which already had GPS coordinates), and they matched.

Now you may want to actually save a new time within each photo file to correct it. I do this when I forget to adjust my camera’s time while in a different time zone, and back home I want to keep photos from both my camera and my cellphone in the same folder sorted by time so they show up in order. For this I recommend using ExifToolGUI.

ExifToolGUI DateTime shift example

How accurate is geotagging automatically from a GPX track in this way?

GPS tracks do not have continuous data. They record track-points at certain intervals and normally that’s good enough. GeoSetter, and other geotagging applications, allow for estimating the position in between GPS track-points in your track. Presumably it interpolates in this way by the elapsed time between the two points and the time of the photo.

What does this mean? If the photo is taken about halfway between the time of the two track-points, then the program will place it halfway between the two GPS coordinates of those track-points. So the location it finds can be slightly off depending on the consistency of the speed in which you travel between those two points, the straightness of your trail, and just the time elapsed between the two track-points. If you stop and take several photos in one place, the time difference between them causes them to be put at different locations along your path. Photos taken within a short interval relative to the rest of your travel will be placed quite close together.

You can likely adjust how often track-points are recorded in your GPS receiver or app. Shorter time intervals between track-points will of course result in more accurate estimations (and use more battery). But don’t bother with this unless you notice a need for it.

A Test

For a test in accuracy, I have used my track file recorded by the MotionX GPS mobile app during a backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park, and of course the geotagging program GeoSetter. I took some photos with my camera and some with my phone. The cellphone shots have accurate GPS info saved in their EXIF data due to the phone’s GPS. I stuck one of those in with my regular camera photos, and then ran the synchronization in GeoSetter. That set the location of all my un-geotagged photos. It also overwrote the GPS coordinates on the one photo from my phone to its best estimate based on the photo’s time and the GPS track data.

Below is the result. I’d say it’s pretty darn close! Depending on how your GPS track is recorded and the other conditions I mentioned, I’m sure it will be accurate enough for you as well.

GeoSetter location estimation test resultGeoSetter estimation exif comparison

Post Peak Pass, Aerial Photo Labeled


I came across a stunning aerial image by Tim Lawnicki on Flickr of Post Peak and the surrounding area. In the photo is the Ansel Adams Wilderness within the Sierra National Forest, with some of southeastern Yosemite National Park. It’s a spectacular view of this remote part of the Sierra Nevada. We trekked across this trail on our 2007 backpacking trip. Serendipitously, the photo’s lighting even looks like it is very similar, like it was taken at the same time of day, and both were even in September. With Tim’s permission, I had to mark our trail and add a few labels. On our trip, we came over Post Peak Pass, travelled the ridge, then took the trail down into Yosemite National Park. We were only in Yosemite for 45 minutes since we took the first right and headed back up to Isberg Pass, which is just outside the photo. Also, I’ll mention that Triple Divide Peak is just a mile away following the crest at top right.

Seeing the different perspective is really neat. It looks like he was flying fairly low to catch this much clear detail, but things look far different than they did on the ground. I remember the massive boulders on Post Peak Pass that we had to navigate. Here you can barely discern them. I also remember the incredible slick granite drop-off to the east of the ridge between Post Peak Pass and Isberg Pass to the uppermost Ward Lake. At the time, it crossed my mind if you ventured too far off the top of the ridge on that side, you’d be a goner. The solid rock just got steeper and steeper and the lake disappeared from view. In the aerial shot you really don’t have a sense of that. One thing that does match the feel – I recall as we hiked higher up to Post Peak Pass, the surrounding landscape became dominated by the gray granite of the Sierra Nevada batholith. Up there, it looked like everything was rock, even though we had hiked in the forest most of the way.

Here are a few of our photos from the ground

Post Peak from Post Peak Pass
Post Peak from Post Peak Pass

Boulder hopping near Post Peak Pass
Boulder hopping near Post Peak Pass

Looking back to Post Peak
Jason and looking back to Post Peak

Looking into Yosemite panorama, Triple Divide Peak at left
Southeast Yosemite panorama

Ward Lakes, Sadler Lake, Sadler Peak. Banner Peak, Mt. Ritter, and Minarets in background

Upper Ward Lake
Ward Lakes

Descending into Yosemite, Isberg Peak and Pass at top

Snow Peak GigaPower Auto on Sale for $25

snow peak gigapower auto stove

The Snow Peak GigaPower Auto isobutane canister stove is on a fantastic sale price right now at REI – $25. It really is $50 normally, and I see that’s what it is on Amazon right now.

I’m not sure why it’s on sale, but maybe it’s due to their LiteMax stove ($60). Or perhaps they will make a new version or something. Alternatively, Amazon sells cheap stoves (such as Etekcity for $10) that fit the same fuel canisters and do the job, but aren’t as refined and are slightly heavier. I have one as a backup.

I’ve had the Snow Peak GigaPower Auto since our 2005 trip in Sequoia National Park and still love it. It’s very cool it won the Backpacker Magazine’s 2015 Editor’s Choice Gold Award. The design is still a great way to go if you want one. They do make a $10 windscreen for it also that I got a few years back and it helps with boiling quicker.

Backpacker Magazine said:

“Flashback to 1999: A Japanese company hit the U.S. scene with a number of elegant products, and the tiny, powerful GigaPower Stove became a staff favorite and Editors’ Choice Award winner. Today, that stove is still tiny, still powerful, still a staff favorite”


Wishlist for Google Maps & Local Guides

…from a Geolocated Photography EnthusiastGoogle Maps thank you message

Now that Panoramio will be shut down, Google has encouraged Panoramio users to move to Google Maps. In their stated plans, Panoramio users’ photos will automatically be copied to a user’s Google Album Archive. They will continue to be shown in Google Maps if they had before. At the same time, Google is really mounting a serious effort with their Local Guides program, in which volunteers add to and improve on the place data for Google Maps.

While Google Maps is an amazing tool in so many ways, it is definitely lacking when compared to Panoramio’s strengths. I am willing to switch over to Google Maps, and upload my geotagged photos there to fill in empty spots much like I did with Panoramio. But, I need to see a few basic improvements before I have enough incentive to do that.

Below, I have my wishlist for improvements to Google Maps for a geolocated photography enthusiast. I limit this list to the things that I think really need adjusted before I’ll start uploading to Google Maps as I did in Panoramio. I’ll even go into some detail on how Google could achieve the adjustments. I am sure there is an extremely small chance someone at Google will see this list and take it to heart, but I felt I needed to say it. If they do make positive adjustments, then will help them gain more high quality contributions for the photo layers in Maps and Earth. They may have need of better photo coverage once Panoramio is fully shuttered.

Google Maps Wishlist

  1. True Location for Photos

  2. Improve User Photos View

  3. Allow for Comments on Photos

  4. Attribution


1. True Location for Photos

I would really, really prefer the photos in Google Maps’ photos layer point to their true location on the map, and not just to the “snapped-to” point of interest (POI). I have a few experiences related to this that I’ll relay, though I’m sure there are others. First, for my Panoramio photos that appear in Google Maps currently – I see that they show with a pin at the “snapped-to” POI rather than the correct location. This is when I view those in my contributions area. But, when I view the same photos while just browsing around in Google Maps as a random user, then they show at the correct location. I have also uploaded a few photospheres to Google Maps using Google’s Street View mobile app. With these I see a similar thing. In my contributions, it shows them pinned at the “snapped-to” POI that I chose, but when just viewing the map I see they have the correct location.

Google Maps Taum Sauk in Contributions View

Google Maps Taum Sauk in Photo Layer

Deal Breaker

Unfortunately when I have uploaded directly to Google Maps from within a desktop web browser, it shows the location for that photo as the POI and not the true location in both views. That is deal breaker for me.

Google Maps Lumpy Ridge in Contributions View

Google Maps Lumpy Ridge in Photo LayerI want to see the correct location of photos and I want others to see the correct location for my photos. I plan to upload quite a few photos with points of interest that cover vast areas such as national parks. I can try to be more specific if there is a POI that fits, but otherwise, I can see these photos being stuck showing at just one spot in a big national park. Not showing the true location really kills the usefulness of the photos for exploring the map or planning a trip for example. It just seems inaccurate to me.

The fact that Google shows some photos at the snapped POI in one view but at the true location in another view shows that Google saves both the linked POI and the correct lat/long coordinates. But what about for those that show the location at the POI in both views? Could Google drop the correct lat/long for photos uploaded to Maps? I really hope not. If not, then an interface change could remedy this and is something they should do.

Perhaps Google consciously made the decision to do it this way from the perspective of more urban photos, including those of businesses. Outdoor photos taken from different locations of a business, and even indoor photos, would then fit together all in one spot. If you were trying to learn more about the business, that would make sense. Perhaps they believe that’s where the money is? But it would still be inaccurate if you wanted to see a true view from certain spots.

The problem is, there are small, specific places such as a restaurant where it’s maybe ok for some purposes to have photos taken from different locations jumbled together. They have the same subject. But there are also places where that makes no sense at all. Think of a huge national park with many attractions, many features, and also lots of open space. Having photos of all those thrown in together in one spot does not make sense. The photos can be of completely different things. And there is a spectrum of places that fit somewhere in between. For another example, say POI is the Golden Gate Bridge. Then I would want to see from where each of the photos was taken for the different views of the bridge. If I wanted a jumbled assortment of photos, then I could just do an image search instead.

I really hope for Google to show the correct location in all situations. At minimum, they could just show it for non-urban photos. However, in that hybrid approach, I can see them having some difficulty figuring out when to choose the POI and when to choose the true location.

2. Improve User Photos View

There really must be a better view of your own photos, and photos of others. Compare the view of a user’s photos in Google Maps (above) to what it is in Panoramio (below).
Panoramio ScreenshotRight now in Maps, you only see a narrow vertical single-file sidebar on the left in a desktop web browser. The map and pinned locations for photos makes up most of the window to the right. That is very inefficient for viewing your own photos or those of another user to say the least.

In another inefficiency, infinite scroll is used. Often that works just fine, but here it’s very tedious and frustrating to find photos if you have many. You keep scrolling and scrolling, new images load slowly, and the more you scroll, the slower things become as it bogs down. Paged browsing would be much easier and faster since it would allow you to skip around. However, Flickr does a much better job at infinite scroll because the photos load so much faster, they show more than one wide, and they have a hybrid approach with paging after a certain number of items.

But back to the narrow view issue – we need a wider view to better show many photos. I definitely think Google can do this without too much trouble. There is a tab at the top right of the left sidebar that allows you to hide it and restore it. I envision this tab allowing the user to switch between 3 states instead of just the 2 it does now. You could use it to expand the sidebar right to take up most of the window so that photos can be viewed much more efficiently in a grid format – something like this image I created below. This could be a great help to desktop, laptop, and tablet users, anyone with a screen wider than a phone’s.


One other problem I’ve found with the current view is that initially the map shows a very limited number of pins for your photo locations. These correspond to only the small number of photos that are loaded on the left at first. When you scroll down, more photos are filled in after a few seconds and their pins are added on the map. This prevents you from having a nice map view of your photo locations, unless you want to do a whole lot of scrolling and waiting.

I saw one user’s contributions screen that initially showed 10 photos on the left, and just one pin on the map (since that bunch of photos were all “snapped-to” one point of interest). However, when I scrolled down, more photos appeared, and more pins as well. It turns out this user has 1,963 photos from many other places. The initial view is just a poor representation.

Google has functionality for groupings of pins. Maybe that could be used to prevent a zillion pins from appearing on the map at one time. There just needs to be a way to show all your (or another users’) locations.

3. Allow for Comments on Photos

Panoramio allowed you to comment below a photo, to favorite or like it, and to join a group and add your photos there. In Google Maps, this is not the case. I did find a way to comment, sort of.

If you open a photo from the photos layer of Google Maps (on a desktop or laptop), the photo opens to mostly fill your browser window. You can see a darkened box in the top left that shows minimal info for the photo and options for sharing. You can check whether the photo came from Panoramio or came from an upload to Google Maps by trying the links on the title or user’s name. The photos that came from Panoramio will have a link to the Panoramio photo page on the 2nd title, and a link to the Panoramio user page on their name. (Note: this will likely only be the case until Google turns off Panoramio for good.) The photos that came from Google Maps will link the title to a Google Plus location, and the user link will go to the user’s Contributions page. If you click to go to the Google Plus page, it shows an extremely similar photo page, but it does allow for commenting there.

This seems odd to me. Hopefully Google can link them together better to just allow commenting from the first photo page.

This is just one item among many that makes for a much diminished community aspect compared to Panoramio. Now of course Google+ allows for social networking activities. That’s what it’s for. It’s a whole new wild world compared to the Panoramio community, since Google+ is not just limited to like-minded geography and photography enthusiasts.

I have an open mind here. It can work through Google+. Google+ has commenting, Communities, etc. There is a community on Google+ for Google Map Maker with 98,000 members and there is another for Google Maps Views with 99,000. Views was the short-lived product in-between Panoramio and the current Google Maps & Local Guides. I can join a community and chat with people if I want to talk about something related to this or hiking. It’s not tightly linked to the photos as in Panoramio.

There is also the Local Guides program, and a site they built for that called Local Guides Connect. It’s an impressive community site meant for encouraging communication, participation, and sort of guiding the volunteer guides to help improve local Maps data.

So there are communication venues available but they are definitely different. I think ultimately it boils down to really just needing to have comments on the photos work better. I can adjust to the other changes.

4. Attribution

I think people should get a little credit for their contributions, and I mean a little differently than they do now. This is related to the previous item in a way. Just as it is difficult to comment on a photo found on Google Maps, it’s quite difficult to find more about a user.

With Panoramio, each user could have a small text blurb and a link in their profile area that someone would see when they were browsing that person’s photos. It’s not much, but I appreciated it! If the user has a website, then interested people might take a look.

Right now in Google Maps, if I find a photo I’m interested in and I click on it, about all I can do is see the user’s icon and click their name to see their contributions page. As I said above, that page shows a few of their photos in a small left sidebar and pins on a map that takes up most of the browser. At the top there is the user’s icon again, this time a little bigger, and their Local Guide level. You can click on their icon, but all that does is show the details of their contributions (counts of reviews, places with photos, edited places, etc.) and their Local Guide level again but bigger. If you are looking for a little more info about the user, you are out of luck.

I can’t find a way to get to Google+ after looking at a photo on Maps. Each of these Local Guides has a Google+ profile so why can’t you get to it? If you won’t let the user have any info on their Google Maps contributions page, then at least link to their Google+ profile or page.

Now there are benefits for Local Guides that achieve the various levels by their Maps contributions.

“As a Local Guide, you’ll help others explore the world and get great benefits in return. It’s a win-win.”

Wow that sounds great. 🙂

But it seems to me that those rewards mostly serve to generate more interest in the Local Guides program. One interesting benefit is additional free Google Drive storage that comes at level 4. Of course the benefits page doesn’t say how much, but I learned it was reduced from 1TB to 100GB in July 2016 probably as the number of qualifying Local Guides grew.

The Local Guides levels aren’t limited to a certain number of users so I can understand that. I hope Google thought it through when they set that up. If they get more users, will they just keep lowering the free Drive benefit? And on top of this, the Drive storage gained isn’t permanent. It lasted 2 years back when the reward was 1TB, but now it’s just 1 year for the 100GB. As one user put it, “strange gift then”.

Once you have reached level 4, gained the free Drive storage, and then it expires, then what? Can you regain it if you contribute the same amount once again? Probably not.

If I am to dedicate part of my online life to generating content for Google Maps, then I would like some slightly better kind of attribution than what I see now. Now there is just a small icon, my username, and some Local Guides benefits. Panoramio did much better here. An adjustable link somewhere would be fantastic, but at least something more.