Windows Photo Gallery, Geotags and Other Issues

Microsoft has recently released a new version of Windows Live Photo Gallery. In keeping with Microsoft’s plan to kill off the “Live” branding, it is now simply known as “Photo Gallery”, and the suite of software utilities is now known as Windows Essentials, rather than the old name of Windows Live Essentials.

Since this is a step change in the software (it’s now at version 16.4.3503.728, while the last version of Windows Live Photo Gallery was 15.4.3538.513), I thought I’d take another look at it.

Apart from the name change, not much seems to have been done with the product. Yes, Microsoft has added in the possibility to publish videos to the Vimeo service and Photo Gallery now includes an Auto-Collage feature by default (this was a downloadable plug-in for the previous version), but that’s about it.

However, while playing around with it, I discovered there was an issue with the way in which Photo Gallery was handling geotags.

Some of you may recall that, when it was first released in 2010, Windows Live Photo Gallery had a major problem with geotags.  It was writing out GPS coordinate data into photos that was often completely wrong. Microsoft got this fixed in December 2010.

And there the matter rested, or so I thought.

However, I have discovered another issue related to geotags in Photo Gallery. For a long time now, Microsoft has said that it holds to the principle that “the truth is in the file”. That means that metadata you apply to your photos is part of the photo, and available to any application that knows how to read it. But I’ve found that this does not apply to geotags in all cases. Photo Gallery looks to see if the image contains metadata, and if so, the following operations occur:

  • If the photo contains Keywords in its metadata, these are added to PG’s list of Descriptive Tags, which it holds in its database and displayed alongside the photo in PG’s information pane. 
  • If the photo contains technical data in Exif (e.g. date taken, shutter and ISO speeds, etc.), these will be copied to PG’s database and displayed in PG’s information pane.
  • If the photo contains GPS coordinates in its metadata when it’s examined by PG, reverse geocoding will be triggered and the location is displayed as text addresses in the information pane.

The screenshot below shows a photo taken with my Nokia Lumia 800 Windows Phone being displayed in Photo Gallery (click for the full-sized image).

WPG test 10

In the information pane on the right, you can see some of the metadata present in the image being shown, including the GPS Latitude and Longitude (at the bottom right). Photo Gallery has used this GPS data to do reverse geocoding via a Bing service to resolve the coordinates to an address. That is being shown under the Geotag heading in the information pane. By default, only the City and Province/State data is shown (i.e. Aalten, Gelderland in this case). The full address is shown in a tooltip if the mouse cursor is placed over the Geotag – in this case, Bing has said that the GPS data is for the location: Tammeldijk 6, Aalten, Gelderland, Netherlands.

As an aside, Bing has actually got the address wrong. It should be Tammeldijk 4, not 6. Google Maps will show the correct address, if fed these GPS coordinates…

So, Photo Gallery has just generated some location data based on the GPS coordinates. Now the question is, how is it going to stay with the principle of “the truth is in the file”? It needs to write this generated data out into the image metadata in some fashion. How will it do this, and what standard will it use? I need to make a short digression here into the murky waters of industry standards…

One very common industry standard for location (and other) metadata used in photos is that defined by the International Press and Telecommunications Council. Back in the early 1990s, the IPTC defined a standard for image metadata: IPTC-IIM. This became widely adopted and supported in many software tools and applications. However, it had design limitations, and the IPTC introduced a new version in 2005, based on the XMP standard, known as IPTC Core. Many software tools and applications handle both standards, and keep the metadata content synchronised between the legacy IIM and the new Core standards. Along with the Core standard, the IPTC also published a set of extensions, known, unsurprisingly, as Extension. The IPTC Core and Extension are published together as the IPTC Photo Metadata Standards.

Both IPTC-IIM and IPTC Core contain fields for defining locations. Essentially, both define a hierarchy of (sub)location, city, state/province, country and country code. I, like many other photographers, use these fields for assigning locations to my photographs.

However, somewhere along the line, photographers realised that the term “location” was ambiguous. Did it refer to where the photograph was taken, or did it refer to the location depicted in the photograph? These were not necessarily the same place. The standards did not specify a resolution to this conundrum. That is why, in the IPTC Extension standard, there are two sets of location fields: the location where the photograph was created, and the location depicted in the image.

Clearly, the GPS coordinates reflect the location where the photograph was created, and Microsoft elected to use the IPTC Extension LocationCreated fields to store the results of the reverse geocoding lookup. The correct decision, in my opinion.

Back in 2010 when I found that false GPS coordinates were being written out to my photos, what was happening was that Windows Live Photo Gallery was doing the following:

  • If a file contained IPTC-IIM or Core location metadata when it was brought into WLPG, then WLPG used the IPTC Location data to set the location strings in the geotag field of the info pane, and wrote them out into the image metadata as IPTC LocationCreated fields.
  • If the file did not contain GPS coordinates, WLPG would attempt to use the Location metadata with a Bing lookup to get the closest match for the GPS coordinates. In many cases, “the closest match” was miles away, or even in another country…
  • WLPG would then write out its idea of the “correct” GPS coordinates into the Exif metadata of the image.

I, and other photographers, who had been using IPTC-IIM/Core location metadata, suddenly found our photo collections filled with false GPS coordinates. We complained, and Microsoft responded and changed the way in which WLPG worked. Microsoft told me the changes were:

  • GPS coordinates on a file are read-only inside of WLPG.  WLPG will never add, change or delete the GPS coordinates.
  • If a file contains GPS coordinates when it’s brought in to WLPG, reverse geocoding will be triggered and location strings are displayed in the info pane, users can rename or remove the strings but GPS coordinates won’t be touched. Users may Rename a location but it will then leave a mismatch between the coordinates and the string since the coordinates are read-only.
  • If a file does not contain GPS coordinates, users will be able to geotag by adding a string (that gets validated against Bing as it does today) but no GPS coordinates are added to the file.  The user can remove the string or rename it.
  • If the file contains a geo name only, there will be no GPS coordinates calculated for it.

What I now see that I missed at the time is that WLPG, and now PG, no longer write out the result of a reverse geocode lookup into the IPTC Extension LocationCreated fields when the lookup is triggered by the presence of GPS coordinates in the image.

The only time that LocationCreated metadata gets written out into the image is when the user makes an explicit change to the geotag information in PG. And it has to be a real change. I can open up the “rename location” panel, and click “Save”, but unless I’ve actually made a change in the data, nothing gets written out as metadata – the geotag information resides solely in Photo Gallery’s local database. In other words, the truth is no longer in the file.

This screenshot shows the “rename location” panel. Clicking “save” does not make Photo Gallery write out the metadata, because I’ve left the contents unchanged.

WPG test 2

In this screenshot, I’ve changed “Tammeldijk 6” to “Tammeldijk 4”, and now when I clicked “Save”, the LocationCreated metadata was written out.

WPG test 3

This strikes me as a bit counter-intuitive. I would think that clicking “Save” in both cases should force a write of metadata. After all, if Microsoft is going to say that writing out of metadata should be under the explicit control of the user (which I tend to agree with), then even if I don’t change the result of the reverse lookup, I should be able to confirm my acceptance of it by the act of clicking “Save”. If I don’t want PG to write out the metadata, then I would click “Cancel” instead.

So we currently have here a design where “the truth is in the file” is not fully in place, and where user confirmation is inconsistent.

That’s poor design, and a poor user experience, in my book.

I have to say that in one way, I’m rather thankful that the design is still broken. That’s because one of the other bugs in Photo Gallery is still present: it corrupts Canon Makernotes data when it writes out metadata to images. Just imagine: Photo Gallery would be finding location data or GPS coordinates in my photos and writing out LocationCreated metadata to those images. And in doing so, it would be merrily corrupting the Makernotes metadata in every single one of those images. Shudder.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
This entry was posted in Computers and Internet, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Windows Photo Gallery, Geotags and Other Issues

  1. Pingback: Microsoft’s Photo Gallery – Yet Another Missed Opportunity? | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  2. osm says:

    Thanks for the useful articles on how Picasa and WPG.

    I’m having an issue with Picasa / WPG interoperability. I don’t think it has been mentioned in your articles: After editing some photos in WPG, its useful to be able to quickly locate the photos which have been edited so that I don’t lose track of them. The Edited button in the Find ribbon is useful for this. An edit of the metadata in WPG (e.g. adding a tag) is not treated as an edit for this purpose, and that’s how I like it. When I use find->edit, I want to find pixel edits, not metadata edits. However, if I tag some photos in Picasa and then use Find->Edit in WPG, it will find those photos that have had the tags added/modified in Picasa. This obviously renders the Find->Edit function in WPG useless, because I can no longer find my pixel edits.

    Are you aware of this? If not, are you able to reproduce it? Who is at fault, Picasa or WPG?

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      osm – I’m not sure what criteria WPG is using to classify an image as “edited”. On the face of it, it looks as though WPG is using a pixel edit as the criterion, but there may be something else going on that changes in Picasa is affecting. I currently don’t have Picasa installed on my PC so I can’t test this. I’ll take a look using my other image editing tools and see if I can reproduce something similar to what you are seeing.

  3. JL Beeken says:

    Coupe – I’m catching up in my rss reader and came upon this. Your patience after all this time is nothing short of outstanding. Frankly, I don’t even want to know what damage PG and Picasa are still inflicting (wake me up when it’s over) but it’s (sort of) fun to find out in passing. (You have such a delicate way with language.) And then I can forget about them again. Oh, oops, not quite yet. Still have two years to go in repairing the date/time damage from WLPG.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      I suspect I have masochistic tendencies. It sometimes feels like a Sisyphean task, trying to get Microsoft or Google to fix things – or even acknowledge that something’s wrong. Case in point, this WLPG behavior for renaming locations – I’ve just been informed by the product team that this behavior is “by design”. It may be piss-poor design, but by god, it’s their design, and they’re standing by it…

  4. JL says:

    Since all that fun we had in 2010 I keep my photos as far away from Windows as I possibly can and still use a Windows OS.

    But, here’s one (small) thing that I still can’t get away from: That option under View called ‘Choose Details’. There are hundreds of ‘fields’ of some kind that can supposedly be displayed in columns across the screen. What are these fields?

    Only a VERY few of them have anything to do with IPTC metadata. And then everywhere I go where there’s a photo to view the ‘info bar’ at the bottom of the screen doesn’t even bother to use standard fields. Keywords become ‘tags’. Caption becomes ‘subject’. Object name becomes ‘title’. Would it be so damn difficult to just get with the program? Obviously.

    I’m finding Windows can search at least a little bit of what I enter using Photo Mechanic or GeoSetter. It will search location fields entered in other programs but, still, it won’t display it in its columns.

    It’s the usual schmozzle I see in too many places. They’re sort of doing something but not really.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Those fields are the metadata that Windows knows about. They are drawn from a variety of sources. Some of them are metadata that Microsoft has defined for Windows file properties. Some of them are properties used by applications such as Microsoft Office (e.g. Business Phone). Some of them are used by Windows Media Player, and are ID2 tags used to add metadata to audio files. And some of them are Exif and IPTC/XMP metadata used in images.

      Being a whole mishmash of metadata, and one that has, essentially, just growed, like Topsy, then there is a lot of “junk DNA” in there. As you’ve noted, some of the names are different, or associated with different fields to what you might expect.

      I’m afraid that there’s not much chance of this stuff being cleaned up by now – we’re probably stuck with it. Like the fact that the qwerty keyboard is a historical accident that just won’t die in favour of more logical layouts.

      You can use Windows Explorer to create a Details view displaying the metadata that you want in columns. First, open a Folder using the Details view (so that the standard columns are displayed across the top. Then move the mouse to the column heading line and right-click. You’ll then see a list of the most commonly-used properties. Click on “More…” to see the full list. Check the properties that you want to be displayed, and click OK.

      You can drag the column headings around to get the order that you want.
      You should be able to search on any of these fields. If a property has more than one word (e.g. Camera Maker), then just take out the spaces, append a colon, and it searches in that property. So, for example, in the “Search” box of Windows Explorer, if I want to find images in the Folder(s) I’ve got displayed that were taken with a Canon camera, I’d enter “cameramaker: canon” in the search field (without the quotes). I can do these searches without needing to have the columns being displayed.

      There are other Search operators that can be useful. Try date: or datetaken: in the Search field, for example…

      • JL says:

        That’s pretty funny. All these years and I didn’t know I could right-click on the column headings. The ‘More’ box I knew about. It’s my worst nightmare.

        I really hope they don’t change the qwerty layout because it took me 50 years and several attempts before I learned to type and now I’ve really got it down. Can hardly hold a pencil anymore.

  5. Pingback: Picasa versus Windows Live Photo Gallery | Geoff Coupe's Blog

  6. Grizzley Rob says:

    I am wondering if you may have any suggestions on an issue I have with Windows Photo Gallery. I have gone through and Geotagged all of my pictures, but when I imported the pictures into Light Room I found that the Lat/Long didn’t import. After many investigations I realized that even thought I geotagged the pictures the Lat/Long was not written to the properties of the pictures. Is there any way to get a Lat/Long to write to all my pictures without having to go and re-geotag them all now in Light Room?

  7. Mike says:

    Thanks Geoff – very interesting stuff. I have a query similar to Grizzly Rob – I have some old photos that do not have GPS Lat/Long data. I have geotagged the photos using PG, but other programs ignore this data..
    Is there some way to get the Lat/Long data written to the file; perhaps a different program?

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Mike, I would reccommend Geosetter for this (http://www.geosetter.de/en). It’s an excellent program.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Mike, a question of clarification: when you say that you “geotagged the photos using PG”, I assume that you are using Microsoft’s definition of the term “geotagging”, and using the “Geotag” feature of PG?

      I ask this, because Microsoft, as usual, are defining the term “geotag” in their own way, and differently from everybody else. What Microsoft is actually doing is “geocoding”, rather than geotagging. See here for a full discussion of the differences:
      https://gcoupe.wordpress.com/2011/12/10/picasa-versus-windows-live-photo-gallery/

      You cannot use PG to define GPS Lat/Long data (which is what a geotag is), PG will only handle geocoding – using textual address fields, and it won’t write any of this out into the image file’s metadata, but only store it in PG’s local database.

      So if you want to actually use Lat/Long data, you’re going to have to use something like GeoSetter to store the GPS data into the image file’s metadata.

      • Mike says:

        You interpreted me correctly. When I said geotagging, I actually meant geocoding. I will try GeoSetter – thanks for the suggestion. Do you think it will take my PG geocodes and automatically convert them to true geotags (ie lat/long settings)?

        • Geoff Coupe says:

          Mike, I’m afraid that GeoSetter does not take geocodes and use them to produce Lat/Long coordinates – I don’t know of any program that would do this. It would be a very tricky thing to do, because textual information is free-form. An earlier version of PG tried to do this, and it was an absolute disaster. False GPS coordinates got placed in thousands of my files. Microsoft eventually withdrew this feature following an outcry from users.

          You’ll have to manually generate the GPS data in GeoSetter by selecting your photos (either individually or in groups, as the case may be), and then placing a marker pin in the map interface of GeoSetter. That will write out the GPS coordinates into the image metadata.

          • Mike says:

            Yep… thought as much. Thanks for all your advice, it has been extremely helpful. And nice to know someone is keeping an eye on Microsoft 😉

  8. Hi Geoff Coupe,

    Thanks for all your information regarding metatagging. Your name has popped up on a few sites I have looked at for advice. I wondered if I asked you for a recomendation you may be oblige me with some more.

    I work for a small organisation that has a backlog of images to be tagged with metadata. After this they would like to upload to flickr and have an online photo database staff can utilise. This would contain basic tags like the photographer, the year taken, a rating, and some other simple tags.

    Geotagging would be great. Could you recommend a programme that would help us. I have had a play with Geosetter though find it a bit difficult to navigate. I will be training some students to help us with tagging so I need something quite intuitive. Metadata templates would also be great for basic, repeating tags.

    Thanks very much,
    Chris,
    Wellington, New Zealand.

  9. Michael Lee says:

    Geoff –

    Today I downloaded and installed the latest version of Photo Gallery. I made copies of several Canon geotagged photos and renamed their location (just enough for it to “stick”) in Photo Gallery. Comparing the originals to the renamed versions (using the tool ExamDiff) the only changes observed were the four added XMP LocationCreated tags. No Canon Makernote metadata (or indeed any other metadata) was changed, corrupted, added or deleted. This is very good performance, in that most software modify metadata they actually shouldn’t.

    This all leads me to believe that your previously observed behavior of metadata corruption has been fixed.

    Mike
    (former Canon rep, Michigan, and supporter of the Embedded Metadata Manifesto)
    GPStamper.co.nr

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Mike,

      What version of Photo Gallery have you got installed?

      I am using build 16.4.3508.205, which as far as I am aware is the latest.

      And I have just retested the Makernotes corruption, and it’s still there on my images. I am using a Canon 450D camera, and adding a Descriptive tag to an image that has been produced by the camera is still resulting in Makernotes corruption…

      Here’s a screenshot of part of the Exif contents (using Geosetter to display the metadata) before applying the descriptive tag using Photo Gallery:

      http://sdrv.ms/1hqcu9W

      And here’s the metadata content after using Photo Gallery to add a descriptive Tag:

      http://sdrv.ms/15MHph1

      Thanks.

  10. Geoff,

    I’ve tagged and rated hundreds of photos and video clips in Windows Photo Gallery (Build 16.4.3508.205). I really like the organizational features that can be applied to all media types, whether or not the files themselves can store metadata.

    I discovered too late that the metadata that is stored in the pictures.pd6 file cannot be used or exported to another PC without employing some extraordinary measures. That means I can’t move selected files to a laptop or tablet (Surface) along with the metadata. It also means that someday, when I migrate to the next desktop, it will be very challenging to move the metadata along with the libraries.

    Are you aware of:

    1. Any evidence of Microsoft development activities that might address migration or exporting of Photo Gallery database metadata? It seems like migration of media libraries from one PC to another should be supported.

    2. Any third party application that can convert the metadata in pictures.pd6 to another organizer application’s database or “sidecar” files?

    Thanks,

    MikeV

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Mike, I’m not aware of any utilities (either Microsoft-developed or third party) that allow the exporting of data from the pictures.pd6 database. It’s quite possible that Microsoft has such utilities for internal use, but they’ve never made them publically available to my knowledge.

      Some metadata should already be duplicated in the photos themselves (e.g. descriptive tags, people tags, captions, Exif data and ratings), so when you move the photos to another platform, this metadata will move along with the photos. However, this is only true for photos in the JPEG format. If you have photos in RAW format, then Photo Gallery only has metadata that you apply to them held in the pictures.pd6 database. That may also be the case for video files – I don’t tag video clips, so I don’t know how Photo Gallery behaves.

      For the most part, Microsoft has adopted cross-industry standards for the metadata stored in JPEG images, so you should be able to pick up most of the metadata from the images themselves.

  11. J says:

    Hello Geoff — I have a question for you, after stumbling via a Google search across this blog post. I have a Nokia 920 Windows phone. I just downloaded an app called GeoPhoto, because (as an urban planner) I want to be able to do field work, photographing sites that I will later need to describe, comment on, etc. Is there an easy way that I can add the photos I take with my Windows phone/GeoPhoto app to Google maps? Do you happen to know if there is an easy way to add the photos I take with my Windows phone/GeoPhoto app to ESRI’s ArcGIS (a very common/popular Geographic Information System program/platform?
    Thanks in advance,
    john

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      John, sorry, but I don’t know the answers to your questions. You could have the photos you take synced to your OneDrive Camera Roll, where they would be available to add to other apps and applications such as Google Earth and Google Maps (and you can have the GPS coordinates included in the metadata) on a PC; but I’m not aware of anything that would do everything via the phone itself. Same for ArcGIS. You could try asking your question over in the ArcGIS forums; someone might know a way to do this.

  12. Kayla says:

    I know that this article was written back in 2012 so I don’t know if I will get a response.I figured I’d ask anyways. ツ

    This article was written about the geotag feature on Windows Photo Gallery but I have got a question concerning the description tag feature that I was hoping to could help me with. When I click on ‘manage tags’ it takes me a list of all the descriptive tags associated with my photos on my computer. The vast majority of these descriptive tags I haven’t tagged them to the photos myself. Tags like feelings, disorder, framework, etc. Completely random tags that has nothing to do with the actual photo itself. Windows Photo Gallery seems to be automatically putting these descriptive tags onto my photos by itself. Whenever I click the option to manage the description tags it does give me the option to delete the tags. I was wondering though, is there anyway to change the settings so that Windows Photo Gallery doesn’t automatically put their own descriptive tags on my photos?

    Thanks in advance,
    Kayla

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Hello Kayla,
      I’m wondering whether at least one of the photo folders you have included in Windows Photo Gallery is a OneDrive folder?

      You see, OneDrive will automatically try and tag photos that it finds, and if the OneDrive folder that is in the OneDrive cloud is set to automatically sync itself with the folder that is on your PC, then these tags will be synced along with the photos (because they are metadata contained in the photos themselves).

      Once the tags are in the photos that you have on your PC, then Windows Photo Gallery will see them and add them to the list of tags that it has.

      If this is what is happening, you can turn off OneDrive’s automatic tagging of your photos. Go to OneDrive with your web browser, and click on the gear icon next to your account photos (top right of the title bar running across the top of OneDrive). That takes you to OneDrive’s options. Click on ” Tagging”, and there you will see where you can turn off OneDrive’s automatic tagging of photos.

      Once you’ve done that, then once you delete the unwanted tags from within Windows Photo Gallery, these tags should also get deleted from the synced photos in the OneDrive cloud as well.

      • Kayla says:

        Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou! I do have OneDrive installed onto my computer, I;m going to OneDrive’s website now to change my settings. I had also Googled my question & couldn’t find an answer so I appreciate it verrry much.

  13. Mark says:

    Geoff – nice article with useful information.
    Another question for you. I am new in using PG and learning how to best use the GeoTag feature. Could you please tell me which metadata fields the GeoTag writes to for the 4 fields; that is, which fields in the Windows Explorer file do the map to?
    Thank you in advance for your assistance.
    Mark

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Mark, it’s been a while since I used PG, but at the time, as I wrote in the post, PG used the IPTC LocationCreated fields to store Geotag data. As far as I’m aware, these fields are neither exposed, nor mapped to alternatives in Windows Explorer.

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