If I take a photo of a distant object with a zoom lens, and then geotag it manually, would it be more useful to tag the location of the distant object (what is seen in the photo) or the location from where the photograph was taken?

For example, if I take a photograph of Alcatraz from Coit Tower in San Francisco, should I tag that photo with the location of Alcatraz or Coit Tower?

  • 9
    Well, if you take a picture of the moon...
    – coneslayer
    May 5, 2011 at 11:25
  • 9
    ask yourself: why do you geotag at all? and take it on from answer to that question.
    – user1774
    May 5, 2011 at 11:27
  • 5
    Sooner or later you will find yourself geotagging photos automatically; one day you will get a GPS (or a phone with a GPS, or a camera with a GPS). Automatic geotagging will always be based on the location of the photographer. Therefore for consistency it might be best to do manual tagging in the same way. May 5, 2011 at 11:38
  • 8
    Another option is to only take macro photographs.
    – mattdm
    May 5, 2011 at 15:26
  • 5
    The photographer in all likelihood has one position when a photo is taken. A photo on the other hand may have more than one object in it and could therefore have an ambiguous location. At least with the photographer location, orientation and focus distance you can compute what the camera has focused on.
    – Itai
    May 5, 2011 at 17:18

5 Answers 5


Most of the time you have more use of the position from where you took the photo.

If you know from where the picture was taken, you can often from the photo see exactly which direction the camera was pointed. If you know the position of the subject, you might be able to see approximately which direction it was taken from, but seldom the exact position.

Of course, if you know that you will only ever be interrested in the location of the subject, you can discard any other information. Geotagging is always a bit of a compromise; it would be nice to have an exact three dimensional vector from the position of the camera to the position of the subject, but we only tag one point, and only in two dimensions.

  • Good answer, Guffa. I usually geotag with the location of the main subject of the photo and not the location the picture was taken from. May 5, 2011 at 14:28

There's no "right" answer to this question; that said I would take a look at why you geotag your photos. Depending on the answer I could make arguments either way:

  • If you geotag photos to keep a record of where you've been then it probably makes sense to tag them with the location of the camera. Using your example, as you view your geotagged pictures you'll be able to look back and say "Ah, yes, I was at Coit Tower and here are the images I created while there."
  • If you geotag photos as a descriptor of the photo subject then the geotag should be applied to the location of the subject. Again with your example, you could geotag the photo with the location of Alacatraz and then if you upload to Flickr, someone could see your image as they browse photos of Alcatraz.

Your choice depends on how you plan to use the information in the future.


Think of large subjects, especially mountains. You're going to get wildly different viewpoints depending on where you stand (and thus what angle you take your photo at).

If you or someone else wanted to do something from the same perspective (ex: recreate the photo), they'd need to know the photographer's location, not the location of the subject.

Geotagging with the subject's location means that you effectively lose data. There can be a large number (infinite, really) of different locations from which to photograph a single subject. It's probably easier to figure the subject location from the photographer's location than vice versa.

In a perfect world,

  1. The metadata would include the direction the camera is pointing (azimuth), vertical (inclination) angle, and even the distance to the subject
  2. You'd have two sets of metadata for geotagging: photo location, subject location. (The latter could even be calculated if you have the direction/inclination/distance. Barring that though, you could set it manually.)
  • That's a great point about the direction of the camera. I guess once you have that, and the coordinates of the camera, you don't really need the coordinates of the object you're looking at. Jul 26, 2012 at 4:44

http://www.sno.phy.queensu.ca/~phil/exiftool/TagNames/GPS.html shows a list of GPS-Exif-Tags.

Besides [GPSLatitude, GPSLongitude] I find [GPSDestLatitude, GPSDestLongitude] and [GPSDestBearing, GPSDestDistance].

So it is possible to tag both locations - but which software supports this?

  • 3
    Very interesting - might be worth asking as a standalone question. May 6, 2011 at 9:38

Geotags are meta-data. As such, their value is entirely dependent on the intended use of that meta-data. When the intended use is for people to locate photos of Alcatraz from Google Maps, then geographic metadata about the subject matters. If the intended use is for people to locate information about Coit Tower, then the location of the photographer might be relevant in cases where the metadata consumer is unlikely to wonder why they got a photograph of Alcatraz: real-estate leasing agents come to mind.

Like a lot of other aspects of photography, human perception trumps raw physics. There's no right answer and what works for one person in a court of law may not work for another on Facebook.

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