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How to Put Your Pictures on a Map in Adobe Lightroom

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One of the toughest tasks for photographers is planning shoots, particularly if you photograph people. The Map module in Adobe Lightroom is a great tool for planning shoots because you can use it to create a location database. 

The Map module helps us visualize where our images were captured. As long as your camera has a GPS to record coordinates when the photograph is taken, you can use Lightroom to view where they were captured. You can even grab the GPS information from an image's metadata and plug those coordinates back into your GPS device or app.

Lightroom Map Module ScreenshotLightroom Map Module ScreenshotLightroom Map Module Screenshot
In the Map module, images appear on top of satellite imagery.

In this tutorial, you'll learn Lightroom's Map module. By the end of this tutorial, you'll have three new skills in your tool belt:

  • Viewing images with GPS data;
  • Manually adding a location to images captured with a camera without a GPS; and,
  • Building a database of locations in Lightroom to use for client shoots.

Watch & Learn

In this screencast, you can sit back and learn how I use the Map module to visualize where I captured my images. Check it out below and read on for written instructions and ideas.

Using the Lightroom Map Module

There are really two ways to explore the location an image was captured. We can either take an image and jump to the location, or browse the map. Let's look at both.

Method 1: Jump to the Location

When I'm working in the Library module, I might see an image that catches my eye. If the image has GPS data, I can view where the image was captured.

On an image thumbnail, there's a map marker in the lower right corner of the image. If you click on that map marker, Lightroom will jump to the Map module and, using satellite imagery, show where the image was captured. 

The easiest way to hone in on exactly where the image was captured is to use your mouse scrolling function (or two-finger zoom on a trackpad) to zoom in. The location where your selected image was taken will be shown as a yellow-orange flag on the map. 

Lightroom Map module screenshot showing image placement on the mapLightroom Map module screenshot showing image placement on the mapLightroom Map module screenshot showing image placement on the map

Method 2: Explore by Location

What if you want to start with a map, and then zoom in to see what images were captured at that location? Let's check out that approach as well.

For this method, we'll start in the Map module. Your images will plotted on a map. From this point, we can zoom in and out to refine our selections.

Screenshot of Lightroom Maps selectionScreenshot of Lightroom Maps selectionScreenshot of Lightroom Maps selection

If we click on a map marker, Lightroom will show us which images in a filmstrip were taken at that location. The relevant images are highlighted in the film strip.

One important note: the Map module shows the locations only for the images we've selected in the Library module. If you've selected just one folder and jumped over to the map, the locators on the map will be restricted to just the images in that single folder. If I'm looking for favourite locations, I typically choose all images from the Folders panel before entering the Map module.

Sp, there are really two ways to explore GPS data. You can select a GPS-tagged image and see its location, or explore your map and see the images captured at a location.

How to Manually Map Images in Lightroom

So far, we've assumed that our images contain the GPS information in the metadata. But what if we have images that don't have GPS data, but we know where they were captured? We can manually place them on a map.

To do this, open the Map module. Navigate your way around the map to find the location you want tagged to an image. From the film strip, grab the image and just drag and drop it on the map at the location where the image was captured.

Remember that it's not essential to tag the image to the exact location. A general placement is better than nothing, so don't worry if you aren't precise with your placement.

Screenshot showing manual placement of image onto a Lightroom mapScreenshot showing manual placement of image onto a Lightroom mapScreenshot showing manual placement of image onto a Lightroom map
Drag and drop an image from the film strip to the location on the map where it was captured. Lightroom will add GPS data to the image file.

How to Create a Shoot Location Database With Lightroom

If you are a busy photographer with frequent shoots, you might struggle to keep variety in your working locations. In this section, you'll learn how to build a location database using the skills we've covered above. Once you've built a collection of locations to use, you can easily reference and plan locations for your upcoming shoots.

Think of a location database as an address book with pictures you can keep at your fingertips for later use. With this database, choosing locations for your shoot takes seconds and removes some of the anxiety involved with planning a shoot.

Screenshot of Map module showing pins for location databaseScreenshot of Map module showing pins for location databaseScreenshot of Map module showing pins for location database
My location database consists of scenic locations within 2–3 hours of where my typical clients are located. When I need to plan a shoot, my first step is to consult this database.

With the location database approach, you will always have a catalog of scene ideas to tap into. Once you've built a significant number of locations into your catalog, you can use it as a sales tool. By presenting your location database to clients, they can participate in selecting a place to shoot and they'll feel confident that you'll always have a back-up location if something goes wrong. 

Tips for Scouting and Planning Your Locations

So, you've decided you want to start building an inventory of great locations to photograph your clients. If you've embraced the idea of a location database, here are some tips to ensure your success.

Capture Images with GPS Data Embedded

Above all, make sure that you're capturing GPS data when you capture your images. This is increasingly common in modern DSLRs, and it's a given that your smartphone will have GPS. Even if your smartphone isn't your primary camera, it's invaluable for building a location database so take it with you.

Once on the scene, take photos liberally. You may not see something in the moment but something might catch your eye when reviewing the images later on.

If your DSLR doesn't have a GPS, take a few photos with your smartphone to capture the GPS coordinates. You can add those coordinates to your other images once you've uploaded and are reviewing your shoot. 

Catch the Exploring Bug

At this point, you might be thinking: how do I even get started building my location database? You can start by researching locations using Google Maps or by visiting tourist and city websites, which will list locations in your area worth visiting.

But above all, you have to have the heart to explore. Take the back roads. Go the long way to get to a location. Be willing to get lost and take some images while you're at it. 

Forested area at the top of a hill on left and on right a couple photographed in that forested areaForested area at the top of a hill on left and on right a couple photographed in that forested areaForested area at the top of a hill on left and on right a couple photographed in that forested area
I found this spot on a hike earlier in the year, and bookmarked it by using my iPhone with GPS coordinates embedded into the image. I returned to that same spot much later to capture the image you see at right.

If you're a true "Type A" personality as I am, it's difficult to embrace the concept of wandering aimlessly, but this is the key to building a location database.

Consider the Situation

A location that you view in March will be different in the Fall. If you scout in the morning, your locations will be totally different during sunset.

It's important to remember the situation in which you took the images. The scene is going to differ each time you return to it, depending on the season and time of day.

If you're really ambitious, you can start building separate location databases for each season. The possibilities are limitless!

Use Your Database

After you've built a location database, it's time to put it to use. I like to set aside time when planning a shoot to review my location database.

One thing that's really important to me: considering my clients' style. An outdoorsy client might not feel at home with skyscrapers as the backdrop. Your corporate clients likely won't appreciate being hiked up to the top of the mountains. Having a deep database gives you options.

You should never stop adding to your inventory of locations to photograph clients. It's an ongoing process. I've never regretted having too many options for photographing my clients.

A Word on Privacy

Before we wrap up, I want to mention what I think is an increasingly important issue in photography: protecting you and your client's privacy.

Several times, I've shot at a client's home or on their personal property for a meaningful shoot. These types of sessions are increasingly popular as subjects wish to be captured in their element.

Unfortunately, this trend doesn't fit well with the new generation of GPS-enabled cameras. Your client likely doesn't want their personal address published with their shoot. Finished JPEGs can have GPS data embedded in them, and if you share these images online, you put your client's privacy at risk.

Here's the good news: Lightroom offers an easy way to remove the location information when exporting an image. On the export dialogue, find the Metadata section. Ensure that the Remove Location Info box is checked before you export your finished images.

Screenshot of Export dialog box with Remove Location Info selectedScreenshot of Export dialog box with Remove Location Info selectedScreenshot of Export dialog box with Remove Location Info selected

The key takeaway here is to give it some thought before exporting an image with GPS data embedded. For one reason or another, it's advisable to remove the GPS data from finished images that you plan share. Your client may thank you.

Recap and Learning Suggestions

Before I kept a location database, it was difficult to plan my client's shoots. The night before a shoot, I was still scrambling to think of locations or put together a shoot plan. Now, I turn to the location database as a solution.

If you're interested in the location database concept, here are three related tutorials on Tuts+:

  • Harry Guiness has a great piece on manually adding GPS data to your images. Basically, you use your smartphone to capture the GPS data and then add the GPS data to the images you're taking with your DSLR.
  • If you already do travel photography, use the trips as opportunities to add to your database. You never know when you might be able to return to the location and plan a client shoot. Marie Gardiner's tutorial on How to Plan your Travel Assignment is useful for the occasion.
  • If this course got you interested in Lightroom, check out the Adobe Lightroom for Photographers course.

How do you build your archive of photo shoot locations? Will you be trying the location database system? Leave a comment and let me know how you keep your shoots interesting!

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