Geolocation Methods: A step by step guide

by M_osint

In Short: This guide takes you through a detailed process of geolocating photos and videos, moving from basic to more advanced techniques and skills. You will learn about different tools that can help with geolocation as well as experience them in action with different case studies that we will solve step by step. By the end of the guide, you will be able to practice and replicate these examples using your internet access and the freely available online tools we introduce below.

This article was originally authored in Arabic by @M_osint. For the original text in Arabic, click here.

لدليل تحديد المواقع الجرافية باللغة العربية، اضغط هنا

What is geolocation and why is it important?

To “geolocate” means to identify the exact geographic location of an object or event on the surface of the Earth often by specifying its geographic coordinates - latitude and longitude - using maps. In the case of photos and videos this means identifying where in the world they were taken.

Understanding location coordinates

The latitude and longitude (also known as lat-long) coordinates system divides the earth into a grid of horizontal and vertical lines and is used to accurately pinpoint any location.

Latitude measures how far a place is north or south of the equator. The equator is 0^o^ latitude, with the north pole at 90^o^ N and the south pole at 90^o^ south.

Longitude measures how far a place is east or west of the prime meridian, which is at 0^o^ longitude. 180^o^ east and 180^o^ west would represent the same point, on the opposite side of the globe from the prime meridian.

Latitude and longitude coordinates can be written in a number of formats:

  • Degrees / minutes: 52°31.86797’ N, 013°24.03009’ W

  • Degrees / minutes / seconds: 52°31’52.0784” N, 013°24’01.8054” W

  • Decimal: 52.5311329 lat, -13.4005015 long. North of equator is positive (plus is usually not marked), south negative (marked with a “-”). East of the prime meridian is positive, west is negative. Example of latitude and longitude of a place in Google Maps.

Read more about using / creating maps to find locations or to visualise data in the ETI Kit Guide “Using Maps to See Beyond the Obvious”, by Alison Killing

There are several ways to do this. This guide will focus on the event in which we need to geolocate images by the elements visible in the picture, making use of available mapping services and tools.

Geolocation has become a major part of journalistic investigations or open source intelligence (OSINT) inquiries as it can answer the questions of where and when an event / incident took place. Confirming the place as well as the time of an incident recorded in a video is often key in providing evidence that an event happened or did not happen as claimed. Geolocation makes it possible to draw maps of a military conflict and to see the progress of forces on the ground. Criminals can also be pursued by tracking the spatial line of their movements, as well as tracking transfers of products and equipment between countries.

The answer to the question “where” is a major pillar of completing an investigation.

In what follows, we will look at how free online maps can be used to accurately locate online media. But first, let’s get to know the major free map service providers.

What sites provide mapping services?

The use of maps has become a major part of our daily lives. We use them to find our way to a destination, to know more about a new place we want to visit, or to add new images and details to existing maps. But we can also use them in reverse: to identify locations and verify details of photos and videos that other people make and share.

Mapping the world is a large, powerful and constantly growing industry. Specialized companies launch satellites to take multiple pictures of the globe. Each company differs from the other in the quality and detail of the image as well as the rotation rate of their satellites around the Earth to take another image of the same place. This competition provides us with multiple, high-resolution images of most of the globe. There are also limitations to this process as various laws and censorship activities limit the availability of or access to high-resolution images in some regions of the world. Reasons vary from security restrictions (e.g. around army locations in war zones), government censorship and lack of transparency (e.g. in occupied or contested territories) to state or non-state interventions to blur details of strategic or at-risk locations (e.g. military, economic locations / events, natural reserves with endangered species), etc.

The most notable free map services are:


  • OSM is an open-source mapping project that has a large community of volunteer contributors and is the basis of many other mapping projects around the world.

  • OSM is a non-profit entity sponsored by various universities and organizations.

  • OSM does not track its users’ activity. OSM allows and encourages their users to download its mapping databases, whereas commercial maps tend to limit data sharing through API funnels. OSM was made to be shared and built upon, so the core functionalities are intentionally basic.

Alphabet (formerly Google Inc) provides several map services:

  • Google Maps - works on computes as well as mobile devices (smartphone, tablet).

  • Google Earth - is an upgraded version of Google Maps that enables users to draw their own projects on maps: placing specific location markers and drawing illustrations on a map. This service is available on computers as well as with applications on And##roid, iPhone and iPad devices under the name Google Earth.

  • Google Earth Pro - provides all available historical copies for free for the same geographical location. The application can be downloaded on computers only, and there is no version for mobile phones.

  • Free resource available at, it aggregates many mapping service providers. Through the site, you can choose between Apple maps, Open Street Map , Yandex Maps or Google Maps.

  • The location database also provides the names of the neighborhoods, villages and small towns within the displayed screen frame. This is useful for knowing the local name of a village in Arabic and how to write it in English, for example.

World Imagery Wayback

  • It is a free photo archive provided by ESRI, a company with tradition in geographic information system (GIS) software, location intelligence, and mapping.

  • The rate of providing recent photos varies according to the company’s input in the database.


  • It provides rather low-resolution images here, but the most important detail that distinguishes it from the other resources is that it updates its archive at a rate of 3-4 times a week.

All of the above offer high resolution satellite imagery except Sentinel.

Using more mapping service providers to obtain images from the same location at different times and with varying level of detail / clarity enables us to obtain a larger pool of images that will help us create a reliable geographic overview as well as a more accurate time-line of events.

How can geographic location be determined?

It’s important to say that each case is unique and may require different ways (methods and tools) to identify the geographical location of an image. If we consider every geolocalization process as an attempt to solve a puzzle, then the solution depends on the existence of a philosophy or way of thinking and a set of tools, which can help us find the right path.

The philosophy of identifying the geographical location of a photo or video is based on four elements:

  1. Collect information

  2. Process information

  3. Search

  4. Check result Source: the author.

1. Collect information

The information collection phase involves listing all the information from the visual material that we possess, regardless of its usefulness. This is more of a visual scanning of the data. In addition, it is crucial to collecting all the information possible about the visual material, such as:

  • the details of the incident itself,

  • its context,

  • when it occurred,

  • the comments of those interacting with it.

2. Process information

The second phase involves processing and classifying that information to answer the question:

  • Where do we start the search process?

For example, if during the information collection stage we identify: 1 - a fixed element such as the name of a store, and 2 - another movable element such as a car plate, then the processing phase will make us think that the fixed element is more likely to remain and not change its location, as opposed to the car plate.

4. Check result

In this phase we verify if our search findings are positive or negative, meaning if there is a match.

We verify what we have found by comparing the information / images resulted from our search with the information that was extracted in the first phase. If the result is negative and the findings don’t identify the elements in the original image, we’ll need to repeat the four steps again and search elsewhere and / or using other tools.

In the second attempt, we will rely on the results of the previous attempt. For example, in the previous situation, we decided to start using the name of the store. However, it may happen that the shop has several branches in several countries, towns or provinces. Then, we will go back to the information stage and decide to use the car plate data to find out the name of the country, town or province where it is registered, and then we can try a new search for the name of the shop inside that specific area / city. This may or may not lead us to the right place all the time, since a car with a plate registered in Belgrade, Serbia could as well be parked or passing by a store in Cairo, Egypt. But, this is a step worth trying!

With practice, you will find that the process of logical analysis and selection of starting points changes every time according to the information at hand. What provides the success of this process is the ability to collect the largest amount of information and then be patient in searches.

Next, we will apply this four-phased process to some cases in order to practice methods and tools with three geolocation challenges that range from beginner level to complex.

Case study 1: “Beginner’s level” - Where is that picture located and what is the story behind it? Source: (archived with Wayback Machine here)

Let’s take this picture and start with the information gathering stage. In this case, we will only focus on gathering the available information from the image without searching for its context online.

What are the key elements in the picture?

  • Two buildings of different colors.

  • Many detailed items such as air conditioners and shower trays on the building.

  • A board with Badrawy Hospital written on it.

These details are sufficient to move to the second stage - processing the information. From the available elements, it appears that the name of the hospital is the most important.

This brings us to the next step - research. Using Google Maps, our search results indicate the presence of the hospital in Egypt. Screenshot from Google Maps.

Specifically, Google has referred us to Badrawy Hospital located in the Smouha area of Alexandria in Egypt. Screenshot from Google Maps.

At this point, we must check the images of this hospital obtained in Google Maps to find out if we reached the correct answer - this is the fourth stage. Screenshot from Google Maps.

When comparing Google photos of the place showing the front of the hospital with the original image, we realize that the two photos are completely different. There is no match between them. Screenshot from Google Maps.

If the result of the first attempt is negative, we should repeat the search process and look for new images.

When looking at other Google Maps results, we will find that there are several options for this hospital. This may mean that it has several branches in various locations. Let’s try Badrawy Hospital 2 branch. Screenshot from Google Maps.

The search shows that Badrawy Hospital 2 is located in Sidi Beshr, Alexandria, Egypt, but Google Maps does not show pictures of that the hospital branch. Screenshot from Google Maps.

To verify the location, we will use an additional technology provided by Google Maps, which is Google Street View. This technology relies on providing 360-degree images of the place through images taken by Google vehicles or the cameras of users who have uploaded their images to Google Maps. Street View can be used and navigated by dragging the “yellow man” icon using the mouse. We place the yellow man on the line directly in front of Badrawy Hospital 2 in this case. Screenshot from Google Maps.

Sometimes the coordinates of the yellow man’s position may not be accurate, so we may need to move it continuously until we get to the place we want. This can be done by zooming in on the small screen on the left hand side and then changing the position of the yellow man. Screenshot from Google Maps. Screenshot from Google Maps.

We are now looking for the facade of Badrawy Hospital 2. If we enlarge the image, we will find the following: Screenshot from Google Maps.

We notice that this image matches the original photo that we started to search for, which means that our photo was taken in front of the facade of Badrawy Hospital 2. When searching online (on any search engine) for “Badrawy Hospital 2”, we will find news indicating that a fire occurred in this hospital in June 2020, in which a number of patients with Covid-19 died.

This method is one way to solve the puzzle, but it is not the only way.

For example, if we know the context in which the original photo was taken and we search for the “Badrawy Hospital fire”, we will find many local newspapers reporting the fire news and mentioning the hospital’s address, plus featuring several other photos from the place.

There is yet another method we can use: reverse image search.

Reverse image search for context

Reverse image search is one of the most important online verification tools. It allows the user to search by images instead of words. Popular search engines have an option for reverse image searches, and the quality of results varies from one engine to another. Here are some examples of such tools:

Now, let’s determine the geographical location of our initial image by using the Google Images search engine.

First, you can access the “search by image” option from here: - or by clicking on the camera tag in the search bar. Screenshot from Google.

When uploading the image, Google refers us to a search engine - Google lens. It is an engine that can recognize information within the image - such as text, faces, buildings, clothes, etc. - and search for them. It also allows you to focus the search on specific parts of the image by selecting any areas of interest. Screenshot from Google Maps.

In our case, however, the results are not positive. Therefore, we will resort to another solution, which is to search for the source of the image by clicking “find images source”. This search refers us to an article written in Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper, which published the same photo from the scene of the accident on June 29, 2020. Screenshot from Google Maps.

In this article, we will find enough details to help us locate the hospital. These details cover the stages of information collection, processing, and search, which prompts us to move directly to the stage of verifying the result, as we did after using the previous method. Search Result yields: General Samy Ghoneim, security director of Alexandria received a notification from Montazah police chief that a fire has errupted in one of the private hospitals in Bishr area, Mohamed Naguib street inducing panic to those working in the hospital and patients being treated there

Case study 2: “Average level” - Did the Egyptian armored vehicles go to Tobruk?

In June 2020, a video appeared on Facebook of a number of Egyptian military vehicles on a highway. The video was accompanied by comments about those armored vehicles heading to Tobruk, Libya. Screenshot of public Facebook user status:To Tobruk, God is great.

The claim can be refuted and the entry of military equipment into Libya can be verified by determining the geographic location of the video.

Downloaded Video Link

Let’s apply the same phases of analysis as before and start the process of information collection. These are the main details we can focus on:

  • The scenes of the video indicate that there are several military vehicles with the Egyptian flag on them.

  • It appears from the wide area of the road that it could be a highway and not a road within a city.

  • The car passed by a gas station on the road while filming.

  • The type of car pictured is a Toyota.

As we process this information, we will find out that the best starting point for the research phase is the petrol station, because it has a distinctive sign “blue”. It is a static building, meaning that finding it on the map will require less effort. But what is the name of the petrol station? Screenshot from Facebook video

The quality of the video recording does not help us to directly identify the name of the station. The only thing we can do is to search Google Maps for “Egypt gas station” or “Egypt gas.” Looking at the pictures, we will find many results with a match between the sign in the video and the logo of the Al Taawun gas station CO-OP Egyptian. Screenshot from Google

At this stage, we have a starting point, which is the gas station, and the name of the station, which is Al Taawun. But where do we start the search on the map?

There is no definite answer to this question as it is a process of search, analysis and verification. In our case, the analysis of the claim indicates that the equipment is destined for Libya. So the starting point will be to search for the Al-Taawun gas station located on the highway in northwest Egypt, which is the road that connects to Tobruk, in Libya. Screenshot from Google Maps. Screenshot from Google Maps.

The search returns about 12 results with the spelling of the station name in Arabic and English along the western coastal road connecting Egypt and Libya. All we have to do now is to review those 12 results one by one. This involves looking at the following signs that are present in our initial image:

  • There is a building visible before the gas station and another building under construction after it.

  • There is vacant land after the building under construction. Analysis of structures in the video

When checking the images, we will find a result near the village of Ras Hajjaj - a station with the same name.

As we move to the stage of verifying the results, it appears - from the photos of the station on Google Images - that there is an image that matches the specifications we are looking for. Screenshot from Google Maps. Analysing the image from Google’s image search to map out structural elements. Analysing Google Maps to map out structural elements

This gas station is located about 250 kilometers from the Libyan-Egyptian border. Although the equipment is lined up in the western direction, all the Egyptian army camps on the western borders are located in that area.

Our geolocation efforts contradict the claim that the equipment is in Libya or in Tobruk.

Case Study 3: “Advanced level” - Did Russian military equipment reach the city center of Kherson?

With the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many videos of the Russian forces’ progress inside Ukrainian territory started circulating online. One of those videos, dated March 4, 2022, indicated that Russian forces were advancing into the center of the Ukrainian city of Kherson, and that they were only 300 meters away from the city’s central administration building. Screenshot from Telegram channel ukraina24tv

To verify the claim we need to geolocate the video. Let’s start with the information gathering stage.

Downloaded Video Link

What are the key elements of the video?

  • It shows the presence of military vehicles with the letter Z commonly used by the invading Russian forces in Ukraine.

  • There is a perpendicular intersection between two secondary streets.

  • The pavement of the street is characterized by the presence of a walkway for people, followed by a group of trees, followed by asphalt.

  • There are a number of buildings with triangular roofs.

  • The claim indicates that the video was filmed in the city of Kherson.

  • The claim indicates that the filming took place within 300 meters of the central administration building of the city.

When processing this information, it does not appear that there are strong focal points which can facilitate our search process. There is no large distinctive store or building sign that can be used as a search item. Source: the author

In this case, it is necessary to draw the video plan with an overhead perspective, that is, to convert what the videographer sees into a bird’s perspective, as we usually see in the maps. Then we can draw a large circle around the building, and start the search process. Screenshot from Google Maps.

What are we looking for?

  • Crossroads.

  • Sidewalks with a green area that approximates the area of the road itself.

  • Several buildings with triangular roofs.

  • The presence of rather tall buildings after the short buildings with triangular roofs.

Let’s start the search journey. This process requires sufficient time to carefully consider all the elements. The search duration may vary from one person to another since its mainly about patience and attention to detail.

During this search process, we will find a great similarity in one of the areas corresponding to these coordinates: 46.64468827846318, 32.61594308344351

Now we need to match all the details of the video to what we just found. Screenshot from Google Maps.

For further verification and confirmation, we will look for some pictures of a government building on the opposite intersection. When searching for photos on Google Maps, we will find a photo taken from the same street. Screenshot from Google Maps. Matching photo from google images to video

Our geolocation efforts confirm the claim that likely Russian military equipment had approached Kherson city center on March 4, 2022.


This was a detailed introduction to how geolocation works with freely available online maps and other image verification tools. We provided a simplified methodology on how to track the leads available from images to reach accurate location results and to confirm or refute claims.

It is important to understand that methods and solutions may vary based on the diversity of the skills you and/or your team have. However, the way of thinking and going through this process remains similar and can be repeated in any context.

Determining a geographic location can take several minutes or even hours and can always benefit from a team effort to confirm details and find a solution.

The process of combining several search methods, such as reverse image search with geolocation, with historical search in satellite images, not only allows verification of information, but also helps with drawing the timeline of events and understanding the development of a context.


Articles and Guides



Geolocation - Identifying the exact geographic location of an object or event photo or video on the surface of the Earth


OSINT (Open Source Intelligence)- Refers to free or inexpensive information, tools, or media that can be accessed, reviewed and used by average people, without licenses or active permissions. Intelligence here refers to information, data, or knowledge.