The Garmin fēnix for Photographers

A perfect moment for a little help from my Garmin fēnix. Sunrise in a fog bank in the middle of the inside passage, somewhere in Alaska.  The watch has saved me hours of work in post production thanks to the GPX tracklog it stores.

How I use the Garmin fēnix and Adobe Lightroom to automate the process of geotagging my images

The Problem

When I decided to pursue photography as a profession, little did I know I was also signing up to become one part librarian and one part IT professional.  Every day spent in the field, results in at least one obligatory day in front of the computer color correcting, cataloguing, and captioning photographs – all necessary evils that add value to the final image for my clients.

One of the key pieces of metadata clients request is the photographs location information.  While easily added by hand to one or two images, the fun level quickly drops to zero trying to remember where a specific image was taken after a multi week assignment on another continent covering an assortment of locations and potentially thousands of frames.  Compounding this frustration, $300 point and shoot cameras come with built in GPS that automate this process, but $6000 pro DSLR cameras do not!

Needless to say, when I found a way to automate the task of entering location information into my photographs, I jumped at the opportunity as it meant less time in front of the computer, and more time doing ANYTHING else.

The Solution

With the release of Lightroom 5, Adobe gave its users the ability to import a GPS eXchange format log – or simply – GPX tracklog from a GPS device into the photographs EXIF data in the Lightroom database.  Adobe also gave Lightroom the ability to look at the GPS coordinates in the EXIF data and (assuming it is connected to the internet) reverse lookup and fill the IPTC Sub-location, City, State, and Country fields of the image – a process known as reverse geocoding.  In short, Lightroom can automatically put your photos on a map and make that location searchable if you have the right equipment.

The right equipment, it turns out, is the fēnix watch made by Garmin.  The fēnix does three things that make it the silver bullet for fully automating the painful process of adding location info to my pictures.

  1. It makes a GPX tracklog.
  2. It has a battery that lasts all day.
  3. It is rugged and can take the abuse of being in harsh field conditions.

I have been using the fēnix for over 6 months and continue to be impressed at what an elegant solution it is for the frustrating and time consuming problem of keeping track of photo locations captured in the field.  In addition to this, the watch can be customized to show the sunrise and sunset times on its main display – a small but incredibly useful feature when trying to determine the best setup location for sunset and if I have enough time to get there.

For any of you that already own a fēnix, click the Photography.gpf link below to download the custom settings profile that I created to use while photographing in the field.   To load the profile onto your watch, connect your watch to your computer via the USB cable and drag the Photography.gpf file into the Garmin>Profiles folder.

Photography.gpf

How to use the fēnix to reverse geocode images in Lightroom

Before you go

  1. fēnix setup – on the side of the watch, click the big orange button>Setup>Tracks>Output and set to GPX or GPX/FIT (do not set to FIT only).
  2. Camera setup –  sync the clock of your camera(s) with the fēnix.

In The Field

  1. Click the big orange button on the fēnix twice to start recording a GPX tracklog.  The watch will take between a few seconds to over a minute to acquire a lock on all the GPS satellites and begin recording.
  2. When you are done shooting, press and hold the bottom left hand button on the watch until it gives you the option to “Save Track”.  Highlight that option and click the big orange button to confirm.
  3. At this point the watch will ask if you want to stop the GPS?  Select “Yes” and confirm by pressing the big orange button.  This will save battery life.

At Home

  1. Download your images into your Lightroom catalog.
  2. Connect the fēnix to your computer with the USB cable provided with the watch.
  3. Open the “Map” module in Lightroom.
  4. Click on the lightening bolt icon just below the map in the center of the window and choose “load tracklog…”
  5. A finder window will now open.  Navigate to the Garmin device and open the Garmin>Garmin>GPX folder.  Inside this folder are the GPX tracklogs organized by the date and time they were created.  Load the correct GPX log for the day you are looking at in the catalog and click “choose”.
  6. The tracklog will appear as a blue line overlaid on the google map in Lightroom.
  7. Select all the photographs in the Lightroom filmstrip, click the lightning bolt icon in the map module and select “Auto-Tag Photos”.  Lightroom will now overlay the images onto the tracklog and reverse fill the Sub-location, City, State and Country fields in the IPTC metadata.

How to Geotag in Lightroom from a GPX log

Note

I have fond one minor software bug in the fēnix – but it is an important one to be aware of for anyone relying on the watch to wake them up in the field.   If I set alarms on the watch and then cross a time zone, the watch will automatically update to the correct time zone, but the alarms will cease to work.  The only work around I have found is to delete 100% of the alarms saved on the watch upon crossing a time zone – and then setting them up anew.

Conclusion

The Garmin fēnix paired with Lightroom 5’s map module has become an essential part of my workflow and has saved me days of office drudgery.

4 thoughts on “The Garmin fēnix for Photographers”

  1. Hi – I’ve just bought my fenix (on offer now the v2 is out and they are discontinuing it) and interested in the photography profile.
    What have you got in the profile, does it use the ultra tracking mode for example?

    Thanks in advance – yet another use for my new watch!

  2. In the photography profile, I customized the “home” screen to display surmise/set times as well as remaining battery life. When the GPS is running – I turned on ultra-tracking mode to optimize battery life. Also in track mode, I have the compass as one of the custom screens and set the orange button to start/stop GPS only (not auto save track) so I can pause my track during the day if needed, and re-start it when needed again. To save the track the lower right button must be pressed and held for a few seconds. Hope you find it useful!

  3. Thanks for the heads up on the alternate software. To sync the fenix clock to your camera clock – simply go into your camera’s time date settings and set it to the same time as your fenix watch. Hope you give the Lightroom method a try – it is really slick!

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