Using the iPhone as a GPS in iPhoto ’09

At the Bus Stop

iPhone GPS Test: A Flickr Photo Set

I’ve posted about this before, but what I failed to mention back then was the GPS data could not be embedded in a non-iPhone photo in iPhoto ’08, so the original photo (which usually looked bad, because it was taken just for the GPS info) would have to sit in the library. It didn’t really help, so I deleted them.

Now, of course, iPhoto ’09 has embraced GPS data and the iPhone has potentially become useful again as a GPS source. To test this, I set out yesterday with two cameras, the iPhone and a Sony DSC-U30, which is a tiny camera about the same volume and weight as the iPhone. The two cameras were a pretty good match–both 2 megapixel with similar fixed focal length, both using the JPEG format.

I took a photo of the same scene from the exact same standing location using both cameras, firstly the iPhone and then the Sony. Unlike my earlier experiment, this time I intended each version to be a “keeper”. I wanted to try to reproduce the same visual look for each. Here are the results.

To tag a non-GPS photo with the GPS location in iPhoto ’09, import the photos from both iPhone and camera and merge the two resultant Events. Find and select both photos, then click the info button on one of them. Click the location field and the New Place… menu item. This will open the map. Optionally, move the iPhone’s pin if you’re not satisfied with its accuracy, then click the Assign to Photo button. Even if you didn’t move the pin, this is necessary. Then close the Get Info dialog. Both photos will now have the same GPS tag. At this point, if you’re just using the iPhone as a GPS source and don’t want to keep the photo, delete the iPhone version.


This will not be viable if your camera is somewhat large, like an SLR. You have to juggle both cameras. If you use a holster like I do, then it is easy to put the iPhone away quickly to devote your handling to the other camera.

If you have to move around quickly, like shooting sports, then this won’t be usable either.

The best solution is to use a camera that has a built-in GPS or a camera that has a GPS attachment that writes directly to the file. Next best is to use a GPS tracker that records where you are over time and can be used to merge the GPS data with the photos. This is the path I am researching at the moment. The iPhone, however, does provide an experience that is surprisingly less clunky than I expected and will do in a pinch.


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