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Using HoudahGeo to Geocode Lightroom Images

I have a reasonably large collection of images catalogued in Adobe Lightroom (version 2.6 at time of this writing), but only a very few of them geocoded.

After some looking around, I found a program called HoudahGeo which indicated it could geocode batches of images by reference to google maps or google earth. Additionally, it claimed to work with all sorts of image files, including raw, jpeg, tiff, etc. I downloaded it and installed it on my MacPro running OS X (Snow Leopard). Following are notes from my early experiences with HoudahGeo.

Loading Images to HoudahGeo

On starting the program, you are presented with an empty project screen to which you drag image files. You can either use their file select window or their image browser or you can select a group of images in Lightroom and drag them to the project screen.

I found their image browser to be buggy. If I selected a large batch of thumbnails and drag them in, oftentimes HoudahGeo would lock up and crash. Selecting smaller groups (20-30 at a time) seemed to cure the problem.

Selecting large batches in Lightroom and dragging them to the project screen worked fine.

Geocoding Images

HoudahGeo provides several different ways to tag images.

One way is to use a track file from a gps unit that you carried while taking the pictures. The program matches the timestamp of track file entries with the timestamp of the image file, transferring the coordinates on close matches. The program provides a way to compensate for a poorly matched clock on the camera.

HoudahGeo can read the track files from several different brands of directly-connected gps units or from files downloaded from the gps units.

Alternatively, HoudahGeo allows you to use maps (either google maps or google earth) to select a location and then transfer the location coordinates to the images in the project window.

The google maps window unfortunately does not include a search capability, so you are forced to click repeatedly to finally get the right zoom and the right location. Using google earth is much simpler, since you have your whole google earth installation to work with, search windows, bookmarks, etc., to simplify finding the right spot. In either case, once the right spot is located, then clicking on "geocode" adds the coordinates (plus altitude in the case of google earth) to the project window.

Exporting the Geocoded Data

The final step in the process is to write the updated EXIF data to the image files. Clicking the appropriate button opens a window where you select what metadata is written. Once the selections are made, click "OK" and wait a few seconds (or minutes for large batches) for the process to complete.

Following this, you will need to tell Lightroom to read the new metadata. Do this by selecting the batch of images, right-clicking and selecting "Metadata | Read metadata from file." After a few more moments, the new geographic information will appear in the EXIF browser.

One problem, though, was that tiff files in the batches did not seem to get encoded, at least in a way that Lightroom recognized.

Exporting Geocoded Pictures to Google Earth or flickr

One quite nice feature in HoudahGeo is the ability to exported geocoded images to either google earth or flickr.

The google earth test went quite well. Small image files were created and saved in a kHz file which you can name and store as you like. It is opened in google earth and lets you browse the images at their encoded locations.

The flickr test seemingly went well, with the images uploading fine to flickr. However, each image seemed to show up in its own image set (a flickr organizational unit) although all were named the same. This will require some investigation.


HoudahGeo is a reasonably complete program, albeit with some rough edges. It crashed several times during the testing. Once I realized I didn't need to use HoudahGeo's image browser, though, the crashing seemed to stop.

Encoding using google earth was a snap. The google maps approach worked, but was not as slick.

Storing the EXIF data and exporting images went well also, subject to correcting the flickr multiple set issue.

All in all, I would certainly recommend this program.

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