How to Geotag Old Photos

I recently wrote about finding a good way to geotag new photos on future hiking trips. But of course I have tons of photos from previous trips that I would like to geotag as well. It would be great if they were mapped whenever I upload to Panoramio and Google Earth/Maps, or Flickr, etc. How does one geotag old photos? Often you can set locations with these online services after you’ve uploaded the photo, but that’s only good for that particular photo site. I want my original files geotagged so that I’ll always have it, even if a particular photo hosting service goes defunct. And with the latitude and longitude in the original files, I won’t have to pin them on the map multiple times, once for each site.

After a bit of research and testing, I arrived at the methods I prefer for both Windows and Mac platforms, and I’ll describe why. In Windows I use GeoSetter, and in OS X I use GeoTag. Both are free, so I have to give a big “thank you” to the developers as payment.  I also use Picasa + Google Earth (also free), and this combination will work on both Windows and OS X. I’ll talk more about these further down, including other options I considered.

ExifTool Background Info

Both GeoSetter (Windows) and GeoTag (Mac) use ExifTool by Phil Harvey to actually save the changes to the photo metadata on single photos, so I definitely have to mention that here. ExifTool is a software library that other software can use, but there is also a Windows executable and an OS X package that allow you to run its available commands. It’s free as well, which you probably guessed, and open source also. I had come across ExifTool before when correcting the times on photos so I was familiar with it. It does the job well and is under active development. Its website notes that it supports many photo metadata formats, proprietary MakerNotes from all the major camera manufacturers, and a long list of file types. This is no small feat since photo metadata usage is a minefield of different, sometimes unpublicized proprietary formats.

No Loss Of Photo Quality

A very important note about ExifTool, and by extension the software that utilizes it, is that it does not modify your photo at all. Your JPEG images are not re-compressed and there is no loss of quality. ExifTool only modifies the metadata portion of the files and doesn’t touch the image data portion. The same goes for Picasa, but make sure you have the newest version as versions prior to 3.8 had some problems handling metadata resulting in overwriting unrelated metadata values or corruption.

ExifTool does a fantastic job at working with the metadata, but of course we need something more to do geotagging. We need a way to pick a spot on a map easily, and that’s where these applications come in.


GeoSetter geotagging program for Windows

GeoSetter helps you geotag easily in Windows. It may not have been updated in a while, but it still does the job like a champ.


To use it, you choose a directory, and thumbnails of your photos show in a pane on the left. Select an image (or multiple by holding Ctrl), then pin a spot in the Google Map in another pane on the right. Click the button to assign position marker to selected images. The affected images on the left will then show latitude and longitude underneath them in red and the name will change to red also. This shows which images you have ready to geotag, but the changes are not yet made in the files. After you’ve finished doing this to maybe all photos in a folder for example, you click the save all changes to image files button and it writes to the files. By default it will make a new copy of the files, but in settings you can tell it to overwrite the original files if you like.

One huge advantage with GeoSetter for me is that it allows you to load a GPX track file that was generated at the time you took your photos, and use that to add latitude and longitude to all your related photos in one shot! I have done this with great success for photos from hikes in the past couple years when I’ve recorded a track with a mobile app. GeoSetter uses the time your photo was taken to find the closest point time-wise that is recorded with geodata in your track file. It’s almost certain it won’t be an exact match on time of course. It will actually use the point before and after the photo’s time, then find a proportional distance between them to pick the final spot. You do have to be careful about the time. If your camera had a different time from your phone, then you’ll have to set an offset. Otherwise the photos will be stuck on the wrong part of your track. Just check the resulting photo locations to make sure it came out right.


GeoTag program for Mac

GeoTag is an excellent Mac application for assigning geolocations to your photos.


For the basic usage of GeoTag, first you open the files you wish to geotag. You can select individual files or a whole directory. This puts them in the list of photos on the left. Then select a photo (or multiple photos), and on the map at the right you pin the location to assign coordinates. Do this for all the images you want to geotag, and then hit Save in the File menu to make the change. GeoTag will move the un-geotagged file to the trash, and write a new geotagged one in the original folder. Or if you are working on a network location, it won’t be able to move the original file to the trash so instead it will save the original renamed with “_original” tacked on the end, which you can delete in Finder if you want.

Picasa + Google Earth

Using Picasa to Geotag old photos

I have recently found that Picasa will soon be discontinued, but I have kept this section here for those that may already use it.

Picasa is a photo management program from Google and an uploader to their photo hosting and sharing. When you also have Google Earth installed, Picasa will allow you to easily geotag your photos within its nice interface.

Picasa:, Google Earth:

If you already use Picasa, this can be a great option for geotagging your old photos. However, if you are just planning to geotag, then installing a photo management application like Picasa and Google Earth on top of that is overkill. Now with the news that it’s soon to lose support from Google, I wouldn’t recommend it for people that don’t already have Picasa.

I hope this write-up helped you find a good way to geotag your old photos, or at the least pointed you in the direction of what to look for. Choose the option that works best for you and your workflow. I’ll look for your photos when exploring in Google Earth!

Picasa No Longer Supported by Google After March 15

Google Picasa logo X-out

I began writing about geotagging with Picasa in another post, but I realized Google changes their photo products so ridiculously often that I’d better check on any Picasa-related news. (See Picasa Web Albums, Google+ Photos, Panoramio, Views, Google Photos…)

Lo and behold, the first thing I see is a post from today on the official Picasa blog from the Head of Google Photos, Anil Sabharwal. He says that they are discontinuing the Picasa desktop application on March 15. Wow.

“As of March 15, 2016, we will no longer be supporting the Picasa desktop application. For those who have already downloaded this—or choose to do so before this date—it will continue to work as it does today, but we will not be developing it further, and there will be no future updates.”

He doesn’t actually say it, but it sounds like it will not be available for download any longer after that time (or at least will be hidden in some way).

I’ve used Picasa for a long time, primarily in the past for uploading photos to web albums, and lately for geotagging. It has a lot of great features as a photo organization tool. Of course it’s also a very handy uploader to Google’s photo hosting and sharing platform. I was recently told I must be one of the few people still using it, but I think there are probably lots of others. In any case, Picasa had a really good run, and the developers should be proud.

Picasa Web Albums Situation

The original web sharing component to Picasa, Picasa Web Albums, is still kicking. However, it has long been hidden, redirecting to Google+ Photos. A while back they adjusted the desktop Picasa software to allow uploading to Google+ Photos as well. Currently it can upload to the new Google Photos. So it has certainly been a long time in coming for this part to go away.

Google Photos – the New Thing

Their current photo sharing service is branded Google Photos. It does have its own uploader software for desktop, but that’s about all it is. Judging from the Google Photos app page, they are trying to have you automatically upload your photos like they do on their mobile apps. It certainly won’t allow you to geotag like Picasa does/did. That and all the other mature features of Picasa will be disappearing. As for geotagging online once it’s uploaded, it sounds like that’s not an option either. Strange since that is an option in Google+.

“After much thought and consideration, we’ve decided to retire Picasa over the coming months in order to focus entirely on a single photo service in Google Photos. We believe we can create a much better experience by focusing on one service that provides more functionality and works across mobile and desktop, rather than divide our efforts across two different products.”

More functionality? They could build in a geotagging ability at some point in the future I guess, but they are clearly getting rid of the desktop component. This seems strange to me as a reason to discontinue the Picasa desktop app since it already has the ability to upload to the new Google Photos. They just want to get rid of it and go with the new thing I guess (a new, far more limited Google Photos uploader app).  I can understand, and in the end that’s fine with me, as long as they don’t lose tons of features in the process. That’s what they almost did when they started switching Panoramio users to Google Views.

As for geotagging, I will post shortly have posted about some alternative geotagging methods I’ve already been using.

Mule Deer vs. Patagonia Shorts

Bad deer! This guy stole my shorts off my hammock line from our Moraine Park campsite in Rocky Mountain National Park as we made dinner. He immediately took a couple hops and I thought I wasn’t going to see my shorts again, but then thankfully stopped and chewed on them until we shooed it. I guess he wanted some salt, lol. They were miraculously not damaged apart from bits of plant material embedded in the waistband. I’ve used these on every overnight backpacking trip since 2005, and they’ll be on the next one :)

Sawyer Mini Water Filter as Primary Backpacking Water Treatment

Sawyer Mini filter, isolated

The Sawyer Mini filter really made an impact on backpacking the past couple years with its small packed size, and especially its low weight and low price. I got one as a gift and I figured it would make an excellent backup filter. It doesn’t add much weight at all at 2 ounces, and doesn’t take up much volume, so it makes for an excellent backup or emergency water filter.

However, how would it work as your primary filter? Well when Tom and I planned our trip to Cottonwood Lakes Basin in the Eastern Sierra, we decided to give that a try to find out. It’s so light! Tom bought one as well so we both took Sawyer Mini filters out on the trail for our 4 day trip, leaving our other filters behind.

Filling squeeze bag in preparation of filtering with Sawyer Mini

Preparing to squeeze the life-giving water out of High Lake

How does it compare to the First Need?

How does it compare filtration-wise? Well, Tom and I have both been using our First Need Deluxe pump filter/purifiers from General Ecology (and now the First Need XL and XLE) for quite a long time and have been pretty happy with them. It’s billed as a purifier and can filter out bacteria, cysts/protozoa like the infamous Giardia and Cryptosporidia and even some viruses which are the smallest living things. I feel pretty darn safe with those specs. They currently list the actual particle retention rating at 0.4 microns.

It turns out the Sawyer Mini boasts a particle retention size of just 0.1 microns! Wow, I’m sold there. Not only that, but Sawyer says it can filter up to 100,000 gallons while the First Need XLE has a capacity of 180 gallons. I assume this doesn’t include backwashing, but First Need’s documentation doesn’t even describe backwashing instructions anymore. That brings me to another point – Sawyer’s hollow fiber filtration method must be way more durable than the First Need’s structured glass matrix cartridge. I know I’ve killed one First Need cartridge by backwashing just a hair too strongly, and judging by comments I’ve seen elsewhere on the web, I’m not the only one. They have updated them to be more backwash friendly in the current XLE version. Backwashing the Sawyer Mini, however, has no such risks. Indeed, you need to power through it to do it properly. Also, freezing is a danger for both, but I’d speculate it’s probably less so for the Sawyer (fibers vs glass).

And back to the weight – the Sawyer is listed as 2 oz but I weighed my Sawyer Mini, 64oz bag, 16oz bag, and the included straw at 5.4 oz. The First Need XLE weighs in at 16 oz listed weight and mine weighs 18 oz when wet. Big difference.

Sawyer Mini system on left, First Need XL on right

Sawyer Mini system w/ large 64oz bag vs. First Need XL pump purifier

The Filtering Method

This is a slam dunk for the Sawyer by the specs so far. But now we have to consider the filtering method itself. What is a hiker doing when they use these filters to convert stream and lake water to drinking water? This was the practicality question behind our test. We had already tested things at home just to ensure the basic usage, but we needed to try it in the field.

Pumping river water with First Need purifierWith the First Need, like many pump filters, you stick one end in the water in a good spot, connect the other end to your drinking water container (in the case of the First Need you can attach it to a Nalgene), and then you hand pump steadily to fill your container(s). When you’re finished, you can leave the water source with your drinkable water.

With the Sawyer Mini, your first step is to fill your Sawyer squeeze bag with water. Now, after tests at home in the sink, I found this isn’t the easiest thing to do. You can’t get much water into the collapsed bag, even if you try pulling the sides apart underwater. The 16 oz bag is small enough already, but you’re not getting 16 oz of water in it that way. I got the 64 oz bags so I can fill up more and save time squeezing by not having to switch out bags much, but the 64 oz bag definitely has the same issue. That’s why I brought along a used disposable water bottle (I found one bigger than the usual size for this purpose). You fill your disposable water bottle easily by holding it under, and then you pour that into your Sawyer squeeze bag until you fill it up. It sounds like extra steps, but it’s really no big deal and works great.

At this point, you can hook your squeeze bag up to your filter and begin squeezing out drinking water into your clean container, rolling the bag as you go. A nice thing about this method is that you can fill up your “dirty” water bags and bottles at the stream, and then carry them back to camp or wherever and filter somewhere else.


That’s convenient and nice, but that’s where the fun ends. Squeeze filtering is just plain slow! We noticed it adding significantly to our time in camp (not good for the shortened daylight of late October). It can be a buzzkill when you’re sitting there squeezing and you can’t get on the trail until you’re done squeezing. As we both filtered one morning in preparation for a long day of hiking without any water sources, Tom and I switched filters and compared, but they were both pretty slow. I really wanted to like the Sawyer Mini, but this was tough.

First Need lists their average flow rate at 2 quarts per minute. Yeah there is pumping, but you fill your bottle without too much time and effort really. Pumping never bothered me. Sawyer has a spot in their FAQ about the flow rate, but doesn’t list any actual flow rate. They do say that altitude affects the flow rates (higher elevation makes filtering slower) so it’s possible that affected us.

sawyer-mini-filter-with-plunger-straw-squeeze-bagThere are a couple of usage modes that help get around this. You can screw the filter on top of a squeeze bag or a water bottle and drink straight through it, or you can hook it inline to your water bladder and drink through your hose. This means you filter as you drink instead of filtering a bunch at once. I tried this at home with a water bottle and it seemed to work ok. I squeezed the bottle to get a little more flow. I’m not sure I’d like the low flow if using inline with a water bladder. Also, we did not bring along the backwash syringes for our Sawyers. Maybe backwashing more frequently would help.

So now my plan is to keep using the Sawyer Mini for the purpose I had intended originally – as a backup water filter to my First Need. It makes for an outstanding backup with it’s light weight. I’ll also throw it in my day pack when doing longer day hikes. I know there are lots of glowing reviews out there that are happy with the flow though so maybe I’ll keep at it. I’ll note that I didn’t experience any trouble with the bags springing leaks like some others have. I’ll have to be back to post an update if my experience changes.

Yonder Giveaway Win!

Granite Gear eVent Sil DrysackHa, check this out, I won a giveaway on Yonder! I get a dry sack from Granite Gear. Not a huge deal, but it’s one made with silnylon plus eVent fabric at the bottom so you can squeeze out the air and it’s still waterproof all around, pretty sweet (eVent Sil Drysack). I’m excited and thought I’d share.

If you haven’t heard of it, Yonder is a social photo sharing mobile app that is geared toward outdoor lovers that I’ve dabbled with a bit. There are a lot of great “yonderers” on there that share their outdoor adventures one cool photo at a time, map location included. Plus there are lots of giveaways and contests.

My winning photo is from the trip Tom and I took in 2009 in King’s Canyon when it dumped on us for an entire day of our 5 day trip in October. It was actually a tropical storm that dropped a lot on California.

Here’s the giveaway info page-

The photo and map location are also on Yonder’s regular website here.

Geotagging Photos Strategy For Backpacking

I think I figured out a solution to geotagging photos for my next backpacking trip. I like having my hiking photos geotagged so that I can upload them to Panoramio and have them show up in Google Earth, or upload them to Flickr and have a map on the photo page. It’s neat to look back and see what spot it was taken at, and then also see photos from other hikers from nearby locations.

Geotagged Photos on US Map

My camera doesn’t have a GPS receiver to geotag photos with latitude and longitude in the Exif data like my phone does. My buddy, Tom, has a fairly new camera that does. I thought I wanted one too, to make geotagging a no-brainer, but now I’m not so sure. Tom mentioned that when he turns his camera on, he has to wait a minute or so for the GPS to activate. Presumably it has to lock onto the signal of several GPS satellites, enough to calculate an accurate position. Now this isn’t so great when hiking, and especially backpacking, because I do what I can to preserve battery! That means I don’t want to wait to take a photo. I often turn the camera on, quickly snap a shot, and turn it off.

Mobile Apps to the Photo Geotagging Rescue

I came across a phone app (Geotag Photos Pro) that will save GPS information as it runs, and then later you can use software that will automatically combine that GPS information with your photos on your computer. It works by the time, so you have to make sure your camera and phone time match up beforehand.

Then I actually found another one (gps4cam) that doesn’t even require you to manually sync the time on your camera to your phone. It will provide you with a barcode that you photograph with your camera, and that allows it to compare the times. Leave that in the directory with your photos and it will be recognized. Then just run the program and it does everything for you. Simple! You can also photograph that same barcode with any other camera, and then the software will do the same for photos taken with that too – that way only one person in your group has to have the app running. The pro version allows you to include altitude in the geodata which is great, and it also allows you to better fine-tune the capture interval to balance accuracy and battery life.

The beauty of this is that I already have my phone and it’s GPS turned on when hiking to save my track in another app. It might cause a slight increase in battery usage in this situation, but I’m guessing not much if at all since the GPS is already in use. This solves the problem of a camera’s GPS taking a couple minutes to acquire signals after turning it on – and using more camera battery. And of course I don’t need to get a new camera just for geotagging.

Again, the two apps were:
Geotag Photos Pro
gps4cam – I’ll probably give this one a try.

My next step is to figure out the best way to geotag my past photos!

Geotagged photos near San Jacinto Peak in Google Earth