Organizing photos – geographically

Continuing the intermittent series on organization, today’s topic is geotagging.

As mentioned before, I tend to remember when and where I took a photo. Thus keeping a geographic record is an important part of my organizational strategy.

Ah, but how do we do this? In the days before asset managers such as Lightroom, I used notes, and tended to place said notes in the boxes with the photographs… or in text files in directories during the early digital era. With digital I often make it a point to snap a photo of a road intersection or sign (often both).

One of my cameras has support for automatic GPS tagging, and some of the time I use that (but not always since the GPS module sits in the hotshoe connector). But the other two cameras don’t support it at all.

If you have automatic systems available, use that – it’s far more accurate, and on the Pentax system you’ll even find out which direction the camera was facing. But if not, then it’s off to doing it manually… locating the position and tagging photos individually.

I’ve tried various add-on products which claim to help; several of which rely on smartphone GPS and timestamping and try to match the two up afterwards. But – this assumes the camera’s clock is truly accurate… and most aren’t really up to the task. Some of this is overkill on the part of a software designer (it’s idiotic to try to match diverse items down into the millisecond range without external synchronization), but some is also due to the differences in how various phones update position reports.

In Lightroom you can use the metadata filtering to quickly locate photos without coordinates; and the map subsystem allows you to save a handful of locations.

Pro tip: don’t let years pass by before geotagging. ‘Tis much more difficult to find locations when the roads have changed and the landmarks gone and buildings obliterated.


Getting Organized – photo edition!

Thus starts a series of posts on the topic of organizing photos.

There are lots of ways to organize photos, and I tend to use most of them. I use Adobe Lightroom as the principal asset manager. Lightroom is based on a catalog system. I have two principal catalogs, based on camera type – “Master” for the APS-C / scanned / Q photos, and “Phone” for the various cellphone photos. I also use a few special catalogs for book and calendar projects.

Back to the “Master” catalog. As of this writing (July 2016) there are about 20,000 items in the catalog… and how do I find anything in such a collection?

I organize this in several ways. The initial sort is done by date; with folders for each year, then each month in the year, and then by day within the month. Thus photos from today would land in “2016/2016-07-July/07-20-2016.” Note this is a physical organization (how the storage is laid out on disk).

Next up are the keywords, followed by geotagging. I tend to think in terms of time and location, thus I prioritize the geotagging ahead of keywording. Sometimes this leads to problems, especially if I didn’t take notes in the field (or a significant time has elapsed since shooting).

In addition to geotagging and keywords, there is the metadata recorded by the camera; ie. make/model of camera, lens type, and the usual exposure information. Also I use color coding in Lightroom – blue for items displayed on Facebook, green for items sent to SmugMug, yellow for special events, and purple for experimental stuff.

I’ll have separate posts on geotagging and keywords.


The Farm Journal Map

A persistent area of interest for me is cartography; the science of mapmaking. I have a substantial collection of maps (both printed and digital), including a few that I’ve made. However it’s historical maps which are often of the greatest interest, for those point out features which may be worth photographing (especially churches and railroad structures).

Rutgers University has an online resource for maps at the Rutgers Cartography Lab. One of the maps in the collection is a 1913 Farm Journal map of southern New Jersey.

1913 map south jersey from Rutgers
Clicking on map takes you to image source – which you can enlarge.

One quickly notices a proliferation of small red numbers labelling every road. What are these numbers?

To understand that, we have to think about the purpose of this map. It was published by the Farm Journal of Philadelphia, as a finder’s aid to go with their Directories. A directory was published for each county in the Farm Journal’s coverage region (which in 1913 comprised most of Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland). For Gloucester County New Jersey, the corresponding directory is online in digital form at

Once you see the directory, it becomes clear what the numbers are – they’re road numbers, similar to a modern [printed] map’s row-column index. In 1913 few roads outside of a town had names; and if they did, it was to name the endpoints (Williamstown-Glassboro Road) or a prominent feature (Alms House Road). Thus for a directory and map to be of any use, the publisher had to impose some form of organization.

To understand how this works in practice, an example is in order.

From the directory for Deptford Township, I’ve extracted this fragment, and highlighted one entry in yellow, two in light orange. In yellow, Chas Alley is a shoe cutter located near Almonesson on H19 (a road marked on the map). The orange highlights are for H33 near Blackwood.


Looking on the map, road 19 is quite visible as a segment just northeast of Almonesson; and road 33 is the stretch between Fairview and Blackwood.


The roads are numbered starting in the northwest corner of each township and ending in the southeast corner… or from upper-left to lower-right.

Curse of the photo walk…

A beautiful Saturday in October; business meeting over, what to do? Let’s go to Waterloo Village and see what’s open. Turns out this was one of the Canal Society’s “Heritage Days” – wherein the village is open and [partly] staffed… and crawling with photographers.

Apparently at least six different photo clubs decided this was the perfect day and Waterloo was the perfect place.

A bevy of photographers brave the Morris Canal.

I didn’t hear any splashes so apparently the boat didn’t capsize but it certainly was down a bit by the bow.

Among the various waves of photographers, this tableau unfolded:

family portrait photo
Family photo fun

Color me a bit doubtful on the use of the monoblock lamp at that sort of distance on a sunny day, but whatever. Everyone appeared happy and I’m sure it turned out well.

The surprise came a bit later. I was over behind the village church, photographing in the graveyard… I’d just taken the ‘test’ shot:

low angle photo of gravestones
Test shot for composition.

And from behind me, the ‘leader’ of a ‘photo walk’ proceeds to tell me (and his followers) that what I’m doing is a waste of pixels; the shot won’t come out at all. Ahem.

I thank him for his ‘advice’ and ask forbearance for the five-shot sequence to follow. I’m going to shoot multiple exposures which will later be integrated into a single high-dynamic-range photo… oh yes, here’s the result:

low angle gravestone photo
HDR low-angle; five shots composited together.

Guess it worked out after all.

The Church in a Barn

…and no, it’s not what you think.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, churches were important parts of a community, and thus were built of substantial materials, intended to last. As such, when a church was decommissioned, it was often sold – either to another congregation, or someone in the local community.

Juliustown NJ is a village, established 1731 when Julius Ewan took possession of land in the area, and established a weaver’s mill nearby. By 1824 the Methodists arrived, and built a church. In 1869 they replaced the original church with the one which serves today.

We set out to find the original church… Frank Greenagel, proprietor/publisher of the NJ Churchscape, had found various mentions in historical collections about the 1824 church being moved to a farm in the vicinity.

When we first arrived in Juliustown early in the morning, a passing patrolman stopped to see if we needed help. When told about the quest, he said “Oh yeah I think that’s Jim Haines’ barn – follow me and I’ll show you.”

Is this the church we seek? The dimensions are a bit… off… but maybe if you leave off that center part where the wood looks a bit different… Let’s see the interior.

Lath and plaster walls in a barn? Uh huh. This is a good sign that this is the church we seek. Let’s go back outside and look closer…

and there, under the chicken wire, is some beadwork. Nobody does this for a barn, but for a church in the 1820s it was a common low-cost ornamentation.

After an early-morning chat with the owner, and some more research… yep. This is the 1824 church.

On changing displays

One evening a few weeks ago I was busily working away on the computer and without any warning at all, there  was a sharp buzzing sound, a soft “pop” – and a blank display. I spent a good twenty seconds in the first portions of the “utility power is out let’s start shutting down the non-essentials” routine before it hit me: only the display had gone out.

As usual, the timing was impeccable. December 24th, the sales were over, ok, hook up the [garbage but it works] monitor from the server and start seeing what’s in stock where and for what price. Before long the choice is down to just a handful of items… and by 2:15 that afternoon the order is placed and the waiting game begins.

The display which died was a Dell 2407FPW – in service in July of 2006, so I got about 8 1/2 years out of it. In the summer of 2006 it was considered a high-end monitor; one of the few LCD displays with color accuracy comparable to the monster (27-inch Eizo) CRTs I’d been using. The Dell was a “pivot” monitor – which can operate in landscape (widescreen) or turn to portrait orientation (very useful for page layout work).

The video card on this box is a FirePro v5700 – nice mid-range workstation graphics, can output to DVI or Display Port with adapters for just about everything.

The choice boiled down to… Dell U2413 or Asus PA249Q.

Both are 24-inch 1920×1200 IPS 10-bit LED-lit displays. Prices are within a few dollars of each other. Reviews… the major sites are a draw; minor differences noted between the displays – mostly concentrated on preset “movie” modes – but the user reviews tell a different tale.

December 29 came and UPS brought the monitor right up to the door, and after getting it out of all the packing materials, and reading the calibration report, and re-routing the cables and getting the soundbar attached… it works!

And all is good, and now I’m running with a 30-bit color pipeline (with three programs only but this is for another post), calibrations are good, I can see clearly now…

I chose the Dell.

Painting with a camera

A couple of days ago I met a friend for dinner and drinks and long-winded technical conversation. The place we picked was noisy, food ok, cute friendly waitress, and incredibly packed. So packed that the closest parking was across the railroad tracks in the commuter lot (luckily not a busy spot at 7 on a Friday evening!).

Coming out at dusk, I noticed a bit of fog settling in down the tracks. It looked interesting… so grab the camera out of the car, dial in a couple of settings, take a peek at the first photo, re-adjust, take that deep breath and snap in the middle of a slow exhale… and I got a couple of good exposures.

But when I viewed the shots a day later… meh. So I decided to peak it up a bit, and play around some more with pseudo-HDR via Photomatix Pro.

Here’s the original photo:

Original photo f/5.6 1/20s 142mm ISO 3200.
Original photo f/5.6 1/20   ISO 3200, 142 mm focal length. Pentax K-20D

All right. I mean, it’s not bad, given the circumstances. But let’s look to improving it. First bit, crop it down, get rid of a couple of distractions – the left foreground stuff and that slice of bright sky over Cushetunk Mountain. Then it’s time to brighten up the dark matter hiding in the deep shadows. While we’re at it, also apply some noise reduction… at ISO 3200 there is a lot of “noise” – random pixels which need to be blended away.

That produced this image:

After Lightroom enhancements.
After Lightroom enhancements.

Improved it; and with a bit more work this will likely be a stunning print. But let’s see what Photomatix does with this.

Photomatix is dedicated software – it only does one thing, creating HDR images – but it does it very well. Most of the leading proponents of HDR imaging swear by this product, and after playing with it just a few days, I agree. So I’ve been using it for years. In version 4 they added a nifty capability, a ‘pseudo HDR’ mode which attempts tone-mapping from a single JPEG input file (traditional HDR requires at least three images at differing exposure levels). Usually this works best in photos which inherently have a high dynamic range… and with this image going from nearly pure white to deep black…

This is the result, using default settings all the way. I’m happy with it!