Chris Bair is one of the presenters scheduled for the RootsTech Conference in Salt Lake City, which is less than 4 weeks from now. His presentation on Friday afternoon will be on Geocoding Your Images. Today, I had a chance to talk with and even see Chris in a two-way video call on Skype. He kindly gave me a sneak preview of his presentation. In fact, he gave me enough of a preview that I am now convinced I want to attend his presentation next month to learn more.
Chris works as a system administrator, making computer networks work at FamilySearch headquarters in Salt Lake City. However, his presentation on geocoding has nothing to do with his employment. It is a personal interest and hobby of his. Chris has become an expert on geocoding and decided to share some of his expertise at the conference.
My first question was, "What is geocoding?" Chris explained that it is the ability to embed information into a photo. That information might include location, date and time the photo was taken, information about camera settings, and even a text description of the image, such as "Our granddaughter Lily at Disneyland."
Most of today's smartphones (Apple iPhone, Android phones, Windows Phone 7) have built-in geocoding capabilities that automatically embed information into photographs taken with the phone's camera. In addition, some cameras – although not the typical low-cost cameras – also have built-in GPS (satellite tracking) capabilities and will also add geocoding information. These smartphones and GPS-enabled cameras typically record the exact latitude and longitude where the picture was taken, plus or minus ten feet or so. They also will record shutter settings and other technical information about each picture. Through the use of external software, text information can even be added to geocoding data at a later time, although typically not at the moment the picture is snapped.
If your camera does not include built-in geocoding recoding capabilities, Chris pointed out that it is easy to add such capabilities with any of a number of "trackers" that are now available in the marketplace. A geocoding tracker might attach to the camera or simply be carried in the photographer's pocket. As long as it is close to the camera when the picture is snapped, the tracker will record all the required latitudes and longitudes.
In fact, Chris also pointed out that you can even add geocoding information to pictures taken with a film camera, assuming you later scan the image and convert it to a digital picture. By using a bit of software in your Windows, Macintosh, or Linux computer, you can enter additional information above and beyond what your camera captures automatically. One common use is to add a two- or three-sentence description of the photo, such as "Here is an example of all the rain that fell during our vacation."
Geocoding information is stored with each photograph and stays with it even when the photo is resized or cropped, assuming the image editing software cooperates. Most of the modern products will preserve geocoding information although they do allow you to change the information, should you wish to do so.
Of course, entering geocoding information is useless until you have a method of viewing the stored data. In his talk, Chris will describe and also demonstrate several products that do just that. In fact, most of these products are available free of charge. Some of them are available online on photo sharing sites. Some popular photo sharing sites will even display maps showing where each photograph was taken.
Chris also showed me a method of displaying on Google Earth the path of a recent vacation trip to New York City. The input for the information came from the metadata of each photograph Chris used, including: latitude, longitude, date, and time of each photo. A free piece of software he uses extracted the information and then created a KMZ file. Entering that file into Google Earth resulted in a high-resolution display of his trip plotted in Google Earth. Not bad for free software!
With six children, Chris assured me he has a lot of opportunities to take pictures! Geocoding helps him remember where each photo was taken, as well as the circumstances, such as "family vacation" or other event. Chris joked that such information is preserved for years and will be available to others, even long after he develops Alzheimer's.
Of course, there are many genealogical applications for geocoding. A couple that pop to mind include recording photos of tombstones, complete with exact location, or perhaps recording a walk around an ancestral village in "the old country," including precise locations.
All in all, this sounds like a great talk. I am looking forward to hearing and seeing Chris Bair demonstrate the use of geocoding for genealogists. He is scheduled to present Geocoding Your Images at 1:45 pm on Friday, February 11.
RootsTech runs from February 10 through 12 in Salt Lake City. It promises to be the premier "technology in genealogy" event of the year. I'll be there. Will you?
You can learn more about "Geocoding Your Images" and the many other presentations to be made at RootsTech at http://rootstech.familysearch.org.