Using Point-and-Shoot Cameras to Create a Photo Log (and More!) in Google Maps, Google Earth and GIS

The potential of cameras with on-board Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and compasses to aid in archaeological fieldwork are substantial. While my experience is limited to the Nikon Coolpix AW100, there are several point-and-shoot cameras on the market that can expand our current practices to create more robust photo logs using data exported directly from the camera.


From a business perspective, this decreases the time needed to create (then digitize) photo logs associated with field projects, and provides viewers with an improved contextual experience. While for some it has become second nature to think in terms of N246/E132, there are some of us (myself included) that would benefit greatly from a better system. This is not to say that the provenience data should not be included in the catalog; far from it. Rather, it provides a method by which it is possible to view each photo (and the direction the photo was taken, to include a variety of other attributes assigned by the user) within a more dynamic context.

In most cases, the photos would be renamed (perhaps inclusive of the provenance data), but for this demonstration, I chose to keep the default names (i.e., DSC8302, etc.). In the map below, you can view the selected attributes for each photo by clicking on the red balloon (I did not include the photos since they were quite large), which can change depending on your application, for photographs that I took at the Townsend Recreational Area in the Angelina National Forest this week.

This is a dynamic map – zoom, click and otherwise manipulate it!

This could also aid the efforts of cultural resource managers by allowing them to track fieldwork progress using a single file (when photos are included). In addition to Google Maps, these files can also be opened in Google Earth. To transfer photos from the Nikon Coolpix AW100 to Google Earth, follow the guidance in the .pdf below (from


Having the capacity to include the location and the direction of each digital photograph (along with a wide range of additional attributes) is useful in practice, and can also help to better illustrate progress to clients by emailing them a .kml (Google Maps) or .kmz (Google Earth) file that includes the photographs and various attributes associated with that day (or week’s) work.

For those of us that are a bit more nerdy, the .kmz/.kml files can also be converted to a shapefile for use in GIS (see below), where custom maps can be created to capitalize on each of the various attributes (including hyperlinked photographs). While I did not change the names of the photos (or pull out the various attributes/hyperlinks), I’m sure that you can imagine the possibilities here.


These new point-and-shoot cameras have a short learning curve and a lot of potential when it comes to archaeological projects (among many others; including those elusive…vacation projects). I have been using this technology for a few years now to map the sand sample collection areas for our petrofacies project, and have had some great results. Since the AW100 is sealed and has no external moving parts, you can also take underwater photographs (or, like me,  just not worry about it getting it wet in the rain or dropping it in the river [note – attach a flotation device to the strap so you don’t lose it!]).

I’ve been very impressed so far with this little camera, and am hoping to get many more years of use out of it. Note – there is a much-upgraded version available currently, and you can view the specs on the Nikon Coolpix AW130 by clicking here.


Written by zselden

I am a research associate in the Center for Regional Heritage Research at Stephen F. Austin State University, where my work is focused at the confluence of archaeology, art, engineering, computer science, and the humanities. I am particularly interested in the application of 3D technologies to archaeological problems, geometric morphometrics, network analyses, archaeological theory, and archaeological science.

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