Balloon Adventure

The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta is one of the highlights of this area. Every year I try to go at least once. I find it an interesting experience, with each year being at least a little different. This year no one wanted to come with me; their loss, as it turned into an exciting adventure.

Dawn Patrol

Dawn Patrol balloons fire their propane burners against the dark sky.

As usual, my plan is to leave early to beat the traffic. This time it works, and I am just walking in the gate to Balloon Fiesta Field as the Dawn Patrol takes off.  Dawn Patrol is a group of balloons that take off in the dark, just before dawn, for a final check of the winds aloft.  Wind conditions are briefed to the pilots before the mass ascension.  The balloons look very cool as the envelopes light up against the dark sky when the pilots burn propane.

Mass Ascension

Pilots test the propane burner before inflating.

My friend Deborah is on the ground crew for a balloon.  She had invited me to come to their site, so I make my way over to R6 where itsa Touchie Subject was preparing to take off.  They are in the first wave of balloons.  Soon the envelope is spread out, the gondola is attached to the envelope, the fan is started, and cold inflation begins.  A gas-powered fan fills the envelope with air as it lies on the ground.

A gas-powered fan fills the envelope with cold air.

The next step is to light up the propane burner, and heat the air inside.  The heated air rises and lifts the envelope to vertical.  The ground crew are hanging onto the gondola to keep it on the ground.  The “zebras” give the word, and hundreds of balloons take off.

345 balloons launch in one hour!

On Saturday a new world record was set for the number of balloons to take off in one hour: 345.  Today there are slightly fewer, but still an awesome number.

The pilot sets down to refuel.

I am asked to participate in the chase crew.  We pack ourselves like sardines into three vehicles and take off in pursuit of the balloon.  The chase crew is in radio contact with “Fergie”, the pilot.  He is soon down in a field for a change of propane tanks.  Creating the amount of hot air it takes to keep a balloon aloft uses a lot of propane.

Ballooning Over the Rio Grande

Only three instruments: altitude, vertical speed, and envelope temperature.

I am invited to ride in the balloon on the next hop.  How exciting!  I clamber into the gondola, and soon we are rising above the treetops.  I can see the Balloon Fiesta Field where the last wave is just launching.

The Rio Grande and Sandia Mountain combine to form a phenomenon unique to Albuquerque, known as the Albuquerque Box.  When the Box is in effect, winds aloft are blowing in different directions.  By changing altitude, balloons can fly back and forth.  The Box is in effect today, and we change directions several times during the flight.  The box effect dissipates as the sun warms the ground.

Splash 'N' Dash

Below us, a balloon is doing a “splash and dash”, where the pilot descends low enough to dip the gondola in the river.  Fergie does not want to get the balloon wet, but he does descend very near the water.  In fact, we startle a turtle and watch him frantically swimming under water, trying to escape the monster from the sky.

"Mom, look at the balloon!"

We ascend, cross Paseo del Norte, and fly over the ranches on the east side of the river.  People are waving at us and taking photos.  I wave back and take photos.

“Facilitate a Safe Landing”

Fergie is looking for a place to set down.  A large green pasture presents itself, but in and around it is livestock: horses, a llama or alpaca, ostriches.  Animals are often spooked by the sound of the propane burner and the pilot is responsible for any damages, so he elects not to land in the pasture.

Except for the livestock, this pasture would be a good place to land.

The wind takes us back over the bosque.  We are flying at treetop level, ready to take advantage of any open space to land, but none presents itself.  Fergie descends, hoping to catch a change of wind, but it is not enough and we must ascend to get over some trees.

Any landing you can walk away from ...

We are getting low on fuel, and it is becoming important to find a place to land soon.  If we run out of fuel, we could be forced into an uncontrolled landing, and that could be dangerous.  A large sandy area next to the river is coming up; this would be a good place to land.

The chase vehicle tries to get as close to the balloon as possible.

Unfortunately the wind does not cooperate, and we miss the landing zone.  The wind is taking us toward the river.  Rather than taking a chance of a better landing spot, and perhaps running out of fuel in the search, Fergie elects to set us down in the shrubbery on the river bank.  Three bounces and we are down.

The chase crew has to carry the balloon, in pieces, through this willow thicket.

The plan is to keep the envelope inflated, with just enough buoyancy to keep the gondola off the ground.  The passengers would get out and pull the balloon away from the river bank, over the thicket, and to the sandy area.  But the wind picks up and blows the envelope sideways so that the angle is no longer safe to light the burner.  So Fergie deflates the envelope.  We will have to carry all the parts of the balloon out.

Near-empty propane tanks are carried out separately to reduce the weight of the gondola.

Fergie places a call to the Fiesta office and help is dispatched.  We are in an inaccessible area, so gates to the Paseo de Bosque bike path have to be opened to allow the chase vehicles to come closer.  We meet a policeman patrolling the bike path and he helps us make the arrangements.

The envelope is gathered off the willows. There are no tears in the fabric.

Eventually the chase crew arrives and with lots of hands the envelope, gondola, and propane tanks are separately carried through the willow thicket, across the sandy area, and through the tree line to where the chase vehicle, a 4WD Bronco, is able to drive.  All parts are loaded into the trailer and the truck with trailer climbs the slope up to the bike path.

The gondola is disassembled.

Meanwhile the FAA shows up to investigate the “incident”.  There is no damage to the balloon, there are no injuries to any persons, and the landing is in an undeveloped area.  The pilot has “facilitated a safe landing”, so the FAA concludes there is no incident to report.

Back on the field, we have a tailgate party and the two “newbies” on the flight go through an initiation ceremony.  I am now no longer a “virgin” balloonist.

Balloon Glow

Fergie fires the burner to make his balloon glow at night.

The evening program is a balloon glow followed by fireworks. A balloon glow is held after sunset. Pilots inflate their balloons and their ground crews hold the balloons down so they do not lift off. Following instructions delivered by radio, pilots light their burners in synchronized patterns. I watch our balloon inflate and glow for a while, then wander off a short way to take pictures of other balloons glowing.

Tech Notes

For this adventure I elected not to bring my Pentax K20D DSLR.  I have many pictures of balloons and did not feel a need for more high quality photos.  I took the new Panasonic DMC-ZS10 instead.  This smaller camera can hang on my belt and not interfere with activities, yet still be available when needed.  I also elected to leave the Garmin at home, relying on the built-in GPS in the ZS10 to geotag the photos.

iPhone and Apps

Of course, I had my iPhone 4 with me.  I used it to post the adventure in real time to both Facebook and Twitter.  For these type of immediate updates I usually only use Twitter, as in my opinion it is more suited to these types of ephemeral posts.  But more of my friends are on Facebook than Twitter, so I used both this time.

The app I use is TweetDeck.  It’s pretty basic: take a photo, write a short post, and send.  TweetDeck posts to both Facebook and Twitter.  I like that because I don’t have to post items twice, once to each service.  When I want to real-time post a photo, I take it with the iPhone camera so it is immediately available to TweetDeck.

Still Photos

Most of the other photos were taken with the ZS10.  I am getting more used to this camera.  It takes pretty good pictures, and I like the 16x zoom.  I still do not like the lack of a viewfinder.  The auto-focus is slow, as is the zoom; between those two features, by the time I find the subject in the LED display, the action is often finished.

I took all the photos in the intelligent Auto mode.  I wasn’t really interested in making art, just documenting my adventure.  iA mode works pretty well in most cases.

The ZS10 has a setting called hand held night shot.  Since all my shots are hand held, I turned this setting on when I first set up the camera.  Today I found out what it does.  This setting is actually an HDR (high dynamic range) mode.  When iA mode detects a need, the camera will take multiple images at different exposures and combine them into one photo.  How cool is that!  What’s more, the camera appears to apply anti-shake and auto-focus tracking at the same time.

I was taking pictures of the Dawn Patrol.  The sky is dark, but there are lights illuminating the ground.  The balloons would light off their propane burners, making their envelope glow.  As I pressed the shutter button, the camera indicated it was going to take multiple exposures and to hold it still.  I did, but the balloon was moving through the frame.  I expected nothing but a blur, but the camera compensated and created a pretty good image.


When I import images from the K20D, I first copy them to the hard drive, then geotag them with data from the Garmin before importing to iPhoto.  The ZS10 has already geotagged the images, so I imported directly to iPhoto.  At the end of the import process there is an option to delete the images from the camera, and I accepted that option.

To my consternation, iPhoto imported only the first frame of videos.  The entire video was nowhere to be found, not even on the SD card as I had deleted the images after importing.  (However, the 16GB SD card still had 2 GB used.)  This led to some furious googling and I learned two things.

  1. By default, ZS10 records video in AVCHD format which iPhoto does not recognize.  There is a setting to record in MOV format which iPhoto does recognize, by  setting the REC MODE to Motion JPEG.  I immediately set the camera to this mode, but of course it does not help videos that are already recorded.
  2. iMovie recognizes and imports AVCHD format.  I immediately fired up iMovie 11 and sure enough, it found and recognized the video clips on the SD card.  They were hiding in a folder called Private.

iMovie is a little intimidating at first, but after some time I gained some proficiency in the tasks that I needed to do, which is simply trimming clips, splicing them together, and adding a sound track. It’s amazing what a soundtrack will do for a video clip! You can see the fruit of my labor in this blog.

I used YouTube to share the videos. I had to create an account and a ‘channel’. I exported the video from iMovie to a file, then imported the file to YouTube. iMovie has an export option to directly upload to YouTube. I tried it, and although all indications were that the upload was successful, the video never showed up in YouTube.

Planning and Recording an Adventure

I’m using this post to document how I record the adventures that I post in this blog.  As an engineer, I enjoy technology.  I also enjoy history, and the history of technology.  Electronics is changing so fast these days, that it will be fun in the future to see how I recorded adventures back in 2011.  If anyone reads this blog, it may help them as they develop their own methods.

I follow three general steps:

  1. Plan the Adventure
  2. Record the Adventure
  3. Document the Adventure

Plan the Adventure

These days, my adventures are constrained to be close to home.  Fortunately, Albuquerque has a lot of opportunities for outdoor adventures, which are my preferred kind.  Together with my son Richard, we do a lot of hiking, and some canoeing.  Richard is not into biking, so I do those adventures solo or with other friends.

To help plan hikes, I bought two hiking guidebooks.

  • 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Albuquerque, including Santa Fe, Mount Taylor, and San Lorenzo Canyon, by Stephen Ausherman, 2008, Menasha Ridge Press.
  • Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide, by Mike Coltrin, 2005, University of New Mexico Press.

There is no hint in the book, but Sandia Mountain Hiking Guide has a complementary web site, at which all the GPS waypoints and tracks mentioned in the book are available for download.  60 Hikes does not have a similar site, though does feature hikes from the book.  However to access the GPS data (beta) requires a paid membership to

Because my GPS equipment is made by Garmin, I use the free application Garmin BaseCamp to plan outdoor adventures.  The first step is to locate some strategic waypoints along the planned route.  I select the Trailhead/Parking Area, a few turns along the path, and the end point.  SMHG makes it easy by downloading GPX files from the web site.  60 Hikes only includes the trailhead as written GPS coordinates in the book, and I have to key these in.

My setup of BaseCamp does include a topo map that I bought from Garmin.  This adds a lot more detail, including trails, than the free base map that comes with the application.

When the waypoints and route are to my satisfaction in BaseCamp, I connect my handheld GPS receivers and download the information to the units.  Richard usually carries the older GPSMap 76C and I clip the Oregon 400t to my belt during the hike.

Record the Adventure

Two questions need to be answered to record the adventure:

  1. Where did I go?
  2. What did I do?

My GPS receiver records where I went, and when.  I set it up to always record tracks, so there is no issue of forgetting to turn on tracking.  Recording is passive, so the only setup required is to ensure there are fresh batteries in the unit.

I use photographs to record what I did.  Mostly Penny, my Pentax K20D, but sometimes the iPhone.

I like to record where each photo was taken, and that means geotagging each photograph.  This happens during the Document phase, but the task is much easier if the clock in the camera is synchronized to GPS time.  So I check the camera time to ensure it is within 1 second of GPS time.

Document the Adventure

This is the most time-consuming part of the adventure.  I follow these steps:

  1. Retrieve GPS tracks and digital photos from the equipment and store as files on computer hard drive.
  2. Geotag the photos with the location they were taken.  This involves comparing the GPS track recorded by the GPS receiver with the time stamp on the photo image file.  The GPS location at the time closest to the image time is added to the image meta-data.  (This is why it is important for the camera time to by synchronized to GPS time.) BaseCamp does a good job of geotagging images, but it does have a limitation for my situation.  I’ve recently started taking all my photos in RAW format, and BaseCamp does not geotag RAW images.  It works fine for JPG and other common formats.  I use PhotoGPSEditor, which has a clunkier UI, but handles RAW image files.  There are a number of software applications available that can geotag images.
  3. Edit the images.  I use iPhoto.  I import the geotagged images into iPhoto, select the keepers, label them as appropriate, crop, and apply some simple enhancements.  Picasa is another app that is good at editing the images.
  4. Select images to be used in the blog post and export from iPhoto.  I construct the narrative of the blog post in my head and choose images that complement the story.  I export the selected images in a reduced resolution: 1100 pixels in the longest dimension.  This looks good on screen and minimizes time to load photos.  (My first blog post used full-size images, and took a long time to load, even on a cable broadband connection.)
  5. Watermark the images with a copyright notice.  I use iWatermark, after researching available software for the Mac.
  6. Write the blog post, inserting images where appropriate.
  7. Create a new trip at This is how I get the Adventure Map.  I upload my GPS track and geotagged images.  I usually upload more than the images selected for the blog post, in order to create a comprehensive slide show.  This involves repeating the export and watermark steps for the larger set of images.  The images will be placed on a map at the location they were taken, along with the GPS track.  [Note: For a simple adventure, EveryTrail can be used can be used as a blog platform.  In addition to a map with track and images located on it, provision is made to label each image, and to provide a narrative of the trip.  EveryTrail will also geotag your images.]
  8. Paste the map link from EveryTrail into your blog.  EveryTrail provides snippets of HTML code that can be copied and pasted into web pages.  This will embed the map with track and images into the blog, and make available a slide show of the images uploaded to EveryTrail.
  9. Copy the elevation profile of the adventure from BaseCamp into your blog.  I take a screenshot of the elevation profile in BaseCamp and upload as an image to the blog.  This may not be interesting in Kansas, but in Albuquerque most adventures involve non-trivial elevation changes.


Paseo de Bosque

I’ve never been on the Paseo de Bosque trail from one end to the other, so this Saturday afternoon seemed like a good time to try it. Together with Marvin and Jerry, we started out in mid afternoon from the Alameda Open Space parking lot.

Alameda Open Space signs

We started our ride at the northern terminus of Paseo de Bosque, in the Alameda Open Space parking area. From here one can go north, under Alameda Boulevard, and cross the Rio Grande on the pedestrian bridge. This provides access to the Corrales Bosque Trail, an unpaved hiking and biking trail along the Rio Grande. We traveled south along the paved Paseo de Bosque trail.

Paseo de Bosque is a paved multi-use trail along the east bank of the Rio Grande.  It gets a lot of use from hikers, bikers, and roller-bladers.  It’s not unusual to see mothers on roller-blades pushing their kids in baby carriages.  There’s even a yellow center line painted on the trail to help with traffic.  Paseo de Bosque is located within the Rio Grande Valley State Park and is regularly patrolled by police on mountain bikes.

Montano Bridge Underpass

Paseo de Bosque crosses several busy roads, including Montano Boulevard shown above. The trail goes under these roads, providing a safe way to get to the other side. Alameda Boulevard, Paseo del Norte, and Montano Boulevard all have underpasses used by Paseo de Bosque crossings.

iPhone Camera Roll Limitation

Because I was with others, I did not take my Pentax camera that requires a backpack and extra time to take pictures.  My intention was to take photos with my iPhone, which takes OK pictures and is a lot easier to carry.  In the process I found a limitation of the iPhone.  I have the 8Gb 3G model, which is a couple years old by now.  It seems there is a limit to the number of photos that can be stored on the Camera Roll.  I had taken several pictures earlier and had not downloaded them to the computer.  Part way into this ride the iPhone refused to take any more pictures.  I had a second camera app installed, so I tried it, with no better results.  So I did not get as many pictures as I wanted.

Trail beside Montano Boulevard

On the south side of Montano Boulevard, this inviting trail beckoned us to the east along an irrigation canal. Our mission was to find the southern terminus of Paseo de Bosque, so this trail was put off for another day.

In analyzing the situation, I believe I know what happened.  The iPhone simply ran out of memory to store more photos.  At first thought this seems strange, as even the 8Gb model can show hundreds of pictures in the Photos app.  But on reflection the reasons become clear.

Aldo Leopold Trail sign

The Aldo Leopold Trail is on the grounds of the Rio Grande Nature Center. It's a nice loop through the forest parallel to the river, across the irrigation ditch from the visitor center. I left my companions on the paved trail to explore this trail.

Photos taken by the iPhone are stored in the Camera Roll at their full resolution (2.0 mega-pixels for my 3G).  I have my iPhone crammed full of apps, audio, and photos, so new photos use up the free space fairly quickly.  Once available space is used up, no more photos can be taken.  I do wish there was a message like “Out of Memory” that displayed, rather than just not working.  I was afraid the iPhone had broken in some way.

Trail west of Nature Center

A beautiful forested trail in the bosque, part of the Rio Grande Nature Center. Here's where my iPhone ran out of memory, so no more pictures.

Once the photos are downloaded to my computer and deleted from the Camera Roll, they can be uploaded to the iPhone for viewing.  I’m not sure how this works under Windows, but on my iMac the iTunes program fetches the photos from iPhoto, compresses them, and does the upload when I sync the iPhone.  Most of the time the compression is invisible but when the set of photos to be uploaded is large, I can see a progress bar as compression is proceeding.

Camera+ App Doesn’t Geotag Photos

Another surprise I found when I downloaded the photos from the iPhone was that they were not geotagged with the location of where the photo was taken. I know the iPhone (Camera app) geotags photos, from earlier experiments I had done. This time I was using Camera+, because it has some pretty snazzy editing features. Geotags were not included in the photo files created by Camera+.

Photos taken by Camera+ first go into a temporary holding area called the Lightbox. Here is where the editing effects can be applied. After any edits are applied, the photo is saved to the Camera Roll. From there it is handled like any other photo by iOS. Somewhere in this process the geotags are deleted, or were never applied in the first place. For my adventures, I want to know where the photo was taken. If I’m using the iPhone, I usually don’t have a GPS track running, so it’s important to me for the photo to be geotagged by the iPhone. I won’t be using Camera+ any more, at least until this issue gets fixed.

Adventure Map

The three of us spent a lot of time solving the world’s problems, and consequently ran out of daylight.  The trip to the south terminus of Paseo de Bosque will have to wait for another day.

Paseo de Bosque at EveryTrail
EveryTrail – Find the best Hiking near Albuquerque, New Mexico

Geotagging iPhone Photos – Metadata Tags

On April 18 I went on a hiking and geocaching day trip.  I used my iPhone to take pictures.  I expected the photos to be tagged with the location they were taken, using the GPS built into the iPhone, and that I would be able to import these geotagged photos into the Garmin BaseCamp application.  Eventually the photos would be linked to maps on this blog, though I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.  This post is about what I discovered about geotagging photos taken by the iPhone; there will be another post about the day trip.

I have a knack for making things much harder than they ought to be.  Uploading pictures to iPhoto was easy, and I spent some time cropping and editing them.  Then I uploaded the day’s tracks from the Garmin GPS 76C receiver to BaseCamp and spent some time joining and splitting tracks into the segments I wanted.  This also was straightforward.  Now it was time to import the pictures.  I exported the photos from iPhoto and imported them into BaseCamp.  BaseCamp did not recognize the photos as being geotagged!

Geotag Detective Story

One reason I write these posts is that I find technical instructions often assume a level of knowledge on the part of the reader that is not there.  Often it is the very most basic information that is missing.  I found that to be the case when researching the relationship between photos geotagged by iPhone and the inability of BaseCamp to recognize those geotags.

The first thing I did was to go back to iPhoto to try to find the location data for the photos.  Of course I was unable to find it.  Turns out I’m using iPhoto ’08 and iPhoto ’09 is the first version to recognize location tags.  iPhoto ’09 is only available as part of iLife ’09 suite.  I don’t use the other parts of iLife enough to warrant purchasing the whole suite just to upgrade iPhoto.  (I understand that Picasa understands photo geotags, but all my pictures are in iPhoto and I’m not ready to change just yet.)

BaseCamp has the ability to geotag digital photos by comparing the time tag of the photo to a track file.  This actually works pretty well.  I used this capability to geotag the iPhone photos by comparing with the tracks from the GPS 76C.  Once BaseCamp had geotagged the picture files, it was able to import them. However, I was not satisfied — the iPhone is supposed to geotag the pictures it takes and I wanted to know why it apparently was not doing so.

A Google search turned up very little about geotagging on the iPhone.  All you have to do is turn on Location Services and all photos will automatically be geotagged.  I had Location Services turned on, but apparently no geotags.

During my hike, I had regularly turned off the iPhone display when not taking pictures.  Maybe the iPhone did not have time to lock onto the GPS satellites before I took a picture, so it did not geotag the photos because it did not know where it was?  (There was no cell service, so GPS was the only way to get a location.)  To test this I brought up the Map app and almost immediately got the little blue pulsing pin showing my location, showing that Location Services knew the location of the iPhone.  (I was actually quite impressed that my actual location showed up.  This was indoors and the GPS signals would have had to come in through the windows.  When Location Services has to use non-GPS data, like cell tower triangulation, it puts my location about 5 miles away.)  I snapped a picture of my desk, uploaded to iPhoto, exported to a file, imported to BaseCamp.  It was not recognized as a geotagged photo.

Some more googling turned up that perhaps exporting the JPG from iPhoto does not include the location data, especially since my version of iPhoto does not know about locations.  Dragging the photo from the library to the hard drive is supposed to solve that.  Nope.  Did not work.

More googling.  People are very sure that the iPhone does indeed geotag photos, but various desktop applications don’t recognize the tags.  Some people email their photos directly from the iPhone to Flickr.  So I emailed my photo to myself, saved it to a file, and imported into BaseCamp, thus skipping iPhoto and any problems it might have altogether.  Still no success; BaseCamp does not recognize that this is a geotagged photo.  The problem could be with BaseCamp (though it imports other geotagged photos properly) or with the iPhone (though no one has reported this problem online).  I don’t have a second application that recognizes geotags with which to do a comparison.  (Actually, Preview displays geotags, but I did not realize it at the time.)

More googling, this time concentrating on BaseCamp rather than iPhone.  Finally I hit pay dirt with this forum post:

The key information that is missing from your photo is the GPSVersionID. BaseCamp looks for the GPSVersionID to see if a geotag is present, and in your photo it doesn’t find it so it doesn’t look any further.

This same forum thread made a passing reference to ExifTool, so I looked it up.  ExifTool is one of those wonderful open source tools authors make available to everyone at no charge.  Here’s the description from the tool’s home page.

ExifTool is a platform-independent Perl library plus a command-line application for reading, writing and editing meta information in a wide variety of files. ExifTool supports many different metadata formats including EXIF, GPS, IPTC, XMP, JFIF, GeoTIFF, ICC Profile, Photoshop IRB, FlashPix, AFCP and ID3, as well as the maker notes of many digital cameras by Canon, Casio, FujiFilm, HP, JVC/Victor, Kodak, Leaf, Minolta/Konica-Minolta, Nikon, Olympus/Epson, Panasonic/Leica, Pentax/Asahi, Ricoh, Samsung, Sanyo, Sigma/Foveon and Sony.

Downloading and installing ExifTool was a snap.  It has a command-line interface, but I have a passing familiarity with Unix so using Terminal didn’t faze me.  Looking at my test photo that I emailed directly from the iPhone I see that it is indeed geotagged, and that it is missing the GPSVersionID tag.

GPS Latitude Ref                : North
GPS Longitude Ref               : West
GPS Altitude Ref                : Above Sea Level
GPS Time Stamp                  : 20:54:55.64
GPS Dilution Of Precision       : 5
GPS Altitude                    : 1490 m Above Sea Level
GPS Latitude                    : 35 deg 14' 37.20" N
GPS Longitude                   : 106 deg 37' 54.60" W
GPS Position                    : 35 deg 14' 37.20" N, 106 deg 37' 54.60" W

Next step was to see whether BaseCamp would recognize the geotags in the photo if I added the GPSVersionID tag.  The GPSVersionID tag must be in a specific format — I got a hint in this forum post.  I was able to use ExifTool to add the GPSVersionID tag to a geotagged photo.  BaseCamp then recognized the geotags and imported the photo at a specific location.  YAY!!  My inner geek is pleased!

While writing this post, I reviewed the research and found hints that Preview recognizes location data.  Sure enough, you can Show Inspector from the Tools menu to pop up a small More Info window that shows metadata about the photo.  There’s a tab that shows GPS metadata.  When looking at the photo to which I had added the GPSVersionID tag, the GPS Version was shown.  Otherwise GPS Version did not appear.  This is a nicer way of checking the metadata tags than ExifTool, as you can see the photo and metadata at the same time, plus it uses a GUI for navigation.  But you can’t modify the file like you can with ExifTool.

Summary – What I Learned About Geotags


  • Metadata refers to information about an object, such as a JPG image, as opposed to the object itself.  The object might be an image of a flower.  Metadata could include the size of the image, the f-stop of the camera taking the picture, and the location where the picture was taken.
  • Embedding metadata in a JPG file is evidently quite complex.  See this post by Phil Harvey to get an appreciation of the complexity.
  • Metadata is identified by tag names.  There are thousands of tag names.
  • Location metadata is identified by tag names that start with GPS.  The GPSVersionID tag is one of these.
  • The GPSVersionID tag has the format n.n.n.n, for example,  However, BaseCamp writes the tag as .. and this seems to work.

iPhone 3G

  • The camera built in to the iPhone 3G with OS 3.0 does geotag photos, but does not include the GPSVersionID tag, which is needed by some applications like Garmin BaseCamp.
  • Geotagging is enabled by turning on Location Services under Settings/General.  That’s it — no dialogs, no warnings, not even a status indicator in the Camera app to tell you that photos are being geotagged.

iPhoto ’08

  • iPhoto ’08 does not know about geotags.  iPhoto ’09 is the first version to recognize location data.
  • iPhoto ’08 exports metadata, including geotags, with photos, even though it does not recognize the geotags.

Preview 5.0

Inspector Window from Preview

Preview showing GPS metadata

  • Preview displays some metadata in the Inspector window.  Bring up the Inspector window from Tools/Show Inspector.
  • Available categories of metadata are
    • General – information about the image, such as size in pixels and color profile.
    • Exif – information about the camera and and settings when taking the photo, such as fNumber and exposure mode.
    • GPS – location data about the image, such as latitude, longitude, altitude.
    • TIFF – information related to TIFF image format, such as orientation and resolution.
  • Preview will show the GPSVersionID tag if it exists.

Garmin BaseCamp

  • BaseCamp will import geotagged photos and locate them on its map.
  • BaseCamp looks for the GPSVersionID tag to determine whether the photo is geotagged.  If it does not find the GPSVersionID tag, it stops looking, even if the location tags are embedded.  This means BaseCamp does not recognize photos from the iPhone as being geotagged because of the missing GPSVersionID tag.
  • BaseCamp can geotag photos by comparing the photo timestamp with a GPS track log.  The photo is located at the location in the track log that has a timestamp nearest to the timestamp of the photo.

ExifTool 8.18

  • ExifTool is a free tool that reads and writes metadata in a variety of file formats.  It is available for Mac OS X, Windows, and Unix systems.  ExifTool is written in Perl.
  • On the Mac, ExifTool uses a command-line interface from within Terminal.  There is no GUI.  The tool’s home page states there is a GUI for Windows.
  • I found ExifTool to be easy to install and to use.  ExifTool displayed all the metadata contained within the JPG image files I was working with.
  • It was easy to add the missing GPSVersionID tag.  ExifTool caught my attempts to write the tag in an invalid format.  It automatically creates a backup copy of the file being modified to allow recovery if a mistake is made.
  • ExifTool can do a lot of  stuff with metadata that I haven’t tried.  Not only can it geotag photos from a track log, it can also create a track log from geotagged photos!  How cool is that?