The Future of Digital Photography
Written by Erik Neff   
Tuesday, 03 October 2006
"The next wave in digital photography is pictures that are self-aware".  Hmm, that's not entirely accurate, let's try again.

"The next wave in digital photography is pictures that are smarter than human beings".  Uhh, that's a little misleading too, but not entirely incorrect.  Err, at least in one particular way it's not.

What I'm talking about are pictures that know precisely where and when they were born.  Specifically, they know where on earth in latitude and longitude the camera was when the picture was captured.  Hidden metadata within the picture's image file header known as "GeoTags" are now being used to store the exact location the camera was when the picture was taken.

On the surface, it's not entirely obvious why this is such a good thing, or why people would want this.  However, it turns out that there are already a plethora of existing, and even more planned ways of using this information in powerful ways.  Most of these ideas center around the integration of sharing pictures on the web, with online mapping tools.  But being able to see where you were when you took a picture has many more uses than just triggering memories about the trip at a later date.  In fact, through the use of Google Earth and Google Picasa, you can make a flowwing, automated 3-D slide-show of the path you took on a trip, with picture thumbnails superimposed over the 3-D globe.

Here is a great tutorial on how to GeoTag your pictures using existing (relatively) cheap hardware...

My personal opinion is that geotagging of data will cause one of two major consumer product shifts: either it will cause all camera manufacturers to begin (if they haven't already) manufacturing cameras that have built-in GPS modules (hopefully it can be done cheaply and reliably enough), or, there will be a major consumer shift away from "just cameras" toward palm-style hand-held convergence devices with built-in GPS modules and 2 to 4 mega-pixel camera capabilities (ties in nicely with the idea of the google handheld device).  In either case, the obvious goal is for any device to automatically capture a snapshot of the latitude/longitude and embed it right in the picture the moment it's taken, thus automating the now somewhat labour-intensive geotagging procedure.

The latest version of google picasa is already geotag-aware, and has hooks to google earth that enable manual geotagging of picasa pictures from within google earth - very nifty, but it's not going to be as accurate as if the camera captured the gps data itself, or if you have the gps data recorded, it's going to be somewhat  time consuming depending on the number of pictures you have.  Also, at this point it's not entirely clear to me how you share geo-tagged pictures in a useful way without having to use Flickr and Mappr, both of which have web interfaces for uploading pictures that are just too inefficient to use when sharing more than 2 or 3 pictures.

Although google just started a free picture-hosting service that ties in with picasa called Picasaweb (, I don't think even this picture-hosting site does anything particularly useful with pictures that were geotagged - probably because at this point there are so few pictures do have this information.  But this will soon change, and when it does, wouldn't it be cool to have a little google maps box in the corner of the screen on a the site where you have your pictures hosted and shared that displays the exact over-head view of the location where this picture was taken?  Sounds pretty cool to me, but maybe this is just obscure for the general population to latch onto.  Who knows.  As a guy I know named Mike always says:

"Just my $0.02."
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 03 October 2006 )
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