In today’s episode I want to talk about Exif data and what it means to your photography. Have you ever heard the word and wondered what it is? Is so, you’re not alone as most new photographers have no idea what Exif data is or what it has to do with photography.
Exif stands for “Exchangeable image file format.” Most photographers and camera companies use all caps calling it “EXIF”, but in reality it is like any other word with only the “E” capitalized.
So, what the heck is Exif, well to put it simply, it is the text data that gets imbedded into your photos whether you are using a “real” camera like a DSLR or Mirrorless or your smartphone camera. To be more specific, it is not data that shows up in your images, but it’s embedded and can be read by your photo editing software and some photography websites such as 500px.com. The Exif data records your camera make and model, the camera serial number, focal length used in your images, the ISO, Aperture, Shutter speed and even GPS data if your camera or smartphone has that capability. It can also store your personal information, if you program it in the camera using the manufacturer’s software, such as your name, and copyright info, as well such as the photo resolution and other parameters.
Remember what I mentioned a moment ago, you have to use either an Exif reader software or your photo editor such as Lightroom, Photoshop, Capture One and others to actually view this data. In the show notes, you can find a screenshot from my own Mac with Capture One Pro 22 and see the Exif data on the left hand side. Capture One doesn’t show it as an overlay on the images like Lightroom does, but you can still view the data.
It doesn’t matter whether you shoot RAW or JPG, your camera will always write the data to the images. Now you are probably wondering why you should care about all this data that it “baked” into your images, but you will find you can actually use this data to improve your photography. One of the other pieces of data it stores is whether or not you used a Flash with your camera.
Now, back when I started photography in the film days if you wanted this data you had to remember to write it all down in a notebook on a photoshoot. But, today, having all this data stored electronically in your image files can be extremely helpful and I’ll talk more about that in a moment.
On a modern DSLR or Mirrorless camera, you can view this data for each shot using the rear LCD on the camera and on a Mirrorless, you can also view the data in the EVF or Electronic View Finder. Once you are done shooting, you can view this data on your computer using any of the editing software I mentioned earlier and there are a number of Exif “tools”, such as Exif Editor, which is one I use on my Mac system and you can find a screen shot in the show notes of this app.
If you are using Adobe Lightroom you can view this data many ways but the most common is in the Library Module and the Exif data will be displayed as a text overlay on your selected image. You can also customize what data is displayed in the overlay by using CTRL-J or CMD-J; which will bring up the Library View Options and then allow you to customize the data.
There are a few good reasons why you should read and understand your Exif data when shooting and the first is by having all that data attached to every single image can be a very useful learning tool. Using a simple glance at the Exif data you can find out why your image is blurry, maybe you used the wrong shutter speed. Remember from past episodes, always use a shutter speed that is at least double the focal length of the lens, especially if you don’t have IBIS in your camera. The background is out of focus? Check your Aperture setting and adjust accordingly or if your image is too dark, look at the ISO you were using.
If you check your Exif data for every image you capture you will quickly learn how to be more technically proficient with your camera. But it doesn’t end there because you can use your Exif data to learn to be more creative with your composition as you shoot. When editing your photos, if you mark as Favorite, your best images, you can later go back in Lightroom or Capture One and view your best 10, 100 or even 1,000 images to see how they compare by their Exif data.
Keeping an eye on your Exif data you may find that all your best images were taken with a certain lens or a certain focal length if using a zoom lens. You can see what Aperture and Shutter Speed has given you your most consistently great images and learn by studying that data. You can also learn what focal lengths you have been avoiding that you have lenses to cover and the next time you feel like you are in a creative “rut” you can practice that new focal length to keep your shooting fun and fresh.
In addition to all the things I have already mentioned about Exif data, another wonderful thing you can use it for is keeping track of your travels. If your camera is one of the many on the market today with built-in GPS, then you can “map” all the places you have gone on your travels. This can make it easier to assemble a great photo story and allow you to sort your images by location data.
Finally, one of the most useful features of having Exif data is you can store your copyright information in all your images, which will help if you find someone violating your copyright, whether it’s on Social Media or someone steals your images to use on their website, which actually happened to me. And I just found another violator of one of my images as I was creating the show notes for this episode. Back in 2014 I captured a great image of a Lion and it was bought by NatGeo to use as the cover of their Big Cats textbook. I did a Google Image Search one day and found a Russian site using that same image on their page without my permission and successfully got them to take it down and now today I found another website violating my copyright on this image.
But getting back to the copyright data by having that info in your Exif data on all your images, you can reduce the number of copyright violations. If someone tries to print your image without your permission, a reputable lab might call you to verify that the person has permission as their computers will show your Exif copyright information.
How can you remove the Exif data? Some of you might be wondering about this as maybe you want to post your images online but don’t want people seeing the GPS data or maybe Facial Recognition data from your images for privacy reasons. Well as you export your images from Lightroom and other programs you can have the software strip some or all Exif data on Export. It’s generally recommended if you do strip some of the Exif data out, make sure you leave your copyright data in there. If you strip the Exif data out and need to add some of that data back into the image you can use a program such as Exif Tools or Exif Editor to put certain data back into the image again or you can re-export with that data included.
What happens if you just got a new camera and you import your images but not all of the Exif data is showing up? Maybe there are some dashes instead of the lens information. That might simply mean that your lens is too new to have the proper data in Lightroom or Capture One. Not to worry though as the software makers over time release updates to include new camera bodies and lenses.
So, now that you know more about Exif data and that it’s not just for nerds like myself, hopefully you can go forth better equipped to improve your photography and also keep your images protected with your copyright data. If you are not sure how to add your copyright data to your camera, you can do a web search and find out how. Often you can do it manually using your camera’s menu system, but that is slow and painstaking, it’s often quicker and easier to use the camera utility software that came with your camera such as the EOS Utility for Canon cameras.
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