It's a question that many photographers - both newbies and more experienced ones - have asked: What is EXIF data?
The short version of the answer to that question is the EXIF data provides details about images, like the exposure settings that were used or the brand of the camera that was used to capture the photograph.
EXIF data can be a highly valuable resource in a variety of ways - if you see an image on the internet that you particularly like, you can look at the EXIF data to determine the settings and tools used by the photographer to create the shot.
EXIF data is also handy when looking back through your own photos to refresh your memory as to the specific settings you used for a particular picture.
In this guide to EXIF data, we'll seek to answer the question, "What is EXIF data?" in more detail.
What is EXIF Data?
Photo by GaudiLab via iStock
When I was in high school, digital photography wasn't a thing yet, so my photography classes were in film.
My teacher explained that we needed to have a pen and paper with us when we took photos, that way we could write down the different camera settings we used, the date the shot was taken, the lens we used, and so forth.
We did this for two reasons: one, to keep track of what we were doing for grading purposes, and two, to develop a better understanding of what went right (or wrong) with our photos.
Fast-forward to today, and digital cameras have their very own pen and paper in the form of EXIF data (EXIF stands for "exchangeable image file format"). Get a quick introduction to EXIF data in the video below by nevercenter:
The value of EXIF data goes beyond remembering what you did and how your camera settings made the shot or didn't make the shot.
You can use EXIF data to organize your photos as well as search for photos based on certain EXIF data. It's simply a handy tool to have when you want to organize or search your images based on information like shutter speed, aperture, ISO, or white balance. EXIF data also includes details regarding the type of lens used, the focal length, the make and model of the camera, the image color space, image dimensions, and a host of other things.
EXIF data is automatically embedded in a JPEG or TIFF image file, and though it isn't viewable as you're surfing the web, you can use tools to read EXIF data and glean a better understanding of how an image was captured. As a side note, EXIF data is not included in RAW files, though most camera manufacturers have bespoke EXIF data equivalents that support RAW format.
Let's look at a few ways you can view EXIF data.
How to View EXIF Data in Chrome
If you have Google Chrome, viewing EXIF data is quite simple.
Just download and install the Chrome extension EXIF Viewer. Once installed, all you have to do is right-click on any image and select "Show EXIF Data" to view the details about the photo.
As shown above, the EXIF Quick View extension for Chrome gives you loads of information about the photo like exposure settings, the date and time the image was captured, the camera used, and so forth. It even displays a histogram, which gives you the most accurate information about the tones in an image.
Alternatively, you can use the EXIF Reader extension in Chrome.
Whether you use Chrome or Firefox (explained below), you can give EXIF viewing a shot with the image above.
As a side note, I took this photo on a recent trip to Turkey. If you look at its EXIF data, you'll see just how recently I was there!
How to View EXIF Data in Firefox
If Firefox is more your cup of tea, you can still view EXIF data quite easily.
Look for the EXIF Viewer add-on by clicking "Add to Firefox" in the browser window.
Once the add-on is installed, you can check out EXIF data by right-clicking on an image and choosing "EXIF Viewer," pretty much just like you can do in Chrome.
Quick Tip: When attempting to view EXIF data online, bear in mind that thumbnail images usually do not have EXIF data. Instead, click the thumbnail to open the full image, and then use the Chrome or Firefox extensions to view the image's details. If you get an error message along the lines of "Unable to extract EXIF data," it usually means that the image does not have any EXIF data.
How to View EXIF Data Using a Photo Viewer
Photo by agrobacter via iStock
You can also use a photo viewing application to examine EXIF data. This option is most helpful if you want to explore EXIF data of images on your computer, as opposed to those that other people have posted online (you can also use built-in tools on your computer to do this). Since you'd have to download images from the internet to view their data using this method, it's not the best for examining EXIF data of online images.
Note that the type of photo viewer you use will depend on your operating system (and your personal preferences, of course), so do a quick search for programs for Mac, PC, and so forth that can extract EXIF data.
Quick Tip: If you want to use the operating system's built-in tools to view EXIF data, it's a pretty straightforward process. For example, in windows, just right-click the photo and click the Details Tab. As you can see above, doing so displays some, but not all, EXIF data. On a Mac, select File > Get Info and expand the Get Info section to view the image's details. You'll get a few details about the image, but the information is pretty limited. If you want to get a more thorough report of an image's EXIF data than what Windows or Apple provides, you'll need to use a photo viewer.
HOW TO VIEW EXIF DATA IN LIGHTROOM
Lightroom has a built-in capability of showing EXIF data.
If you navigate to the Library Module, just click on the Metadata Tab, as shown above.
On the resulting screen, you'll see all the metadata for the image on the right side of the screen, as shown above.
Zooming in, you can see what the metadata is for this particular image:
Personally, I like using this method of reviewing EXIF data because it's easy to edit the metadata, change it, or remove it altogether, which is not an option when using a photo viewer, Chrome, or Firefox to examine EXIF data.
How to Extract EXIF Data in Lightroom
If you have Lightroom, you can use its tools to view and extract EXIF data.
Just select the photograph you'd like to export, and then go to File > Export.
In looking at the Metadata field above, you can see that you can select "Include All Metadata," which obviously embeds all the EXIF data into the image file.
If privacy is a concern, you can choose to remove personal and location information by simply checking the respective boxes.
You can further customize the EXIF data that is extracted with your image by clicking on the Include drop-down menu.
For example, if you're going to post an image online and you only want your copyright information to be included, you can choose to do so in this menu by selecting Copyright Only. Get more details on how to add EXIF data in Lightroom in the video below by PHLEARN.
Likewise, you can remove EXIF data (much of it, anyway) if you wish.
In Lightroom, simply click on the metadata field you want to alter or delete. The same basic procedure is true of the other EXIF viewing options outlined above.
Note that while you can remove things like your name and contact information, other details, like the camera and lens used, cannot be edited or removed.
Other Tools for Viewing EXIF Data
If you don't have Lightroom and you aren't a fan of using a photo viewer to examine or change the EXIF data of your images, there are a multitude of other options available.
Free software that gives you access to EXIF data include Opanda IExif, KUSO Exif Viewer, and ExifTool. GIMP is another option, as is Photos if you have a Mac. Above, you can see just a few options for EXIF viewers in the App Store for Mac.
Why EXIF Data is Important
Photo by Maksym Azovtsev via iStock
As noted above, looking at the EXIF data of your images and the images of other photographers can be a valuable learning experience.
You can surmise what camera settings are best to use in given situations (and those that didn't quite work, too).
For example, if you're not pleased with the depth of field of the image you're examining, you can check the EXIF data to see what f-stop you used so you can try a smaller f-stop to increase the depth of field next time.
Additionally, EXIF data can help you organize and search your images to make working with your old photos a much easier process.
But EXIF data has other benefits as well.
For example, when posting a photo online, it can be useful to include the basic camera settings in the description or caption of the photo. Having EXIF data available allows you to do so, that way you can easily share some details about the photo with other interested parties without them having to examine the full EXIF data themselves.
Photo by Anchiy via iStock
As another example, EXIF data can help you as you process your images.
Let's say you want to crop an image to make a smaller area of the shot the primary subject.
Understanding the resolution of the file and the dimensions of the image - both of which are contained in the EXIF data - will allow you to determine how much you can crop the photo without degrading the image quality.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of EXIF data is that it can help prevent theft of your images - you can use the EXIF data to prove that a disputed image is, in fact, yours.
If, for example, someone uses one of your images without your permission, all you need to do to prove the image is yours is look at the EXIF data. Since you can include your name, address, and other contact information, it makes it indisputable that the photo is yours and nobody else's.
Photo by bobakphoto via iStock
In other words, EXIF data isn't there for the sake of being there, nor is it something that just professional photographers can benefit from using.
If you're a beginner photographer, check out the EXIF data of photos as often as you can, as it will help familiarize you with common camera settings and how they're used to capture images.
If you're an enthusiast photographer, use EXIF data to organize your photos and aid in searching for specific photos in your library.
In the end, the more information we have as photographers, the more capable we are of making the decisions that lead to better photos.