After a couple of years of painful attempts to geotag all my photos, I've finally got something that might end up working: a small hack that grabs the current location from Google Earth and updates the selected images within Aperture (3.1). This post explains it, and how to install it.
Sorry, but you're going to have to suffer a bit of a rant first:
This whole effort comes from my deep hatred of the Places feature in iPhoto '11 and Aperture 3. While I'm not a particularly good photographer, I do try to keep all my metadata neatly arranged and all my photos neatly geotagged. However, until recently, iPhoto hasn't even tried to make this possible. Instead, I'd geolocate the photo using a mixture of Google Earth and Flickr's map, and then try to copy those locations back to iPhoto with varying results. I started using bits of Perl and AppleScript, including a horrible kludge to construct a lookup table in SQLite between Flickr's metadata and iPhoto's catalogue and then use ExifTool to reapply the latitude/longitude data.
Incidentally, since then, I've found the promising PictSync app being written by Loghound. It promises to eliminate the need to hacked-up scripts to do the Flickr-to-iPhoto metadata sync. It's a bit rough around the edges at the moment, but it's getting better by the day.
However, even with PictSync, this approach only works for the 5-10% of photos I chose to upload to Flickr. The lion's share of my 10,000-odd photos were untagged.
iPhoto '11 looked like it was going to sort all this out: the heralded Places feature looked easy, and even "fun". So, I made a special trip out to the Apple Store to buy iLife '11 when it was released. Unfortunately, in my opinion, Places has a terrible UI: it's buggy and poorly documented, and even when it does what it's meant to do it's difficult to use. You can see what they were trying to achieve and it's usable if all you're trying to do is locate a single image at a well-known Googleable location in the US, but it's a cow for everywhere else.
I finally cracked when I was trying to tag a 2002 business trip I took to Malmö, Sweden. I managed to find all the locations, but getting these onto the photos with Places is a nightmare: the only reliable method I've found is to convert all the locations to latitude and longitude in a text file, and then one-by-one, apply the location, resulting in a pointless Google lookup and a usually-wrong reverse geolocation.
Anyway, when the Mac App Store was launched this week, I cracked and paid the heavily-discounted £45 for Aperture 3, as I just can't stand using iPhoto '11 anymore. Anything's better than iPhoto '11... even iPhoto '09.
Unfortunately, Aperture 3 contains a version of Places that's obviously using a lot of the same code as the iPhoto '11 version. It's broken. It's badly documented. It's got an incredibly frustrating feature where clicking an unlocated photo in Places will result in losing the current map location and showing the world instead: exactly the opposite of what you want when you're trying to label a set of photos one-by-one.
I tried some third-party plug-ins such as Maperture Pro from Übermind, which is a darn sight better than Places' interface for positioning photos, but it has a few UI problems of it's own: not least of which is the modal nature of the dialog box that stops the ability to zoom in on the image in question, making it hard to locate. As a result, you have to be sure of the location before you browse. Anyway, it's still not ideal, especially since I need to be able to browse Google Earth for the area, community labels and street view to be sure of where the photo is.
So, I think a possible way to solve this is to use Google Earth as the geotagging interface. I couldn't find an existing plug-in to do this, so I fired up Automator and tried to remember how to use AppleScript (again). The result is a small ".workflow" file that you can install as a Service, and then trigger from either Aperture or Google Earth.
- Download this archive file containing the workflow
- Uncompress it into a .workflow by double-clicking it (if your browser hasn't already done so)
- Move it into the Services subfolder of your user's Library folder; OR you can double-click it to load it into Automator and then save it as a service. It should then be installed automatically.
- Launch System Preferences and select the Keyboard Shortcuts tab of the Keyboard preference pane
- Use the "+" button to add a new Application Shortcut
- Choose Aperture.app as the application
- For the menu item, type Set Aperture GPS from Google Earth exactly. It must be exact or the shortcut will not work.
- Choose a keyboard shortcut: I use Cmd-G, which seems to be free in Aperture 3.1 and in Google Earth
- Add another identical Application Shortcut, but with Google Earth.app as the application.
CAUTION: I HAVE NOT DONE MUCH (IF ANY TESTING) ON THIS UTILITY. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. BACKUP YOUR APERTURE LIBRARY BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO USE IT.
To use, select one or more photos in Aperture, find the location for the photos in Google Earth, and hit the keyboard shortcut you chose. By adding two shortcuts, you can activate it from either app. Alternatively, you can go to the Services menu in either app and choose the workflow there.
In addition, I found a KMZ file that adds crosshairs to Google Earth by Jeffrey Friedl which makes the geotagging a bit more precise.
The script doesn't include any error checking -- or much of anything, really -- but you're welcome to use it, and even improve it if you like. If you do improve it, please let me and other readers know using the Comments section below.
Here's to Steve Jobs actually spending more than five minutes trying to geotag some of his old photos with Aperture and realising how much it sucks!
UPDATE: Here's a workflow that does the reverse and displays the location of the current Aperture selection (just the first image) in Google Earth: View_Aperture_selection_GPS_in_Google_Earth.workflow-r1054.tgz. It's useful to take an existing image as a basis and adapt the location from there. Use the same instructions as above to install it.