Category

Wisdom

Metadata, Photography and Workflow for the Web

GeoBlog, How To, Photography, Wisdom

Metadata (n, pl): data about data. Any questions?

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion in photography circles about metadata: what is it, how to manage it, what is it good for, etc. Some of the photographers I follow in the blogosphere and more recently on Twitter have interesting things to say on the matter (look to the right for links to some of these guys). I decided to offer some comments about how I use metadata, in the hope these might be useful to other photographers. Who the hell am I and why do my comments matter, you wonder? Good question. I do not have much of a profile among photographers, which is somewhat intentional, but I do have a website that does well with the one search engine that really matters. By way of introduction, here is a short bio about me and about how my website developed over the last 11 years. During that time I have learned how to leverage photographic metadata on a photography website (at least search engines seem to like my site) and am willing to share some of what I have learned. As an aside, other than maintain a website I do no marketing whatsoever, nor do I send out submissions anymore. All of my licensing activity comes either because a client contacted me via my website, or through a couple of old-fashioned photographer-representative-type agencies I am with. Revenues stemming from my website outnumber the agency revenues about 8:1. I attribute this to the effective use of metadata on my website.

If your goal is to develop a stock photography website that shows up in search engine results, metadata about your photographs is crucial. Text, in particular metadata accompanying photos, is all that search engines are able to grab and hold on to as they try to index and spider a website. If your site displays beautiful images with little metadata to accompany them, your site stands a good chance of not appearing in meaningful search engine results. Except for specialized search engines that index image data directly (e.g., Tineye), search engines use the textual information on your site when evaluating it. This goes for images too — search engines will consider the text associated with an image when trying to categorize an image. If you have organized that text information well, and made sure it includes meaningful metadata about the image(s) that are displayed on that web page, that image or page at least has the potential to show up well in search results.

In my workflow there are three types of metadata that I am concerned with:

  • EXIF: shooting parameters, recorded by the camera
  • GEO: geographic data, if I am geocoding the images
  • IPTC: user-supplied information, describing characteristics and business matters related to the image or me.

Following is a description of my photography workflow, from the time the images are downloaded to a computer until my website is updated to include the most recent images. The percentages are the relative time it takes for each step, not including the selections, editing and Photoshop work which take place at the very beginning and which are independent of the metadata side of things.

Step 1: EXIF, The Default Image Metadata (5%)

First I edit the shoot down to keepers. Typically, each keeper is a pair of files: one raw and one “master”. The raw file automatically contains EXIF data about the shooting parameters, copyright information, etc. The master file, usually a 16-bit TIFF or high quality JPEG that is a descendent of the raw file having been processed in a raw converter and or Photoshop, contains the EXIF data as well. At this point nothing special has been done about metadata. The EXIF metadata that is already in the images was placed there by my camera, requiring no work on my part and is what I consider “default metadata”.

I back up my RAW keepers at this point. They have not been touched by any digital management or geocoding software; they are right out of the camera. These go on a harddisk and on DVD disks, and are set aside for safe keeping in case the RAW file is somehow corrupted later in my workflow. It has not happened to me yet, knock on wood, but one never knows…

Step 2: Geographic Metadata, Geocoding (optional) (5%)

If I have geographic location data, it is added now. I often geocode my images, which is the process of associating GPS information, e.g., latitude, longitude and altitude, with the image. I use a small handheld GPS to record the locations as I shoot, and these locations are added to the images by a geocoding program. Conceptually, geocoding gives the image some additional value, since it is now associated with a particular place at a particular time. Sometimes the accuracy of this geocoding is as tight as 20′ (6m). It usually just takes a few minutes to launch the geocoding application, point it to the images and the GPS data, and have it do its thing.

Having GEO data in the image, and later in the database that drives my website, allows me to do some interesting things with my images and blog posts, such as presenting them with Google Earth at the location where they were shot. For example, this photo of the Wave in the North Coyote Buttes is geocoded, and can be viewed in Google Earth by clicking the little blue globe icon. The same goes for most of the blog posts I have: they can be viewed in Google Earth at the right place on the planet. Here is another example. If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you should be able to click on both of the next two links, which will open into Google Earth. One will display a track and the other will overlay photos, both from a recent aerial shoot around San Diego:

http://www.oceanlight.com/kml.php?file=20090116.kml
http://www.oceanlight.com/22285-22305.kml

Yes, somewhat crude, but we are in the early days of geocoding and there will be more interesting things in the future we can do.

I’ve written a fairly lengthy post describing how I geocode images: How To Geocode Your Photos. At present, I use a free application named “GPicSync” to add GEO data into each image. This application will update the EXIF information in my RAW and master images to include latitude, longitude and altitude.

A bit of opinion: my belief is that having GEO data associated with your image, on your website, is almost certainly a good thing. Even if no person ever looks at it, there are new technologies coming online constantly that look for, index, spider, collate and retrieve images and web pages based on their GEO data. Those images and web pages that are lacking in GEO data will not see any of the advantages that these new technologies offer. I admit I am no expert on this, and the entire geocoding world along with the entities out there that are indexing geocoded webpages, is all rather new to me. However, I am certain that there will be visitors to my site, and probably already have been many, that arrive as a result of the GEO data that is present alongside my images and blog posts. Having the GEO data embedded in the metadata of the photograph is the first step in this process.

Step 3: Import Images into Digital Asset Management Software (5%)

I import the keeper images, both RAW and master, into Expression Media, which is the software I use for “digital asset management” (whee, yet another acronym buzzword: DAM). I’m no fan of Microsoft, but I do like Expression Media and am used to it (I formerly used its predessor, IView). In particular, Expression Media allows programs (scripts) to be written in Visual Basic. The scripting feature alone is worth its weight in gold as I will point out in the last step of my workflow, and is what makes my processing of images so automated now. I’ve written a dozen or so scripts. It’s quite easy. I have had no training, and have never read any manual for the software. I just based my scripts on examples I’ve found on the internet from other Expression Media users, modifying them to meet my own workflow needs. They carry out mundane tasks and really speed the process up, for example:

  • Set baseline IPTC metadata, including copyright notice, name, address, email, website.
  • Set baseline “quality”, based on the camera model information in the EXIF. In this way I can rank certain images higher on the website if they shot on a better camera, other factors being equal. I normally don’t want images shot with a point and shoot to appear before those shot with a 1DsIII. I’ve come up with a baseline ranking scheme to differentiate the following image sources relative to one another in terms of typically quality (not in this order however): Canon 1DsIII, 1DsII, 1DIIn, 5D, 50D, 30D, Nikon D100, Panasonic Lumix LX3, LX2, Nikon Coolscan LS5000, LS4000, various drumscans. I can easily fine tune this later for individual images, increasing or decreasing the “quality” of each image so that certain images appear first when a user views a selection of photos.
  • Determine the aspect ratio (3:2, 4:3, 16:9, custom) and orientation (horizontal, vertical, square, panorama) of the master image, which may be different than that of the raw image(s) from which it is sourced. This is important for cropped images and for panoramas and/or HDR images assembled from multiple raw files. The script recognizes the multiple raw files that are used to generate a single master file.

At this point my images have EXIF metadata, perhaps containing GEO data if a geocoding step was performed, and basic IPTC metadata that identify the image as mine, how to reach me, etc. So far all I have done is run some applications and scripts. I really haven’t done any “manual” keywording or captioning yet. If necessary, the images are now ready to place on the web, since they have a minimal set of metadata in them that at least establishes them as mine (DMCA anyone?). However, the most important step is to come.

Step 4: Keywording and Captioning (80%)

It’s time to add captions, titles, keywords, categories, etc. to the image. With my new images already imported in Expression Media, and already containing full EXIF metadata and baseline IPTC metadata, I am ready to begin.

  • Captions. There is no shortcut for this. Each image needs a decent caption. It is common to group images and assign the same caption to all of them, and then fine tune captions on individual images as needed. The notion of a “template” can be used too, and lots of different DAM applications support this. Whatever application you use to caption your images, there is no alternative but to get your hands dirty and learn how to do it, what approach works best for you. A key concept is to caption well the first time, so you don’t feel a need to return in the future and add more.
  • Keywords (open vocabulary descriptors). In general, the same notion as captioning applies here. However, DAM applications often have special support for keywords, allowing you to draw keywords from a huge database of alternatives, facilitating the use of synonyms, concepts, etc. Expression Media allows the use of custom “vocabularies”. A vocabulary is basically a dictionary. For animal images, I developed a custom vocabulary/dictionary of 26,000 species, including most bird and mammalian species, with complete hierarchical taxonomic detail. So, when keywording, I simply type in the latin (scientific) name for a group of images (all of the same species) and up pops a taxonomic record in the vocabulary, showing kingdom, phylum, family, genus, species, etc and a bunch of important scientific-gobbledygook for the species. Hit return and bingo, all the images I have highlighted are all keyworded with appropriate taxonomic metadata. Similar ideas work for locations. I do not do much keywording for “concepts” (e.g., love, strength, relationships, childhood) since I do not pursue that sort of thematic stock, there is enough of that in the RF and micro stock industries already. Here is a list of keywords I currently have among my images.
  • Categories (closed vocabulary descriptors). This is the third area of captioning that I find important. Images in my stock files are typically assigned one or more “categories”, and these categories are stored in the metadata of the image alongside captions and keywords. Some examples are: Location > Protected Threatened And Significant Places > National Parks > Olympic National Park (Washington) > Sol Duc Falls and Subject > Technique > Aerial Photo > Blue Whale Aerial. Here is a stocklist of categories I currently have among my images.
  • Custom Fields for the website. I have a few other metadata fields that are seen by website visitors that I set via Expression Media scripts. For example, once the captions are created, a script can be used to create “titles” for a group of images, which are really just excerpts of the full captions and can be used for HTML titles, headers, etc. For the most part, these additional metadata fields are secondary in importance to the captions, keywords and categories.
  • Custom Fields for Business Purposes. In addition, I use some metadata fields for recording characteristics of the image that I need to track for business reasons. These include licensing restrictions, past uses that affect exclusivity, etc. These metadata are embedded in the image so they are sure to travel with the image as it moves to a client, but they are not presented to the public on the web site.

Note that I consider keywords to be “open vocabulary”, in the sense that any keyword can be used with an image. In other words, I don’t hesitate to add keywords that I have not yet used, its an open set and grows as needed. This is especially true of synonyms, but one doesn’t want to get too carried away with synonyms or it can dilute the search results that a web visitor sees. I often add keywords to images that are already in my stock files at a later date. However, I treat categories as “closed vocabulary”, in that I have a relatively fixed set of hierarchical categories. I will introduce a new category when it makes sense, but usually only when there is a sufficiently large group of images to which it applies, and there is not already a similar category in use.

Once all the metadata for the keepers in my latest shoot are defined in Expression Media, they need to be written out to the images themselves. In other words, Expression Media is aware of these things, but if one were to open one of the images (RAW or master) in Photoshop the new metadata would not be there. This last step in Expression Media is referred to as “syncing” the annotations. (“Annotations” is Expression Media’s word for metadata. I guess “metadata” is scary to people.) I highlight all the files for which I have been adding metadata, then Action -> Sync Annotations -> Export Annotations To Original Files and click “OK”. All the metadata is now stored in the images themselves, and will flow into any derivative images that are created, such as the thumbnails and watermarked JPGs that go onto my web site. (Think DMCA!).

Step 5. Downsteam, or, “Go Forth My Minions” (5-10%)

If I have defined the metadata once there is no need to do it ever again. The metadata, which is now contained in the DAM application but also in the header of each image, “flows downstream” with no further effort. For my purposes, “downsteam” can mean a submission of selects sent to a client, or a submission of images to an agency, or an update of my website.

Downsteam to Clients

There is not much to say here. Best practices in delivering images to clients include using metadata properly. If you are sending out images to clients, or to stock agencies (the old-fashioned kind that actually represent their photographers) or to, for shame for shame, stock portals (RF, micro, they are all evil), then you should have rich, accurate metadata embedded in your image. It is the only way to ensure that the information travels with the image. I’ve received submission requests from potential clients who simply wanted JPGs submitted as email attachments, with the proviso that if a JPG did not have caption and credit embedded in the metadata it would be immediately discarded without consideration.

Downstream to the Web

For many photographers, the final step in processing a new shoot is to update one’s website. In other words, get the new images along with all their metadata (captions, keywords, GEO locations, categories, etc.) onto the web so that they can be seen by the entire world.

For photographers who are using a “gallery” of some kind to host their web site (such as Smugmug, Flickr, PBase, or any of the freely available installable gallery softwares, etc.), simply uploading the images into a new (or existing) gallery is usually all that is necessary. Provided you have managed your metadata in step 4 properly, the metadata will be present in the headers of your new images. As these images are uploaded to the gallery, the gallery software peeks into the header of each image for metadata and, if it is found, extracts the metadata and prepares it for display alongside the image. The details of what metadata are used (caption, keywords, location, GEO, name, copyright, restrictions, EXIF, etc.) differ somewhat from one gallery provider to another, but the general idea is the same.

However, see the final notes at the end of this post for a few caveats about how gallery software may alter your metadata as it processes your image.

My situation is conceptually the same. My website software is essentially a “gallery” including a pretty extensive search feature. However, the software was hand written by me and does not extract metadata from image files automatically like the big-boy galleries do. (Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to do that.) As I described a few days ago, my web site evolved to be written entirely in PHP and MySql. Underneath the website there is a database that contains information about all 25000 images in my collection. Basically, this database **is** the metadata for my images, or a summarization of those metadata. The database has one record per image. Each record stores the metadata for that image: caption, keywords, image name, location, GEO data, categories, orientation, etc. etc. That said, the issue for me is: how to create this database? The gallery software in the previous paragraph does this automatically, but my home-brewed web software does not.

The beauty of using Expression Media for DAM in my workflow is that with a single click, Expression Media can create this database for me. (Although I have not used other DAM applications, I am sure they are similar.) Expression Media has a few ways of doing this. I could use Expression Media’s built in export functions (Make -> Text Data File or Make -> XML Data File). But after doing this for a while I decided to write a BASIC script within Expression Media that creates the database while doing some fine tuning and error checking on the metadata fields as it does so. Either way, if I use a script of my own or Expression Media’s built-in export features, the database is easily created. Then it is simply a matter of uploading the database along with the images when it is time for a website update.

The point here is that once the work is done in the DAM application, it should be a very quick process to upload the images and metadata to the web and get the images out there for the world to see. Then, if all goes well, the phone rings.

Afterward

After all that work defining the metadata for your images, and ensuring that it is embedded properly in each image, you would think you are home free, right? Well, there are a few provisos you should know.

Metadata Can Be Stripped By Gallery Software

Some stock portals, gallery hosting services, or install-yourself gallery software (usually written in PHP) will strip metadata from an image. That’s right, they will strip it right out of your image! Why? They claim the reason is to shrink the JPGs that are displayed on the web, in an effort to reduce bandwidth. While this is true, it is a big mistake in my opinion, and is one of the principal reasons I am not involved in any of the stock portal sites or popular photo hosting services. I want my metadata to stay with the image wherever it goes, to all derivative versions of the image. The few extra bytes of storage required for this are trivial compared to the importance of this data being preserved. Think DMCA! Think Orphan Works!

Metadata Can Be Stripped By A Thief

When a thief, or some unwitting schoolkid, makes a copy of your image off the web, the chances are quite good the metadata will be stripped. If the image is taken via a screen shot, the metadata will disappear. If the thief/kid uses “right-click and Save As”, the metadata should remain in the image. But in the end, if the thief/kid alters the image in Photoshop and uses “Save For Web” to save a new copy, the metadata will probably be stripped out. (Yes, Save For Web can optionally preserve metadata, but it is easy to configure Photoshop so that it strips metadata from the image in “Save For Web”, and older versions of Photoshop do not offer the option to override this.)

Too Much Metadata Can Be Displayed

The photo hosting sites seem to display the EXIF fields (shooting data) of your photo’s metadata. This may or may not be what you want. Among hobbyists there is little concern about making the date, time of day, and technique (ISO, shutter speed, aperature) known. Indeed, it is one of the ways that we learn, by understanding what others have done. But often pros have good reason to keep this information to themselves. So, the caveat here is: if you are using a photo hosting service and you don’t want the EXIF data in your image available on the web, you may need to take steps to prevent it.

Photographing Birds at Bill Forbes Place, The Pond at Elephant Head

Arizona, Birds, Wisdom

I recently spent a couple days photographing southern Arizona critters at the Pond at Elephant Head and the Upper Madera Drip with the help of Bill Forbes. Bill is the inventor of the Phototrap, a device for remote camera triggering using infrared beam, perfect for capturing difficult images of wildlife behavior. (For some stunning examples of what can be accomplished with the Phototrap, see Scott Linstead‘s website. Scott was kind enough to give me lots of good information about what to expect at Bill’s place.)

Northern cardinal, male, Cardinalis cardinalis, Amado, Arizona

Northern cardinal, male.
Image ID: 22891
Species: Northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
Location: Amado, Arizona, USA

Bill Forbes owns a small ranch south of Tucson, Arizona. On his ranch the visiting photographer finds Bill’s workshop, which is overflowing with tripods, flashes, snakes, wires, birdseed, electronics equipment, along with everything he needs to build the Phototrap. You name it: if it is part of small critter photography it is somewhere in his shop. In the back of his property Bill also keeps a small pond, surrounded by two in-ground blinds and several movable blinds. The pond is known among photographers as “The Pond at Elephant Head“. The pond is maintained year round, so all the local wildlife, both nocturnal and diurnal, comes by seeking water constantly. It is a real magnet for animal life. I spent a few sunrise and sunset sessions at Bill’s pond, alone in a blind at the edge of the tiny pool, photographing springtime migrating and resident birds as well as several small mammals. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. A few minutes after I entered the blind, birds would arrive and begin lighting upon the many movable perches that I had set up around the pond. A little later, rabbits and squirrels would show up too. Periodically I would get out of the blind to stretch my legs, put out some bird seed or pieces of fruit, or move perches around. The animals would flush, but would return in a few minutes once I went back into the blind. It was amazing to me how much wildlife Bill has in his backyard, and I only saw the daytime visitors. (Bill uses his Phototrap to shoot stunning images of several species of bats that visit the pond at night, something I would really like to see one day.)

Greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus, Amado, Arizona

Greater roadrunner.
Image ID: 22902
Species: Greater roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus
Location: Amado, Arizona, USA

Photography around the pond is a morning and evening thing. During midday it is too hot for my taste, and the light is too harsh for good photography. I arrived each morning at Bill’s about 5:30am to be ready for the first animals’ arrivals at 6am sunrise. I would shoot until 10am or so, then break until about 3pm to get some lunch in nearby Green Valley. One day I drove up at lunch to the nearby observatory in the mountains for some sightseeing. If desired, during the midday hours one can also shoot hummingbirds, provided it is the right season (spring I think). Bill had a hummingbird setup, with four strobes, a feeder and a colored backdrop, in the shade of his workshop while I was there. The setup was perfect, but the day I was there not many hummers came by. I only managed a few keeper frames, however, I did learn much from seeing how Bill set his equipment up and listening to him speak about how to best use it. He is a wealth of information for those so inclined to learn.

When shooting from the blind, I was using a 500mm lens and 1.4x converter on a full frame camera body. I would have preferred a 600mm or 800mm lens for the small birds, but the 500mm was sufficient and I am pleased with the many “bird on a stick” photos I got. Not long after sunrise one finds that the light gets harsh. By this I mean that shadows begin to appear strongly on or around the subject. Even when the photographer has his shadow pointed directly at the subject (easy to accomplish with the lightweight movable blinds!), the height of the sun above the horizon will still result in increasingly contrasty images as the morning progresses. The solution is to use fill flash. I put my strobe on a Wimberley off-camera pedestal, and put a Better Beamer in front of the flash. The Better Beamer effectively doubles the throw of the flash, or conversely can be thought of as effectively lessening the strobe’s recycle time. The perches are elevated, most of them right about eye level when sitting on a chair in the blind, so there was no real need to lay on the ground for bird shots. For some of the mammals (rabbit, squirrel) I might have improved my images be getting a little lower.

For sunset on my second afternoon with Bill, I decided to forgo his pond and instead shoot at a “drip” that he maintains on private property in nearby Madera Canyon. At about 5,000 feet, the drip attracts a different species than one sees at Bill’s pond. Madera Canyon is famous for the number of different hummingbird species that can be found there in spring, and sure enough when I got up into the canyon there were dozens of bird watchers walking along the road with binoculars and ID books. Bill’s “Upper Madera Drip” is about the size and height of a pool table. It is a basin of water surround with natural rocks, set in a clearing with plenty of movable natural perches that one can position around the drip in infinite variety. Once the perches are setup properly, one enters a lightweight, movable blind and waits a few minutes for the birds to arrive. While the pace of activity at the drip was less than what I observed at Bill’s pond, it was a pleasure to see the different species. I even had wild turkey and mule deer walk right up to the drip, although too close for the 700mm lens I had on at the time. I could have had a second camera setup with, say, a 300mm on it, but in the spirit of keeping life simple I used only the 700mm and that was great for both the pond and the drip.

I should mention that Bill has a spartan but comfortable bunk house on his property that is available for photographers wishing to stay there rather than in nearby Green Valley. I opted to stay in Bill’s bunk house for a night.

Thanks to Ron Niebrugge and Scott Linstead for their comments in helping me decide to visit Bill Forbes and his Pond at Elephant Head, and for making sure I had enough batteries to keep up with the fill flash. I shot about 3500 images in two full days, and kept about 200, of which about 20 are appealing enough to go into my gallery of bird photographs (the good stuff!). The 28 species I saw in those two days, none of which I had photographed before, were:

At the Pond at Elephant Head
Harris’ antelope squirrel (Ammospermophilus harrisii)
Black-throated sparrow (Amphispiza bilineata)
Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii)
Cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus)
Northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus)
House finch (Carpodacus mexicanus)
Greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus)
Bullock’s oriole (Icterus bullockii)
Hooded oriole (Icterus cucullatus)
White-sided jackrabbit (Lepus callotis)
Gila woodpecker (Melanerpes uropygialis)
Bronzed cowbird (Molothrus aeneus)
Brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater)
House sparrow (Passer domesticus)
Horned lizard (Phrynosoma)
Canyon towhee (Pipilo fuscus)
Round-tailed ground squirrel (Spermophilus tereticaudus)
Desert cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus audubonii)
Curve-billed thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre)
White-winged dove (Zenaida asiatica)

At the Upper Madera Drip, in Madera Canyon
Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma ultramarina)
Bridled titmouse (Baeolophus wollweberi)
Acorn woodpecker (Melanerpes formicivorus)
Wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo)
Black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus)
Arizona woodpecker (Picoides arizonae)
White-breasted nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

plus a couple of hummingbirds I have not yet identified. Not bad for my first time shooting from a blind!

Optimal Contrast and Saturation Settings for RAW Photographers

How To, Wisdom

Are you using the best in-camera settings for contrast and saturation? If you shoot RAW and think these settings don’t affect you, think again. If you judge your exposure settings on whether you are clipping the highlights on your histogram, you may be underexposing unnecessarily. Here’s why.

Note that this post is primarily intended for photographers who shoot RAW. (If you shoot JPEG you may benefit from what follows simply by having a better understanding of what is going on inside your camera, but you probably do not want to use this technique.)

Exposing to the right. Many photographers trying to maximize the amount of data collected in their captures expose to the right, pushing the histogram as far to the right as possible without clipping the highlights. Essentially, when determining what the correct exposure is for a given situation, one takes a shot, considers the resulting histogram and then increases exposure until the histogram just touches the right extreme, indicating that pixels are about to be clipped. By shooting to the right one gathers as much shadow detail as possible and minimizes noise in the shadows. Granted, there are some esoteric reasons for not exposing to the right, but by and large it is an accepted and effective technique for today’s digital cameras.

Clipping highlights. Key to shooting to the right is one’s ability to discern when highlights are being clipped. This is where the in-camera settings for contrast and saturation play a part. Current digital cameras base the histogram on an in-camera JPEG, even when shooting RAW. Typically, the in-camera JPEG has a greater spread in its histogram than is contained in the RAW data, due to the fact that the in-camera JPEG has contrast and saturation enhancement applied to it. Think about it: when you look at your RAW files they have low contrast and saturation, and really don’t come alive until after you have bumped these up a bit. Well, a similar difference occurs between the in-camera JPEG — upon which the histogram is based — and the underlying RAW data. The default in-camera JPEG has, by design, increased contrast and saturation compared to the RAW file, which translates into (among other things) a histogram that is “more spread out”, with tails reaching further to the left and right.

Now consider this: if the in-camera JPEG has a histogram that is more widely spread than the RAW data, it will show clipped highlights “earlier”. In other words, you won’t push the exposure as far to the right as you might, because the in-camera JPEG — upon which the histogram is based — is indicating highlights are clipped.

The solution is to turn down the contrast and saturation settings for the JPEGs that are created in-camera. On my Canon cameras I turn them each down two notches below the middle setting. Doing this produces an in-camera JPEG that more closely approximates the distribution of the actual RAW data, resulting in a histogram that is more accurate for my purposes. Since I want to maximize the information in the RAW file, I want a histogram that depicts the RAW data not an in-camera JPEG.

The bottom line is that by using lower settings for contrast and saturation I obtain a histogram that is more representative of the data in my RAW file, I can push that exposure further to the right and be confident that I am not clipping the highlights in my RAW data. If I were to use the default settings for contrast and saturation, the histogram would indicate clipping before it was actually occurring, leading me to unnecessarily underexpose the image.

Don’t guess, don’t approximate: take control of your exposures. As we all know, underexposure with digital cameras leads to noise. If you underexpose your RAW file, and you plan on compensating for it later in the RAW conversion, you’ll get some noise in the shadows. Perhaps not much, but as the ISO increases and the amount of underexposure error increases, the noise just gets worse. Why tolerate this at all? By understanding that the histogram is based on the in-camera JPEG, and taking control of the contrast and saturation settings that are used to create the in-camera JPEG, you can obtain a histogram that is more representative of the RAW data and eliminate a potential source of systematic exposure error.

Give it a try.

Thanks to Master Photographer Charles Glatzer for originally pointing out this important exposure issue in the Naturescapes.net discussion forums. Want to learn how to control your exposures and take better photos? Take a workshop from Chas…

Post up … Shoot … Score!

How To, Wisdom

I haven’t paid much attention to web site design and optimization for a few years. Recently, however, I have noticed and read a few posts around the internet discussing how to make one’s website rank better, look better, work better, be greener and more politically correct, etc etc. Besides the great tutorial from Photoshelter on how to tailor a photography website intended for editors and photo researchers, I also found WebsiteGrader. This nifty site “grades” a website on its SEO (search engine optimization) using a scale of 0 to 100, relative to the rest of the web, using criteria gathered from Google, Yahoo, Alexa, DMOZ, Zoominfo as well as examining the webpage coding itself.

However, if my experience is any indication, these scores may be just a tad bit inflated. WebsiteGrader gave my website a score of 98.8 and my blog a 98.7, considers the content of my blog appropriate for high school and doctorate-level visitors, and it informs me my website has a Google rank of 6 (of a maximum 10). Mondo Teknospheric! Comon, are these for real? Seriously, these seem like pretty good scores, particularly for an individual photographer shooting stock “when able”, especially in comparison to some large agencies for some of the specialized subjects I shoot. Important to remember that these are just scores and what really matters is how many phone calls come in from buyers wanting to use an image. These scores are transient benchmarks, somewhat arbitrary and could change at any time.

You might find it illuminating to see how WebsiteGrader grades your website. In my case it offered some good feedback. For example, I had no idea the main page on website had NO KEYWORDS in the metadata. Ooops! In spite of having had a website up and running for over 12 years (that’s 583 in www-years) I am still making rookie mistakes. It also said something about making a “301” to redirect “oceanlight.com” to “www.oceanlight.com”. Hello, English please? My initial reaction is that I should figure out how to fix that stuff soon. Upon further thought, I realized that I would likely screw something up and kill my own rating. Better leave it alone!

Correction to Yesterday’s Post

Wisdom

It appears my contacts in Washington and London reported partially incorrect information yesterday, which “I” ** in turn passed on to my reader. Actually, the whole post was a lie, except for the part about the Federal government making a rights grab for all the images on the internet which I think is in the planning stages. This blog will refocus, renew, rededicate and reenergize by displaying imagery only and staying away from news and information, until at least next April. And of course, this blog will continue to maintain the lofty level of truthiness for which it is known.

** “I” have fired my celebrity blogger and resumed all blogging duties “myself”. However, “I” will continue to maintain my celebrity twitter-writer for now.

Here is an eagle photo!

Bald eagle in flight, Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains in the background, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, Kachemak Bay and the Kenai Mountains in the background.
Image ID: 22586
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

Economic Recovery Plan for Photographers

Wisdom

This is an exciting time to be a photographer in America!

Just a few days after Inauguration, the Obama Administration quietly created the Presidential Digital Imaging and Photography Commission. This blue ribbon panel of industry experts was tasked with devising market incentives, rather than bailouts, for the photography industry, in an effort to keep major camera companies from bankruptcy. The Commission made public their plan this morning, and the Obama Administration has put all recommendations of the commission on a fast track, scheduling a special session of Congress to enact the new laws in time to benefit those who have not yet filed their income tax returns. From President Obama, in London to attend the G-20 meetings:

“Tough economic times and crisis call for creative and aggressive solutions. Today, the DIP Comission, which I formed two months ago expressly to save the photography industry during this financial crisis, charted a new path and created new tools with which photography professionals can do their part to rebuild our economy and avert the crisis.”

Some notable elements of the DIP Commission’s plan are:

Tax credits. New tax incentives are now established for the purchase of digital imaging equipment, retroactive to January 1, 2008. Specifically, purchase of digital cameras, lenses and tripods can take advantage of a 45% credit on 2008 and future income tax returns. This means that, if you have not yet filed your 2008 tax return, you are eligible for a tax credit equal to nearly half the purchase price of new camera equipment purchased in the last 16 months. Unlike some tax credits which are gradually phased out with income, this egalitarian credit is available even if you did not owe any taxes in 2007 or 2008.

Travel vouchers. Expenses for photography-related travel will now be reimbursed through the Congressional Office of Tourism and Travel. “In these difficult times, we in Washington understand that it is difficult for struggling photographers to afford both quality equipment and the travel expense required to make fine photographs. The federal government is stepping up, doing its part and becoming a partner in the photography travel industry. If you’ve got a camera, we’ll get you where you need to be to get that once-in-a-lifetime shot!” said Gilsten Marsten, assistant deputy vice director of the Office of Tourism and Travel. To apply for reimbursement up to $12,500 per trip, a traveler needs to provide copies of receipts along with the COTT reimbursement application. A one-time exception to the receipt requirement is permitted whereby travelers can simply provide a letter of participation from their workshop leader.

DIP-STOCK, a New Internet Stock Photography Agency. The DIP Commission, along with the U.S. Copyright Office, is forming a new stock photography agency “DIP-STOCK”, inspired in part by the “Hope” poster, the Obama campaign graphic created by innovative and original leading edge artist Shepard Fairy and some photographer. The essence of this innovative new plan is to leverage new and innovative copyright regulations to form a innovative, expansive and worldwide stock photography agency positioned to compete in innovative ways with industry giants such Gettty Images. Effective April 1, 2009 and retroactive to January 1 2008, all images posted on the internet are eligible to be represented by DIP-STOCK. By posting images on the World Wide Wide (invented by Al Gore who has now ceded majority control to President Obama), all rights to the image are implicitly transferred to DIP-STOCK. Licensing revenues based on these images will be used primarily to expand the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) in coming months and to facilitate employee retention at such strategically crucial companies as AIG and Madoff Funds. (A small portion of each photo sale will be placed in escrow to cover legal representation for certain, i.e., most, of the Administration’s Cabinet members.) DIP-STOCK’s automated search bot, DIP-Finder, which has been crawling the internet acquiring images for the past two months, has slurped full rights to 73% of the images currently on the internet.

Kevster Glossten, director and CEO of DIP-STOCK: “This is indeed an exciting time to be a photographer. The Administration has developed new copyright tools that allow us unprecedented opportunity in this time of crisis. By simply posting an image to the internet, perhaps on a blog or as part of an online photo collection with Flacker or Yophoto, photographers automatically become ‘members’ of the largest stock photo agency in the world. If you have a website already, your images are already in place in the DIP-STOCK library. Photographers continue to retain the right to print their images on their home inkjets, as they always have! DIP-STOCK will now handle all other bothersome licensing matters using industry-accepted emerging market microstock pricing models. And, as a special value-added service for professionals, there is no need to update records for images already registered with the copyright office — rights for these images were transferred to DIP-STOCK automatically last week. By granting DIP-STOCK exclusive rights to manage the licensing of all of their online photos, photographers are now contributing to the economic recovery. And sometimes photographers receive a photo credit! It is a win-win situation for everyone, and helps to fight the economic crisis.”

Further information about these and other exciting developments in the federal photography funding and acquisition initiative is available on the Presidential Digital Imaging and Photography Commission’s website: www.dip.gov.

No guarantee, warranty or trustee is offered for the truthiness of this release.

Photographing Bald Eagles in Homer, Alaska

Alaska, Bald Eagle, Wildlife, Wisdom

Photographing Bald Eagles in Homer AK — What Worked and What Didn’t

Bald eagle in flight, banking over beach with Kachemak Bay in background, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis, Homer, Alaska

Bald eagle in flight, banking over beach with Kachemak Bay in background.
Image ID: 22613
Species: Bald eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, Haliaeetus leucocephalus washingtoniensis
Location: Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska, USA

If you have seen much of this web site, you probably know that I gravitate toward subjects that have some connection to the ocean. I have tried my hand at photographing birds, most notably pelicans since they are so accessible to me, but for the most part bird photography is so maddeningly difficult that I avoid it. Recently, though, I decided to try photographing bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in Homer, Alaska. Bald eagles inhabit much of North America, including the scenic coastal areas of the Pacific Northwest, which offers the connection to the ocean that I seek. Homer in particular has a large wintertime population of eagles, so they are quite easy to photograph. I offer some comments about what worked for me, and what did not, from an experienced photographer’s point of view. Note that I do not consider myself a true bird photographer, which is an important distinction as bird photographers tend to have a perspective about photography, and bird images, that I do not share. I joined Charles Glatzer’s workshop in Homer, which was a new experience for me. In 20 years of photography I have never had any instruction, so it was great to have access to Chas and his technical knowledge. I asked him a lot of questions and received insightful answers to each, and had fun with the other workshop participants the entire time.

A Bit of History

For some time I have seen great photos of bald eagles that were taken in Homer. It seems the really skilled bird photographers have spent time there photographing eagles. Indeed, I have heard on several occasions that a large percentage of published bald eagle photos were taken in Homer. Naturally, there is a good explanation for this.

Since about 1977, Jean Keene fed bald eagles beside the trailer where she lived on the Homer Spit, primarily in the winter. Her offerings of frozen herring led to a reliable gathering of bald eagles during these months, sometimes hundreds on a given morning, as the eagles grew to anticipate and rely on this source of food. Photographers have long known of this gathering and have exploited it to produce superb images of bald eagles. In 2006 the Homer city council adopted a regulation forbidding anyone from feeding the eagles, with the exception that Jean Keane was permitted to continue feeding through 2010. When Ms. Keene passed away in January 2009, her friend Steve Tarola was authorized to continue feeding the eagles in her stead through the end of March 2009, at which point (presumably) no further feeding will be permitted.

Cameras and Lenses

I am currently using a Canon 1Ds Mark III as my primary camera, with a 1Ds Mark II as a close alternate, full-frame bodies both. Occasionally I use a 50D, but I have found it difficult to use and am preparing to sell it.

I am aware of the online discussions about the effectiveness of the autofocus in the Canon Mark III bodies (1D and 1Ds both). While I had plenty of images that did not have the critical focus on the eye that I try to achieve, I was happy with the number of truly sharp images I did produce. Honestly, if I shoot 10 really strong images on a trip like this, the effort is a success. I am not sure where I fit into the experience of Canon users when it comes to the AF challenges that bird photography offers, but I am not about to switch camera brands anytime soon, being pretty happy with the gear I use at present.

Eagles are, relative to most birds, rather slow moving and thus easy to track with a camera, especially once one has factored in the angle of the wind and their reasons for approach (e.g., perch or food). The Canon AF locked onto the birds in flight quite well. Sometimes the first or second image in a sequence would be soft, but it would usually snap into sharp focus by the third image. Occasionally, in heavily overcast light or when it was snowing, the low contrast caused the AF system to respond sluggishly. But in full sun with strong contrast the AF was pretty good. I typically use center-point with nine-point expansion when shooting birds in flight. For static subjects, the AF performance of the 1DsIII and 1DsII bodies was excellent as usual, producing images that are so sharp it hurts, a testiment to the razor optics of the 500mm and 300mm prime lenses. For static subjects I use single point but I move it about to place it on the subject’s eye.

The most useful lenses for the compositions I was seeking were the 300 f/2.8 (with and without 1.4x teleconverter) and 70-200 f/4. The former was most useful for shooting the morning feedings, with the quality of the 300/1.4x combination proven to be excellent provided my technique was suitably rigorous. In particular, full-body flight images were best with the 1.4x converter in place, while images in which the eagles were spreading their wings to land on nearby perches were best without the converter. On the two mornings when I was invited to shoot from within Ms. Keane’s yard, the 70-200 worked best as the birds and perches were so close that anything longer was unable to frame an entire bird.

While shooting eagles hitting fish on the water, which we did from small boats, the 70-200 and 300 were both equally useful, and we could easily compensate for which lens we would choose to use by how far from the boat we tossed the fish. I prefer the look of the 300, but the group was using 70-200 most of the time so I did as well, and the images with that lens are pretty good.

On a few occasions I used a 500mm f/4 lens, primarily to produce tight images of eagles on perches, taking fish off the ground or together in dense groups. I often clipped wings with this long focal length, but this was by design. Indeed, the bald eagle is what Galen Rowell referred to as a “mature subject”, one the viewer is quite familiar with from years of seeing basic images of it. For this reason, images of portions of bald eagles can often be highly effective, whereas this is not as often the case with subjects that are unfamiliar to the viewer.

For head shots, I used a 500/1.4x combination from Jean’s yard. These were shot at virtually the lens’ minimum focus distance. Stopping down to f/11 with this combo produced critically sharp images. In fact, the f/11 was not so much for depth of field, which is notoriously shallow at such long focal lengths and near distances, but rather to produce adequate sharpness, since the 500/1.4x combo is not sharp enough in my opinion at f/5.6 or f/8. (The 500 alone is, of course, crazy sharp even wide open.)

Autofocus seemed to perform reasonably well, at least as much as I have experienced with other bird subjects. My criteria for keeping a bird photo is that the eye be razor sharp. If it is not, there must be something quite compelling about the image to justify keeping it, which is uncommon. I shot about 8000 images during six days of photography of eagles, about 75% of them flight images (the most demanding and enjoyable kind). I have kept about 175 images for my files, which is a keeper rate of about 2%. I have plenty of images that look great in Breezebrowser based on the jpg embedded in the raw file but that, upon checking the critical focus at 100% with capture sharpening in place, are not up to snuff. These get tossed. I could keep these images and restrict them to web use or 1/4 or 1/2 page reproduction but for now I am discounting them.

What Worked: 1DsIII, 1DsII, 300, 70-200.
What Didn’t Work: 500 (too long)

Lighting

Much of the time the light was overcast, or heavily overcast with falling snow. These are tough conditions in which to shoot a pleasing photo, but it can be done, and the falling snow can really add a special mood to the image. But the exposure must be done right, and the image must be treated properly in the raw converter, bring up shadows to expose detail but not so much as to be unnatural. This last part is a fine line. Many digital photographers are quite agressive about bringing up shadows, either in the raw conversion or in Photoshop, using a variety of tools, but the results can be unsettling. Its highly subjective and I guess all I can say is that, for photos where too much shadow lightening has been done, “I’ll know it when I see it”. With low light or flat light situations, it helps to have enough confidence in your camera that you can shoot with a high ISO, such as 800 or more. Here the 1Ds Mark III really shone, the high ISO images are clean and sharp. Not so with the 50D. I shot about 800 images with the 50D. What I found most lacking about these was how poorly the 50D performed in overcast light. Exposing properly to the right (biasing as much of the exposure to the right of the histogram as sensible, to better separate detail from noise in the darker areas of the image when converting the image later), the 1DsIII was able to produce many quality images in flat and snow-filled lighting with proper treatment in the raw converter. However, I was not able to pull the same quality from the 50D files. The noise in the 50D files was simply too much.

What Worked: Heavy overcast (snowing), light overcast, clear with thin high clouds
What Didn’t Work: Direct sun (except when bird is in perfect sun angle), 50D

Batteries

I found that the 1Ds Mark III batteries lasted phenomenally in the cold (8-15 degree) conditions, much longer than the Mark II batteries. This was a pleasant surprise. I did not have to change batteries on my 1Ds III once while in the middle of shooting, in fact only had to change it twice all week during lulls in the action. I estimate getting 1000+ frames and still having 1/3 or 1/2 charge left in each of my 1Ds Mark III batteries, in temps below 10 degrees.

What Worked: 1DsIII batteries

Flash

One of the reasons I decided to visit Homer as part of Charles Glatzer’s workshop was to learn how to use flash on manual control for wildlife subjects. I’ve never been entirely happy with relying on the camera’s metering system to guage the amount of flash to emit, especially in situations where the background was changing often. During my underwater shooting, I always employed manual strobe control with good results. However, the exposures underwater tended to be pretty easy to determine, falling into a narrower range than what is encountered above water. I have always been a great admirer of Chas’ photography, and am happy to learn what I can from a photographer and teacher such as he. I have a four week trip later this year that will involve a lot of overcast lighting, and I want to feel confident using manual flash, so joining Chas seemed like a good chance to learn from him and shoot some photos of eagles at the same time. After a couple discussions with Chas about how he determines the proper flash power to use as shooting situations chang, I realized his approach was quite intuitive. I set about putting my 580 EX flash into play in the way he described, controlling lighting ratios by dialing the output of the flash manually to produce fill (-1 or -2 stops) or main light (0 or +1) the eagles. On overcast days I used the flash in this way on virtually every shot, including flight and fish-grab shots at high shutter speeds, and was pleased with the results. The color in the shadowed areas was much better when flash fill was used than in those using only available overcast light. Additionally, as Chas described, the consistency of the lighting from frame to frame was excellent when controlling the flash output manually. This was particularly evident when photographing eagles grasping fish from the water. The distance to the eagle was essentially constant (controlled by us) and thus the lighting of the underside of the eagle and its wings was quite consistent in spite of vastly changing backgrounds which would have probably fooled the camera’s meter.

What Worked: 580 EX flash, Better Beamer on Wimberly head and strobe bracket, manual control

Tossing Fish

In the past, photographers realized that by throwing frozen fish to the eagles gathered on the Homer spit, they could create amazing photos of eagles in flight ripping fish out of the water. With the Homer ban on feeding, this practice ended — within the city limits of Homer. However, John Wright found a couple boat captains who were happy to take us outside of Homer to try tossing fish to eagles. Since the mornings were spent photographing eagles at the feeding at Jean Keene’s trailer, we used the afternoons for tossing fish. It was a blast watching the eagles leave their tree perches high up the tall mountainsides above us, drop down to the water, swoop in with wind audibly rushing over their wings and pick a fish out of the water with their talons. The light was not the greatest though. During four afternoons on the boat, with largely overcast skies, we got a few brief breaks with good light and I managed to pick off a few nice shots of fishing eagles one at a time. Persistence pays off or, as I prefer, “Even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.”

What Worked: herring, 70-200, manual flash

Geek Stuff

If that above info is not already too much geeky detail for you, read on my man for the geekiest info is yet to come…

I plan on generating many many images on a trip later this year. Four weeks of images. Which presents a problem: how to store all of those. I’ve tried using Hyperdrive’s, which are pretty nifty but don’t offer the ability to critically review the images. Plus, they are relatively expensive per GB of storage. So I had to come up with a new approach, and used the Homer trip as a test run. I picked up an ultra-lightweight Sony VAIO VGN-Z series notebook computer. It is tiny — with a 13″ screen and weighing just 3.3 lbs, I don’t even notice that it is in my backpack — but is powerful enough for me to review a day’s worth of shooting with Lightroom, converting some of the images and storing them on the computer’s main drive for further redundancy. The drive on the notebook is not for primary photo storage however — that’s what the three external drives are for. Three external drives you say? That sounds nuts. But the Seagate Freeagent Go 500gb drives are ultra tiny and light, occupying hardly any space in my carryon. Each stores 500GB of files, which is a LOT of space for photos, even the enormous raw files generated by a 1Ds Mark III. The drives are powered by the USB connection with the notebook, which means I do not have to carry power supplies for them. Three of them offer triple redundancy. The system worked great in Homer.

When first researching how I would backup images in the field, I originally considered buying a “netbook”. These low-powered, web-targeted computers are really inexpensive, small and light, but they are primarily intended for apps that do not require much in the way of compute power: email, web browsing, word processing, Facebook. Netbooks do not offer enough compute power to run Lightroom or Photoshop on large raw files. So I did not consider a netbook a viable choice, which is why I went with the lightest, reasonably powered notebook I could find.

The weak link in this backup system is the computer — what if it dies? In that case, the external drives cannot be used on the remainder of the trip, but the images that are already on them can be accessed once back home. In a pinch, someone else’s notebook can be used for downloading from flash card to external drive, but I prefer not to rely on someone else’s gear if I can avoid it. So, in the event the computer dies, I still bring two Hyperdrives with 250 GB, wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in my checked luggage. That’s a pretty good backup to my backup. I do not care to risk losing the images that I have gone to so much trouble to make.

What worked: Sony VAIO Z-series laptop, Seagate Freeagent Go 500GB drives, Hyperdrives

Photographing Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Buckskin Gulch and Horseshoe Bend

Arizona, How To, Landscape, The Wave, Utah, Wisdom

I have been fortunate to visit and photograph a few of the iconic locations around Page, Arizona: The Wave, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Horseshoe Bend and Monument Valley. Recently, I shared some correspondance about these places with UK photographer David Sharp, whom I originally met at Brooks River a few years ago. Since I receive emails from other photographers about the Wave every few weeks, I decided to edit my comments to David and post them here for others to consider. Note that I am not what a true landscape photographer would call a true landscape photographer! I know what I am doing with a camera but do not have the dedication or time that is required to photograph landscapes, and these Southwestern landscapes in particular, properly. However, I do have clear impressions of these places and, not being shy, I am putting them out there. Furthermore, this website currently gets about 5000 visitors a day, so I am reasonably certain at least a few people would read this even if it was composed by a monkey at a typewriter which, in a sense, it is. On all of my trips through the American Southwest, visiting the places mentioned above plus Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, I was pedal to the metal, flying, booking, jamming, screaming, etc. In other words, I had too little time and too far to drive, was all hopped up on caffeine, and tried to see it all. Naturally, that is not the best way to visit such special and serene places but it is how I, and many others, approach such a trip, especially those coming from far away to see the American Southwest for perhaps the only time in their lives. To photograph and experience these locations properly requires a more relaxed, contemplative and deliberate pace, one that I shall be sure to adopt when I turn 80.

Note that virtually all of photos on this website have GPS coordinates as well as links to Google Earth, taking you to the exact spot where they were taken, so there is no mystery where to go.

Rental Car: Assuming you are arriving in Las Vegas (NV) or Salt Lake City (UT), you will probably rent a car. Although none of these destinations requires one, I suggest that you rent a nice cushy SUV (the kind Americans love) when you arrive. It will make the little bit of off-roading you do more comfortable. Since some of the drives are quite long, having room in the back for your kids to spread out is helpful. Yes, you will burn gas — a lot of it. I realize that I am politically incorrect just mentioning the word “SUV”. Note that House Rock Valley Road, which is the dirt road that takes you to the Wave and Buckskin Gulch, can be a bit rough (but should not actually require 4WD) and having a larger SUV-type vehicle, with high clearance, makes the drive more pleasant. If there are long or deep muddy parts on the road, an SUV might actually make it possible to get to the trailhead whereas in a passenger (sedan) vehicle it could be more dicey. It all depends on the road conditions when you get there, there is no predicting those. If the conditions are truly bad, the road may simply be closed. Opting for the satellite radio on your rental SUV is important, since the variety of radio stations in this part of the country is quite slim with country/western and western/country being the only two choices.

Hiker in Buckskin Gulch.  A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone.  Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River.  Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Hiker in Buckskin Gulch. A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone. Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River. Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape.
Image ID: 20716
Location: Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

Buckskin Gulch: Buckskin Gulch is easily accessed from the same trailhead that one uses to hike to the Wave: the “Wire Pass trailhead”. For this reason, if you are in the area to visit the Wave it makes perfect sense to visit Buckskin the day before or the day after you visit the Wave. Consider staying in Kanab, and just drive out to the Wire Pass trailhead each day for the two hikes. Kanab is quiet, simple and has a few good restaurants and plenty of hotels and motels. Watch your speed driving through Kanab or Officer Dummy may catch you in his speed trap. Camping at the Wire Pass trailhead is an option. However, since I do not like dirt and do not camp, I cannot advise about the camping there from personal experience. The drive from Kanab to Wire Pass trailhead, via Hwy 89 and House Rock Valley Road is, as I recall, about 30-45 minutes or so, quite easy except for perhaps a bit of the dirt House Rock Valley Road which may be muddy or a bit rough in some places. A half day, especially if you get started reasonably early (7am comes to mind) is enough for you to hike into the “upper reaches” of Buckskin Gulch, get into a few deep and really fun sections, and then return back out the way you came. A full day gives you further reach into the gulch. The alternative is to make a one-way trip down through Buckskin and Paria Canyon, but that requires overnights, permits, and arranging a pick up at the far end, and so the time investment is considerably more. Note that flash floods in Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass Narrows are a real danger, and it is good to know where the exits to the gulch are as well as the weather forecast for the wider area (flash floods can be created by rain many miles away). It is possible to visit both Buckskin and the Wave in the same day. I did it last May. It was about a 15-17 mile day and tiring but I was in good shape and able to do it without problems. I even had time to catch a one-hour nap at the Second Wave waiting for sunset light. Do not underestimate the need for hydration on a day such as this. I drank about 10 liters of fluids and sweated out all of it (I think I peed only twice all day). Buckskin Gulch blog posts, Buckskin Gulch stock photos.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20608
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

The Wave: There is no denying the appeal of a sunrise hike to the Wave. At that hour the air is cool with perhaps a hint of dew, the surrounding hills and canyons are quiet and still, and within minutes of setting out one is alone. However, while you may be eager to get to the Wave early in the day, the photography at the Wave formation itself seems to me to be best in mid- to late-morning. By that time the sun has risen enough to fill the deeper parts around the main Wave formation for evenly lit photos. That said, during late spring, summer and fall, the cooler it is walking out to the Wave, the more comfortable you will be. The hike is about 3 miles one way, so plan on two hours at a easy but constant pace. The last part going up a sand hill is the most tiring. There is little shade once you are there, so be prepared for sun! Do not forget the Second Wave, which is only about a 5-10 minute walk from the main wave. You do not actually see the Second Wave until you round a knob of rock at which point you suddenly realize you are are practically on top of it. Although the spot is no secret, the GPS coordinates and Google Earth links alongside my photos will put you right on it. The light on the Second Wave is best just before the sun goes down at the end of the day, so if you stay for that photo it makes for a long day. In that instance you will hike out as the sky is growing dark but that’s ok, there is still plenty of light and, if you feel unsure of how to return, you can use your GPS to revisit your waypoints in reverse on the way back out. I should mention that both times I visited the Wave, I stayed until dark. As the day went on, there were fewer people around so that by 3pm I was alone, which was very nice. Blog posts about The Wave. Stock Photos of the Wave.

A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion, Navajo Tribal Lands, Page, Arizona

A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion.
Image ID: 18009
Location: Navajo Tribal Lands, Page, Arizona, USA

Antelope Canyon Slots: These are just outside the town of Page and require virtually no effort to visit. They are on Navaho tribal lands, so accessing these slot canyons requires that you be on a tour or with a guide. The Upper Antelope canyon, which is the most iconic and photogenic, is the one that gets most crowded. If it is crowded when you are there just be patient and wait for the chamber(s) that you are photographing to clear out and then bang out your exposures before someone else walks in front of you. It can help to carry an electric cattle prod or pocket Taser to ensure the area where you are photographing remains clear of New Yorkers and Nikon photographers. OK, my bad on that last part. I highly recommend that you do not change lenses, there is simply too much dust. In fact, do not be surprised if you encounter another photographer tossing dust in the air to better define the light beams in his composition. If his forward technique does not balance harmoniously with your chi, you can rebalance the moment by tossing sand into his eyes to better define your opinion of his method. If I had to choose one lens to use to use at Antelope Canyon, it would be 16-35 (or either of Nikon’s 14-24 or 17-35) on a full-frame camera. On a second body I carry a 24-70 or similar. Those two should cover 95% of my needs in terms of focal lengths at Antelope. The LOWER canyon is, I hear, far less crowded and has very good photography as well. There are two types of “tours” to visit Upper Antelope Canyon: a normal tour (about 30-60 minutes) and “photo” or extended tour, the latter being more suitable for photographers who feel a need for more time in the slot. I went on an “extended” tour and had about 90 minutes at the canyon, with a 15 minute ride in a van from Page (we met the tour at a small storefront in Page). That was in winter. I understand that during much of the year the Navaho Indian tribe offers guide services (for a fee) right at the entrance to the Antelope Canyon area on the main highway, in which case you might save a little money over the tours that are arranged in the town of Page itself. However, all visits require some Navaho guide presence. If you are coming from far away I suggest that you just reserve a photo tour ahead of time to ensure that you have the time you need. It may cost a little more but at least you know you will be in the canyon at the right time of day, with enough time to relax and take photos. The only unknowns are weather and how crowded it will be on the day of your visit. Kids might get bored after half hour, so families might arrange for the shorter tour while the lone photographer in the family goes on a longer tour. I went to the Upper Antelope Canyon with Antelope Canyon Tours when I was there in Jan 2007. At that time we literally had the entire Upper Canyon to ourselves (a group of 5 people) for 90 minutes, with one 20 minute exception when another small group came by for a brief visit. However, in the winter the dramatic light shafts do not reach the floor of the slots. Those appear in summer, principally June and July, coincidental with the crowds. So if you want solitude in Antelope Canyon (or something approaching it), try it winter. If you want the cool beams, battle the crowds.

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep, Page, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep.
Image ID: 26602
Location: Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona, USA

Horseshoe Bend: If you are in Page, Arizona, you must find a bit of time for Horseshoe Bend. From a pulloff on the side of the highway just a few minutes outside town, an easy 10 minute walk takes one to the edge of the chasm that is Horseshoe Bend. It is so easy it would be a shame to miss it. Just be careful that Fido and the kids are paying attention since there are no rails or anything keeping you from falling in. (Give the personal injury lawyers time, I am sure there will be a fence and a “viewing area” that we are required to use eventually). If you stay in Page for the night, you might want to go photograph Horseshoe Bend at sunset, late morning and/or sunrise to see what you can get. I took this the above shot with a 16-35 at its widest.

Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs

Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs.
Image ID: 20902
Location: Monument Valley, Arizona, USA

Monument Valley: OK, in spite of how little experience I have in Monument Valley, I will add some words about it, since it is likely others travelling to Page will visit Monument Valley the same way that I did. I blew through there one day by myself on my way to Page, spending about 1 hour at one of the main viewpoints (where I think I paid $5 to the Navaho tribe at the gate and then drove my own car about 2-3 miles on an easy dirt road into the area and then back out, looking for view points, until I found the one above). The timing was good, I was there in the final hour of light, although having clouds would have helped. If you want to just make a quick stop in Monument Valley and visit only one of the easily-accessed viewpoints, I suggest you make it sunrise or sunset. (If you want to spend a full day at Monument Valley, you can arrange private guides that will take you deep into the area and show you views that are better and different, but I believe it will require most of a day to accomplish.)

Tech: For any of these locations, my photography equipment is quite simple and light, no need for any heavy stuff. Landscape shooting is simple compared to all the gear needed for underwater and/or wildlife shooting!

  • Two full-frame bodies (currently Canon 1DsII & 1DsIII)
  • Canon 16-35 II f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 70-200 f/4 lens
  • Tripod with ball head, cable release, polarizers

If you found this information useful, please post the link to it and let others know. Cheers!

How To Geotag Your Photos

GeoBlog, How To, Photography, Wisdom

Recently I’ve had some correspondance with other photographers about geotagging, what it is and how I am using it. I was encouraged to put my remarks on my blog. While I do not pretend to be an expert, I am happy to share what I am doing — my workflow if you will. I’ll probably revise this post as I give the matter further thought.

GEOTAGGING DIGITAL PHOTOS is the process of tagging (i.e., merging, joining) digital photos with information about the location where they were taken. So, geotagging (v) is a process in which digital photos are modified. Geotagged (adj) describes a digital photograph as having location information embedded in it. Wikipedia has a good article about geotagging.

1. Digital Photos and Metadata. Digital photos exist as computer files. Two common file types (formats) are JPEG, TIFF, but there are many others. Many of these file formats store not only the image itself (the pixels) but also metadata about the image. Metadata means “data about data”. In this case, the primary data are the pixels in your digital image, and the metadata are other pieces of information the describe the photo or the circumstances under which it was taken. Some examples of metadata are the date and time at which the photo was recorded, the camera exposure settings, the camera brand and model, lens focal length and even the version of the camera’s firmware. These metadata are organized into a bundle and stored in the file header of your digital file. In other words, this stuff is in your TIFF, JPEG or raw file. It happens to be stored at the beginning of the file, before the pixels. Maintaining these metadata inside your digital photo file is, in theory, a good thing since this information then remains with its associated image. As long as you have the photo, the data about how, when and where it was taken are in your possession as well. Furthermore, if you make derivative copies of the digital file, such as a smaller version for display on the internet or a version to send to an editor at a magazine, the metadata are in that version of the image too. Ideally, the metadata stay with the photo wherever it goes. (Naturally there are exceptions to this which I won’t get into, but you get the idea.)

2. EXIF Metadata. An industry group (e.g., a group of computer geeks with decision making power) developed a standard, or group of widely accepted rules, for organizing these metadata. They named the standard EXIF. Each piece of information in this bundle of EXIF metadata is known as an “EXIF field”. For example, date, time, lens, camera model, shutter speed, etc. are all “EXIF fields”. So, when you hear mention of “the EXIF data”, or “EXIF header”, just know that this refers to the metadata describing when and how the photograph was taken. EXIF metadata are generally considered readonly in the sense that they should not be altered. Indeed, most image editing programs such as Photoshop will allow you to see what the EXIF fields are but do not allow you to alter the EXIF fields. This readonly restriction is really just an industry practice — there is no physical reason why the EXIF fields cannot be altered. Indeed, there are software programs out there that allow you to fiddle with and change the EXIF fields, such as time, date, camera model, etc., but I don’t have any experience with them. For the most part EXIF data are created at the moment the image is taken and there is no reason to change them later — with the exception of latitude, longitude and altitude.

It should be mentioned that there are some other bundles of metadata that may be found in the header of your digital photo and which can be viewed with image management and editing software. XMP and IPTC are two of them. XMP is a more recent standard that, in the long run, may prove to be more flexible and useful than EXIF which has some shortcomings. IPTC is another group of metadata fields, developed for press photographers to store descriptive information about their news photographs. IPTC is the place where you would enter a caption, keywords and copyright restrictions about the photo. While XMP and IPTC are important groups of metadata for digital photographers to understand, I will only be describing the EXIF metadata since that is where latitude and longitude fields are.

3. The Latitude, Longitude and Altitude Fields in the EXIF Metadata. There are three EXIF fields of interest for geocoding: latitude, longitude and altitude. While there are some recent cameras that support communication with GPS equipment in real time and fill these EXIF fields when the photograph is taken, most of us will find that these fields are empty or do not exist in the EXIF metadata of our photographs. Essentially this is because the camera is unaware of your latitude, longitude and altitude. Sure, the camera probably knows the date and time (you set these when you first get your camera) and it sure knows what lens is being used and what the shutter speed is. But in general, your camera does not know where you are. The EXIF standard includes fields (spaces) for latitude, longitude and altitude. But since the camera does not know your location when the photo is taken, these fields are left empty. Its up to you to fill them in later by geotagging the photo after it has been downloaded to your computer.

4. Recording GPS Data. There’s not much to say here. Simply purchase a GPS that supports tracking latitude/longitude to data files, then carry the GPS with you and make sure it is tracking your location while you while you shoot photos. I use the relatively small Garmin 60CSX model, which is capable of determining latitude, longitude and altitude to within about 20′. That is accurate enough for my purposes. I installed a 4GB micro-SD memory card in the Garmin 60CSX and set up the tracking options so that when I turn it on it automatically records latitude, longitude, altitude and time to a file on the memory card. There are various spatial and/or temporal intervals at which points on the track can be recorded; I have chosen 10-second intervals. (On one flight I made I chose a mode in which a location point was recorded to the track whenever the plane had travelled more than about 20 yds so it recorded many points during the flight. The result was a big GPS data file but very accurate geotagging later when the location data were stored in the photos.) On a recent 10-day trip, during which I had the unit recording about half of all daylight hours, I found that less than 1% of the 4GB micro-SD memory card was used to store tracking data. I have a few multi-week trips planned in 2009 and 2010, and this setup should record the GPS data for every moment of the trip with no trouble. I do find that I have to change batteries at least once a day if the unit is continuously operating, so rechargeable AA batteries are the way to go. The files that are created on the memory card are “GPX” files; GPX is simply a form of XML text file that geotagging programs understand. On my Garmin 60CSX, one file per day is created containing all the GPS tracking data for that day (even if I have turned the GPS on and off several times during the day). When I return from a photo outing, I can either connect the GPS to my computer and transfer the GPX files from the GPS to the computer, or I can remove the memory card from the GPS and plug the card into my computer and access the GPX files that way. Ultimately, I put all of them into the same folder on my computer, a growing pile of GPS files that just sit there until I need them for geotagging. Here are two examples of GPS tracks. You will need Google Earth installed to view these. The first is a trip around Vancouver Island. The second is a bike ride around UCSD in La Jolla. Note no photos are shown with these tracks, that will come later.

5. Geotagging: Merging GPS Data Into Your Digital Photos. You have finished the shoot and you carried your GPS with you the whole time, tracking your location while you took photos. You are back in your office and its time to do the geotagging! This is the point in your workflow where latitude and longitude metadata are transferred from your GPS into the EXIF fields within your digital photos.

Everyone shooting digital photos understands that photos must be “downloaded” to one’s computer, right? Well, the same goes for the GPS data: you must download the data files from your GPS unit as well. The actual geotagging, where the photos and GPS data are combined, can occur at two points in the process: either while the images are being downloaded (i.e., copied) from your camera to the computer, or after all the files have been downloaded and are sitting on the computer in separate folders.

I use the latter approach, and here is how I do it. I use a nifty little program named GPicSync, available free from Google. I make no claim as to its performance, but I have found that it works well for me.

  • Download the GPX tracking files (i.e., files with extension .gpx) from the GPS unit’s memory card to a folder on my computer. The Garmin 60CSX happens to make one GPX tracking file per day with names like 20080811.gpx; other GPS units may be different in this regard. I place all the GPX files in a single folder; mine happens to be named “c:/gpx” but you can put them wherever you wish.
  • Download the files from my camera’s memory card(s) to another folder on my computer. Let’s say the folder is named “c:/pics”. The files produced by my camera are raw files, but they could just as well be JPGs.
  • Launch GPicSync. I first specify the folder where the GPX files are located. I just point it at the entire group of GPX files and it figures out which ones it needs. Then I specify the folder where the digital photos are located. Lastly, I specify the “UTC Offset”. This is the number of hours between the location where the images were shot and Greenwich Mean Time. This is needed because my camera’s internal time zone is local to me, but the GPS records time using Greenwich Mean Time. If the photos were taken in my neck of the woods (Pacific Time Zone) then the appropriate difference is -7 hours, so I enter -7 for the UTC offset. Then I press “start”.
  • What happens? GPicSync looks at the time at which each photo was taken, compares that to all possible GPS tracking points that it finds in the GPX tracking files and finds the closest match. In other words, it determines which GPS point was recorded closest in time to when the photo was taken. The latitude, longitude and altitude are extracted from that GPS point and inserted into the appropriate EXIF fields in the digital photo. Nothing else is altered (hopefully!) and the digital photo is written back to the computer disk. In essence all that is changed is three EXIF fields in the digital photo, all the other information including the image pixels themselves are unchanged. At least this is how it is supposed to work, and so far I have encountered no problems.
  • I am now free to continue on with my workflow and raw files, converting them into JPEGs and preparing them for display on the web and delivery to clients. They are now geotagged so (again, hopefully) the software that I use to manage my photo collection, make JPEG versions for the web and high res TIFFs for clients ensures that the location information in the EXIF metadata is passed along from one generation of the photo to the next.

There are other software programs that can do this geotagging step. I chose GPicSync primarily because it supports tagging Canon raw files. In other words, it will go ahead and permanently alter the EXIF data (adding latitude, longitude, altitude) in my Canon raw files. This is a requirement for me, since I want as much metadata in the source image (my raw file) as possible. However, if you shoot JPEG then you have other options. Notably, I should mention a program named Downloader Pro, made by the developer of Breezebrowser Pro. I have been a longtime user of Breezebrowser and love it, it is perhaps the fastest and easiest image browsing program out there. When I set out to geotag my photos I planned to use Downloader Pro (a companian program to Breezebrowser Pro), but I soon found that it has a limitation that I cannot work around: it will not geotag Canon raw files (.cr2). I shoot exclusively raw files. I generate JPG and TIFF files from the raw files, but the “master” file is a raw file and the master file is the one I want geotagged. I emailed Chris Breeze (the maker of Breezebrowser and Downloader) about this and asked him why his program does not support geotagging Canon raw files. His reply was that by altering the EXIF header in the proprietary raw file one can damage the raw file, thereby making it unreadable by other software. (I understand that this is a risk, but since I can always save an unaltered copy of the raw file before it is tagged, I can work around that issue easily.) In any event, at the time of this writing Downloader Pro does not geotag Canon raw files, so I don’t use it. If and when that changes, I will immediately reconsider and probably start using Downloader Pro.

One further note on this step: consider backing up your original digital photos before proceeding with the geotagging. The geotagging that I describe alters the EXIF information in your digital photo. In the event that the geotagging software you are using has a flaw, it could corrupt the digital photo beyond repair. GPicSync, and probably most other geotagging programs, allows you to make a backup copy of each photo while the geotagging is being done, ensuring that you have a safe copy in case something bad happens to the altered copy. Needless to say, its probably a good idea to use this option if it is available, at least with shoots that are important.

6) Geo Data Flows To The Web. OK, you have geotagged your photos. Now what the heck do you do with them? Good question. I honestly don’t know all that is possible with the software that is out there. I use Expression Media to manage my collection of 22,000 images, most having 3-5 versions apiece, including keywording, cataloging, captioning, ranking, etc. Since Expression Media allows me to view the EXIF fields of my photos, I can check that the geotagging worked and that the correct latitude, longitude and altitude appear in the EXIF metadata. Great, but that is merely an exercise and does not really move me or my photos forward.

Importantly, I exploit the lat/long (latitude, longitude) data on my web site. Each photo in my collection has a corresponding record in a big database on my web server. The database has entries for location, species, keywords and a bunch of other database stuff. This database is created by Expression Media and then uploaded to the web server. This means that if Expression Media sees that an image has been geotagged, that lat/long information will flow from Expression Media to the web database. In other words, images that have been geotagged have lat/long entries in the database record, while images that have not been geotagged are missing entries lat/long entries in the database. When my website software (written by me using PHP and MySql) displays information about a geotagged image, it will notice the lat/long entry in the database and pass that information along to the display that the website visitor see. For instance, take a look at the summary information for this image of the Wave in southern Utah:

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 20608
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

You will see not only the coordinates of the location where this image was shot, but a few links related to the coordinates and some small blue ball icons as well. What are those? Read on for the most interesting part of this whole process.

7) Geotagged Images In Google Earth. Google Earth is an amazing world visualization product from Google. At present it is available in a free version and a commercial version. I have only used the free version. I am sometimes blown away by what can be done with it. For starters, it allows one to visually fly around the world and then zoom in close, seeing Earth features from a birds eye view. That alone is pretty fun. But it gets better for photographers.

I should mention that if you do not have Google Earth installed on your computer, the discussion below will be merely academic. You won’t be able to check out the examples I mention without first installing Google Earth. Instead, click the “Google Maps” version of each link, but know that Google Maps is the lesser sibling to Google Earth when it comes to presenting geospatial stuff.

It is possible to generate Google Earth “overlays” that allow one to display almost anything in concert with Google Earth. These Google Earth overlays are similar in some ways to web pages that you view in a web browser but they are instead viewed in Google Earth, which is like a browser but for viewing the globe rather than text. For web visitors that have Google Earth installed on their computers, clicking on one of these Google Earth “overlay links” allows them to view things within Google Earth, usually in a meaningful spatial context. For instance, here are two overlays that together summarize the keepers we got in Tofino a few weeks ago. The first link presents the tracks, showing where we hiked (green), boated (purple) and flew (orange). The second link superimposes some photos above the sites where they were taken. Load both of these links in Google Earth:

Tofino tracks (view in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)
Tofino photos (view in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)

One of most oft-mentioned examples of a “GeoBlog” — a blog that is customized for Google Earth — is that of noted primatologist Jane Goodall’s Gombe Chimp research group, which publishes a blog about their ongoing activities. The blog is “geo-enabled”, meaning that not only can it be viewed as a traditional web page but it can also be viewed in an enhanced form within Google Earth at the exact location where the research is being conducted in Africa. Look for the little blue ball icons on the blog, indicating Google Earth-enabled links.

I’ve done a similar thing with most of the major parts of my web site, including the blog and the individual images. For instance, most pages on my blog are now geo-enabled. Here’s an example of an individual post of mine that is geo-enabled. The first link below just shows the blog post, while the second link displays it in Google Earth at the proper location on Granville Island in Vancouver:

http://www.oceanlight.com/log/granville-island-public-market-vancouver.html (web page)
http://www.oceanlight.com/log/granville-island-public-market-vancouver.kml (view in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)

(Also, the entire blog is available as a “KML Feed”, meaning that it is a feed accessible by Google Earth. The KML 2.0 link for this is at the bottom right of the blog, under “Meta”.)

Each individual image of mine that is geotagged can be viewed in geospatial context in Google Earth, at the exact point on the globe where the photo was taken. The first of the two links below shows a detailed view of the photo on a boring web page, while the second link displays the image in Google Earth at the point in the Paria Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness where the Wave is situated and the photo was taken:

http://www.oceanlight.com/spotlight.php?img=20608 (web page)
http://www.oceanlight.com/20608.kml (view in Google Earth, Google Mapsor Live Search Maps)

Lastly, you can view an entire collection of my images altogether in Google Earth. This was the hardest part for me to figure out, and required some geeky programming to get it right. But its now pretty powerful (at least I think so). In one fell swoop I can show you all of my images from, say, San Clemente Island, superimposed on the spots where they were taken. Or I can do this with all my blue whale images. Or those from the Galapagos, or Guadalupe Island. You get the idea. If you have Google Earth installed, check out these links and let me know what you think! Warning: each of these links displays dozens or hundreds of photos at once on Google Earth. You will need Google Earth installed to use these links.

San Clemente Island underwater photos on Google Earth (View in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)
Galapagos Islands photos on Google Earth (View in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)
Blue Whale photos on Google Earth (View in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)
Guadalupe Island photos on Google Earth (View in Google Earth, Google Maps or Live Search Maps)

Comments? Errors? Please let me know by email and I’ll try to amend this post. Thanks.