Automating CAP photo processing

I’m not a fan of handwritten notes, nor of retyping handwritten information when it needs to be in electronic format. And I love automation, happily spending ten hours figuring out how to make something happen with minimal input from me in the hopes of saving an hour ten times down the road. That route reduces error and frustration, I think.

I am now using two programs to process photos for Civil Air Patrol. Neither of them is mine, nor is the idea of combining them. However, for my own sake, I wrote out a basic summary of the process, and I thought I may as well post it here, since I get a lot of hits for other basic, CAP-related info, like radios and uniforms. It’s really an improvement over the more-often used procedures; for example, who wants to sit around Google-mapping coordinates to find closest cities, then typing those city names into a spreadsheet?

Here it is, a CAP image-processing procedure using GeoSetter and RoboGEO to process photos with embedded location and direction information. It’s more than a few steps, but most of them are just clicking on the right button or menu.

  • Use a camera that internally or by use of an external GPS records GPS location and electronic-compass heading information.
  • Ensure the camera time is set to GPS time in UTC, not a local timezone.
  • Turn on the camera power and allow the GPS to acquire a fix.
  • Put the electronic compass into calibration mode and rotate it per manufacturer’s directions to calibrate it.
  • Do the AP mission:
    • Set up the CAP AP kneeboard log sheet with the list of known targets, if possible, prior to flight.
    • Keep a basic log of the number of pictures taken on each target and a list of targets if that is not known and logged before the flight. Alternately, keep the list of targets and shoot a picture of something in the airplane between targets to separate them.
  • Download the pictures from the camera or media card to your computer.
  • Start GeoSetter to encode city, state and target information in the photos:
    • Browse to the folder containing the downloaded files.
    • Download city and state data:
      • Select all of the photos, and from the Images menu choose Edit Data.
      • On the Location tab to the right of the list of photos, there are two sections: GPS Data (containing your photos data) and Location (empty). At the bottom of the Location section, choose Get All From Web.
      • In the window that pops up, verify that the State and City are within reason. Ignore the Sublocation field. Click Select Nearest for All to download city and state information.
      • Back in the Edit Data window, click OK to return to the main program window.
    • Using your logs, title the targets:
      • Select the photo(s) of each target, in turn, and from the Images menu choose Edit Data again.
      • Enter the target title into the Sublocation field under the Location tab.
      • At the bottom, click Set Current Value for All Selected Images.
      • In the window that pops up, ensure that only the box for Sublocation is checked and press OK.
      • Repeat for your other targets.
    • From the Images menu, click Save Changes. GeoSetter will edit the photos’ metadata with the information you have set.
  • Start RoboGEO with the /CAP switch to correct the heading and stamp the photos (NOTE: Prior to a mission, you should have created a shortcut to RoboGEO with the switch, experimented with the processing and configured RoboGEO as necessary to ensure the information needed on the photo is being stamped.):
    • In the File menu, click Get Images and Entire Folder, then select the folder containing the photos you’ve now downloaded and processed with GeoSetter.
    • Select all of the photos, right-click on one of them and choose Edit Direction. Select Relative to the current image direction, enter the magnetic declination from the map or chart covering the photo run, and click OKto convert your camera’s magnetic-north headings to true-north headings. Note the change in the photo list in the main screen.
    • From the File menu, select Process and Stamp Images. In the window that pops up, designate an output folder different from the folder containing your original photos.
    • In the next dialog box, click Yes to designate the north arrows. The next prompt will inform you that the north arrows have already been set. Click OK there and click Done in the remaining North Arrows screen to close it.
    • The next prompt will ask if you want to edit IPTC data. These data were already configured using GeoSetter, so click No here.
    • RoboGEO will process the photos.
  • Verify that everything was done correctly prior to deleting the original files from the original folder on your computer and from the camera or memory card.
  • Deliver the photos from the new, processed-photos folder to the customer via WMIRS or other method as directed.

The first and most essential step for automating this is to geocode the photos as they are shot. I do that with a Nikon DSLR and the Geotagger 3 from Solmeta (currently $189). It has a better reputation online than the Nikon GP-1 or its cheap knockoffs, it keeps its GPS fix well, and it has an electronic compass inside. The compass seems to be about as reliable as a consumer-grade electronic compass, but it works as well as or better than manual logs that estimate the deflection of the camera lens off the current heading of the aircraft. For more widespread, high-volume missions, something like this timer control becomes necessary and connects to the Solmeta unit.

Of course, you also need the software. GeoSetter is freeware, so that’s easy. RoboGEO is not, but it seems well worth the current price of $79.95.

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