What is Geotagging?

With Geotagging, your photos are labeled, or tagged, to show where they were taken. Tags make searching for photos easier and sharing them more meaningful. You can view photos on a map. You can search photos by location. And, 2 years after coming back from Venezia, you can see that its in Italy (without resorting to Wikipedia!)

Showing geotag information in a JPEG photo using the software gThumb

Geotagging can help users find a wide variety of location-specific information. For instance, one can find images taken near a given location by entering latitude and longitude coordinates into a Geotagging-enabled image search engine. Geotagging-enabled information services can also potentially be used to find location-based news, websites, or other resources.

Less commonly, this process has been called geocoding (ie. a geocoded photograph), a term that more often refers to the process of taking non-coordinate based geographical identifiers, such as a street address, and finding associated geographic coordinates (or vice versa for reverse geocoding), or to the use of a camera that inserts the coordinates when making the picture, for example using its built in GPS receiver.

Geotagging techniques

The base for geotagging is positions. The position will in almost every case, be derived from the global positioning system, and based on a latitude/longitude-coordinate system that presents each location on the earth in a coordinate spanning from 180 west through 180 east along the Equator and 90 north through 90 south along the prime meridian.

GPS formats

GPS coordinates may be represented in text in a number of ways, with more or fewer decimals:
  Description Example
[-]d.d, [-]d.d Decimal degrees with negative numbers for South and West. 12.34, -98.76
d m.m′ {N|S}, d m.m′ {E|W} Degrees and decimal minutes with N, S, E or W suffix for North, South, East, West 12 34.56′ N, 98 76.54′ E
{N|S} d m.m′ {E|W} d m.m′ Degrees and decimal minutes with N, S, E or W prefix for North, South, East, West N 12 34.56′, E 98 76.54′
d m' s" {N|S}, d m' s" {E|W} Degrees, minutes and decimal seconds with N, S, E or W suffix for North, South, East, West 12 34' 56" N, 98 76' 54" E
{N|S} d m' s.s", {E|W} d m' s.s" Degrees, minutes and decimal seconds with N, S, E or W prefix for North, South, East, West N 12 34' 56", E 98 76' 54"

Using geotagging

Geotagging is used to tell users rather precisely the location of the content of a given picture or other media, and conversely on some media platforms (such as Google Earth) to show media relevant to a given location.

Geotagging standards in electronic file formats

JPEG photos

With photos stored in JPEG file format, the geotag information is typically embedded in the metadata (stored in Exchangeable image file format (EXIF) or Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP) format). These data are not visible in the picture itself but are read and written by special programs and most digital cameras and modern scanners. Latitude and longitude are stored in units of degrees with decimals. This geotag information can be read by many programs, such as the cross-platform open source ExifTool. An example readout for a photo might look like: GPS Latitude : 57 deg 38' 56.83" N GPS Longitude : 10 deg 24' 26.79" W GPS Position : 57 deg 38' 56.83" N, 10 deg 24' 26.79" W Or the same coordinates could also be presented as decimal degrees: GPSLatitude : 57.64911 GPSLongitude : 10.40744 GPSPosition : 57.64911 10.40744 When stored in EXIF, the coordinates are represented as a series of rational numbers in the GPS sub-IFD. Here is a hexadecimal dump of the relevant section of the EXIF metadata (with big-endian byte order): + [GPS directory with 5 entries] | 0) GPSVersionID = 2 2 0 0 | - Tag 0x0000 (4 bytes, int8u[4]): | dump: 02 02 00 00 | 1) GPSLatitudeRef = N | - Tag 0x0001 (2 bytes, string): | dump: 4e 00 [ASCII "N\0"] | 2) GPSLatitude = 57 38 56.83 (57/1 38/1 5683/100) | - Tag 0x0002 (24 bytes, rational64u): | dump: 00 00 00 39 00 00 00 01 00 00 00 26 00 00 00 01 | dump: 00 00 16 33 00 00 00 64 | 3) GPSLongitudeRef = W | - Tag 0x0003 (2 bytes, string): | dump: 57 00 [ASCII "W\0"] | 4) GPSLongitude = 10 24 26.79 (10/1 24/1 2679/100) | - Tag 0x0004 (24 bytes, rational64u): | dump: 00 00 00 0a 00 00 00 01 00 00 00 18 00 00 00 01 | dump: 00 00 0a 77 00 00 00 64

HTML pages

ICBM method

The GeoURL standard requires the ICBM tag method is used to geotag standard web pages in HTML format: The similar Geo Tag format allows the addition of placename and region tags:

RDF feeds

The RDF method is defined by W3 Group and presents the information in RDF tags: 55.701 12.552


The Geo microformat allows coordinates within HTML pages to be marked up in such a way that they can be "discovered" by software tools. Example: 50.167958; -97.133185 which might display as:

50.167958; -97.133185

(giving a live Geo microformat on this page).

A proposal has been developed to extend Geo to cover other bodies, such as Mars and the Moon.

An example is the Flickr photo-sharing Web site, which provides geographic data for any geocoded photo in all of the above-mentioned formats.

Geotagging in tag-based systems

No industry standards exist, however there are a variety of techniques for adding geographical identification metadata to an information resource. One convention, established by the website Geobloggers and used by more and more sites, e.g. photo sharing sites Panoramio and Flickr, and the social bookmarking site del.icio.us, enables content to be found via a location search. All sites allow users to add metadata to an information resource via a set of so-called machine tags (see folksonomy).

geotagged geo:lat=57.64911 geo:lon=10.40744 where latitude and longitude are the geographic coordinates of a particular location. These are expressed in decimal degrees in the WGS84 datum, which has become something of a default geodetic datum with the advent of GPS.

Using three tags works within the constraint of having tags that can only be single 'words'. Identifying geotagged information resources on sites like Flickr and del.icio.us is done by searching for the 'geotagged' tag, since the tags beginning 'geo:lat=' and 'geo:lon=' are necessarily very variable.

Another option is to tag with a Geohash:

geo:hash=u4pruydqqvj A further convention proposed by FlickrFly adds tags to specify the suggested viewing angle and range when the geotagged location is viewed in Google Earth:

ge:head=225.00 ge:tilt=45.00 ge:range=560.00 These three tags would indicate that the camera is pointed heading 225 (south west), has a 45 tilt and is 560 metre from the subject.

Both Panoramio (which is focused on showing geotagged pictures of the world) and Flickr, has the generated and place a picture from JPEG-metadata coordinates (as described above).

Where the above methods are in use, their coordinates may differ from those specified by the photo's internal EXIF data, for example because of a correction or a difference between the camera's location and the subject's.


Geoblogging attaches specific geographic location information to blog entries via geotags. Searching a list of blogs and pictures tagged using geotag technology allows users to select areas of specific interest to them on interactive maps.

The progression of GPS technology, along with the development of various online applications such as Flickr, has fueled the popularity of such tagged blogging, and the combination of GPS Phones and GSM localization, has led to the moblogging, where blog posts are tagged with exact position of the user.

See also

  • Auto-geotagging
  • Geocaching
  • Geocoding
  • Geocoded photo (Geotagging methods)
  • Geographic information system (GIS)
  • Geolocation
  • Georeference
  • GeoRSS
  • Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • Moblog
  • Supranet
  • Tagging

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