Photos Layer of Google Earth and Google Maps Transition with Panoramio Closure

I wrote about Panoramio switching to read-only mode in preparation for its closure, and then recently about Google’s announcement of its imminent shutdown.

What is the newest development? Panoramio is completely shut down. Other users and I have noticed the Panoramio photos layer in Google Earth still shows geolocated photo icons. But clicking on them only brings up a message saying the Panoramio layer is disabled and new photos layer is “Google Maps Photos”. Panoramio photos no longer appear in Google Maps.

Google Earth new photos layer message screenshot1

Google Earth new photos layer screenshot2Clicking that button “Switch to the New Photos Layer” did not do anything for me. But I did see the Google Maps Photos checkbox under Photos in the Layers menu in the bottom-left of Google Earth. When that is checked, the map shows circular thumbnails (quite a bit larger than the previous thumbnails) of photos from Maps. I looked around a few places and noticed there were far fewer photos available in this new layer. In other places (like urban areas), many more thumbnails show as you zoom in and it’s hard to say whether there are more or less photos. website changed also, saying “Panoramio has been discontinued,” and including three frequently-asked questions.

1. What happened to my Panoramio data?
If your Panoramio profile was linked with your Google account, then all your Panoramio photos are being copied to your Google Album Archive at full resolution (this could take a few weeks). All other data has been permanently deleted.

2. Will my Panoramio photos continue to appear in Google Earth and Google Maps?
If your Panoramio photos were appearing in Google Maps with the name of your Google Account, then they will continue to appear along with their original view counts. If they were only attributed to your Panoramio username, they will no longer appear. You can view and manage photos by signing in to Google Maps and accessing the Contributions screen from the main menu. So not all, or maybe none, of the Panoramio photos have been copied yet. This could explain why the photos layer has so few photos currently. They only show those uploaded to Maps. But we have no idea how many or what percentage of Panoramio users have linked their accounts to enable this migration. The photos of Panoramio users that have not done this are just gone. It was up to those people to do what they will. They own their photos after all.


3. Is there any way to keep posting photos to Google Earth and Google Maps?
Yes – to keep adding photos to Google Maps and engage with a growing community of photographers, join the Local Guides program. You earn points and unlock rewards for photos submitted with a Google account when they are linked to a point of interest or business.

Questions remain regarding the new photos layer.

I also have concerns about what is missing from the new process.

  • Where are the community and social functions? Local Guides Connect is neat, but it is detached from the actual photos. I’d like to post a comment to tell someone how awesome their photo is. I thought this could be doable with Google+.
  • How can I learn more about a photographer? How can photographers get some recognition for their work filling great geolocated photos into the map? As it is now, they/we aren’t much better than anonymous Google-photo-bots.

Right now I can say that the quality of photos in the new layer, at least regarding relevancy to the map and location, is probably better than I expected (not too many food photos). But it is still not as good as Panoramio. The layer includes lots of photos that are not relevant. And there are far less photos appearing in areas that aren’t urban (at least until Panoramio photos are copied). This makes sense as the Google’s focus with Maps and Local Guides is ultimately fleshing out business listings. But I believe they should do what’s needed to improve things for non-urban areas. People will use Maps and Earth more if they are better tools, whether they are used to look at businesses in town or scenery in undeveloped areas.

Lots of people from Panoramio are negative towards Google’s new program. That has been apparent in Panoramio’s web forum, and from the vocal few users in Local Guides Connect. For me, I actually recommend joining the new program. This is because I hope that the fantastic people that made Panoramio great can help shape it and improve it so it might work as well as Panoramio did as a geolocated photos resource and community. Right now I think it needs help in that department. Sign up to Local Guides and share your opinion in the Local Guides Connect forums like I have.

Google Earth new photos layer screenshot4a Google Earth new photos layer screenshot5a

Expand Cellular Coverage in National Parks and other Public Lands?

A friend recently sent a link to an article – As Cell Service Expands, National Parks Become Digital Battlegrounds. He was leaning in favor of wider cell service in National Parks because of the improved safety aspect and people wanting to use mobile apps for things like checking weather or altitude, and recording GPS info. He did acknowledge that lack of cell service does help unwind from everyday cluttered life.

Some day this discussion may not matter as technology changes. But for now, here are some of my back-and-forth thoughts about cell service and a bit about National Park visitation.

It’s definitely an interesting issue. I think I’m ok with having cell service in the really populated areas like the valley in Yosemite or the main villages in Yellowstone. I’m good with not having cell service in Wilderness areas, and probably prefer it. I know people are starting to expect cell service everywhere without thinking, but I don’t think the National Park Service and others need to cater to that.

“Expanded cellular and broadband coverage, they argue, helps rescue teams respond to emergencies and are necessary to draw a new generation to the parks.”

I don’t think there is any problem drawing a new generation to the parks. I think National Park visitation has been really going up. They have plenty of visitors. The safety aspect is definitely a valid factor.

I like John Muir’s quote at the beginning and the philosophy of unplugging. “Break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods”. If you haven’t heard of it, you might want to look up the “3 day effect”. Some studies have shown there is a real, positive psychological effect after being in the backcountry for 3 or more days in a row. That’s something I feel I’ve noticed as well. I feel different after 3 days, like normal everyday concerns and stresses have gone far enough back that they aren’t there at all anymore. I think 4 days is even a little better.

Also, there is the Wilderness Act, which says –

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

You can maybe interpret that different ways regarding cell service. Cell service already reaches plenty of Wilderness areas and it’s not really feasible to try setting border or something. But you certainly can’t build a cell tower in a Wilderness area.

However there are services from satellites of course, which basically cover the Earth. And there may eventually be something similar to cell service which does the same thing, whether from satellites or high altitude aircraft or something. So technology will probably advance to bring the same services to basically blanket the Earth one way or another. It would then take a big effort if that were to hypothetically be limited and not available in some areas.

Good to know about some things in the article I didn’t know about, like all the specific situations. I found something on visitation with some graphs and good info-

I guess you could argue that per-capita visitation has not gone up (mentioned in my link above). Per-capita is how you would want to measure things if you want to be fair to people. But the problem with that is that the experience changes hugely with more people (especially backcountry visitation) and you don’t want the land resources to have to handle an increasing number of people. They have trail and backcountry campsite quotas in popular places for good reasons. There is a certain point where it’s enough or too much for each area.

Back to cell-service expansion, I found another great bit of back-and-forth here as well –

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. As a result, 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.

Updated info in newer posts below:

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. Like the older Photo Viewer, 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. 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 a problem with that. Yes, I learned it’s blurry enough to affect print decisions and give a poorer viewing experience. But also, the app actually does render a better quality image; it just doesn’t show that version when you first open an image. The displayed image after zooming in and back out is sharper/clearer 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. These are photos with several different dimensions, which shows it doesn’t just occur in some specific sized images.

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