Best way to upload photos from an iPhone, and preserve location information (or: review of Flickup for iPhone)

I use Flickr to store my photos online. You can “geotag” your photos on Flickr, to show where, exactly, they were taken (on a map). I’ve geotagged most of the 4000+ photos I have on Flickr. By hand, dragging them to the correct location on the map. What a pain.

The iPhone, with the new 2.0 software, can take pictures and tag them with your current location (if you have an iPhone 3G with real GPS, this location information is usually MUCH more precise). Suddenly, the dream of being able to get photos from the iPhone to Flickr, WITHOUT having to manually geotag or othewise manipulate them, seemed to be within reach.

So close, yet so far away.

Right now, there are a few ways to get photos from an iPhone to Flickr. The easiest, I think, is to setup the “upload by email” feature on Flickr. This gives you a secret email address that, when sent a photo as an attachment, uploads the photo to Flickr for you. This is how I get iPhone photos onto Flickr 99% of the time. The downside is, the photos get sent at a much smaller size (640×480) than they were taken at (1600×1200). On top of that, all of the “EXIF” metadata (what make and model camera took the picture, what exposure settings were used, etc.) gets stripped off of the photo when it’s emailed. This includes the geotag/location information. So it arrives at Flickr shrunken and lobotomized and unaware of where it was taken. So sad.

Once the App Store launched, Flickr uploader apps started appearing in droves. AirMe seems to be a popular one, but I tested it, and it didn’t preserve the geodata, (and I think it shrunk the photos, too). So I deleted it.

I’ve been watching the development of an app called Flickup with interest. The author, Martin Gordon (@kodachrome22 on Twitter), is someone I kind of know from Ars Technica. But most importantly, the feature list of Flickup looked promising – it can upload photos and preserve the geotag/location information. It’s not free ($1.99), so I waited a little longer to try it than I would have otherwise, but try it I have, and I’m pleased (if not 100% ecstatic) with the results.

First of all, Flickup DOES preserve the geotag information of the photos it uploads (with a caveat):

Flickup Geo Test

This is a photo I took from within the Flickup app, and uploaded straight to Flickr. The app asked me for permission to use my location (like all location-aware iPhone apps do), which I granted, et viola! The photo appears on the map where it was taken (to the best of my iPhone’s knowledge). Click on the photo then click “map” to see it – I can’t figure out a way to direct link to a single photo on the map on Flickr.

Even better, for photos taken from within the Flickup app (as opposed to uploading saved pictures from the Photo Album), the photos go up to Flickr in their full 2 megapixel 1600×1200 glory.

If you’re looking for an app ONLY to take pictures, and send them directly to Flickr, you can stop reading here. Flickup is perfect, and does everything you’d expect it to (you can edit the title, description, and tags of the photos, etc., too).

So what are the caveats? They have to do with uploading saved pictures from the iPhone’s Photo Album.

First, when you upload a saved photo from the album, it goes as a shrunken 640×480 version. Martin says this has to do with some limitations in the iPhone’s APIs (which I believe). He also says that the API is the cause of all the other EXIF metadata being stripped from the photos (which is probably what makes this such a problem in the first place – fix your stupid APIs, Apple!) Don’t count this against Martin or Flickup.

Second, when you upload a saved picture from the album, Flickup WILL geotag it, but it appears to grab your CURRENT location (it asks), rather than use the location data stored in the photo. In other words, it will geotag the photo with the location of where it was UPLOADED, instead of where it was TAKEN. Martin acknowledges this is sub-optimal.

Flickup from Photo Album Test

(A photo uploaded from my Photo Album, but geotagged at the time of upload.)

If what Martin says about the Apple APIs stripping out EXIF metadata (and again, I have no reason not to believe this is true), then there’s probably no way for Flickup (or any other photo uploader app) to preserve a photo’s ORIGINAL location information. The best we can hope for is how Flickup works – tag it with the location at the time of upload. If you take photos and upload them immediately, then there’s really no difference. But it’s super annoying that Apple comes SO CLOSE to making this work the way it should, yet falls short in the home stretch.

So, is Flickup worth the $1.99 in the App Store? If you’re a Flickr user that cares about a) uploading pictures at full size instead of 640×480, and/or actually preserving all that fancy location data that your iPhone can tack onto your photos, then yes, absolutely. Flickup is the way to go for full size geotagged Flickr uploading goodness.

There’s still room in this field for perfection. But it seems that it will depend on Apple making changes to the photo and location APIs on the iPhone, or some really clever developers figuring out ways to get around those restrictions. Guess which one I’m betting on happening first? 😉


10 thoughts on “Best way to upload photos from an iPhone, and preserve location information (or: review of Flickup for iPhone)

  1. Pingback: jkOnTheRun

  2. Great stuff! I was just telling my wife about this app last night and she downloaded it right away!

    I’ve been using Adobe LightRoom to upload my pics to Flickr on my mac (Flickr Uploader for Windows Live Gallery on my PC). Check out this picture: It preserves the lon and lat info but doesn’t automatically link it to a map 🙁

    Not sure if this link will work… it would take you to the page that shows lon and lat:

  3. Martin says:

    Haven’t tried Flickup, but Mobile Fotos is a Flickr-specific app that does everything you’ve mentioned and more very nicely indeed. Worth checking out.

  4. So, a free app called AirMe will do the same thing for free, but that’s not what I wanted to tell you.

    I’m thinking of doing a post on my workflow to Flickr with my “real camera.” I’ve wanted a cheap/easy way to geotag all my photos from my Canon XTi for a while, but most of the solutions look kind of painful and frankly, most of the photos in a given set are in the same “place” at least from a lat/long perspective.

    Essentially, I take a picture with the iPhone with AirMe, upload it and then copy all the geo info over to the rest of my images in Organizr. Not exactly rocket science, but I always have my iPhone with me, so I can always get accurate geo-data.

    I wish there were a way to copy this geodata into Lightroom, but it seems I gotta wait on jfriedl to write a solution for this.

    Looking forward to meeting you at Gnomedex (I don’t think we’ve met in real life before).


  5. Martin and Randy – I’ve tried AirMe (and have heard about Mobile Fotos), and they didn’t send full sized photos, or preserve geodata in the photos I tested with (or offer the option to geotag at upload time), but that was a while ago. Have they added those features? Perhaps I should give them another look. But right now, Flickup is the only app I know of for sure that does the things that are important to me – full size uploads, and geotagging.

  6. Sorcha says:

    Hi there. Very intersting article. I was wondering if you know how to see the location taken info actually on ur phone?? Thanks!!

  7. Hello says:

     is Flickup worth the $1.99 ? here in austria you can’t even get a sandwich for this price..  maybe a 330ml can of coca cola. if you’re lucky.

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