In the digital age, a photograph is not limited to the image itself. When most digital cameras capture an image, they save certain settings and write them to the image file for later use. These settings are called metadata and are stored as Exchangeable Image File data, or EXIF for short.
EXIF is useful, but can also have negative impacts in some cases. This guide will explain EXIF, its pros and cons, and how to use it in photography.
To note: Although metadata is stored in EXIF format, the two terms are often used interchangeably.
It’s important to understand that EXIF is much more than your image’s shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Although you use them most when looking at EXIF data, EXIF encompasses so much more. Here is a list of common parameters that EXIF encompasses.
- Shutter speed
- Camera model, manufacturer and serial number
- Lens model, manufacturer and serial number
- Focal length at the time of shooting
- white balance
- Measurement parameters
- Flash settings (if applicable)
- Image resolution
- Color space
- Date and time the photo was taken
- Post-processing adjustments
- GPS coordinates of photo location (if your camera has GPS and is turned on)
How to view EXIF data
There are many ways to access and view EXIF, from websites to the built-in tools that come with your computer. This can be useful when trying to view your own EXIF, and can also be useful if you’re trying to find EXIF in an image that isn’t yours.
Use a website to view EXIF data
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to view EXIF data is to upload your images to a website. This has its advantages in that it is easy to find and use. It can also take a lot longer and require more effort as you will need to upload your image(s) with an internet connection. This method is difficult to use with a batch of images, so it’s best to only search the EXIF of
a small number of images. Some websites may provide you with more data than the tools built into your computer, such as post-production adjustments.
One of the potential risks of using online EXIF viewers is that you are uploading your images to a website that may be using your images for other purposes. Before using an online EXIF viewer, be sure to research potential risks and read reviews.
Here are some websites that you might find helpful in viewing EXIF data:
Adobe Lightroom Metadata Panel
Adobe Lightroom’s metadata tool is perhaps one of the most organized and useful ways to view metadata. To access it, click on the Library Module > Library Filter: Metadata.
This will allow you to search your catalog by metadata and you can add or remove parameters as you wish. This will give you a quick overview of the various parameters and their images, and it will help you search through your entire catalog if you are looking for something specific regarding metadata.
Built-in EXIF Viewer on a Mac
To view an image’s metadata on Mac, just open it in Preview, which is usually the default application for displaying images. From here, click Tools > Show Inspector (Where Command + I) and click “EXIF” at the top of the inspector.
It won’t give you as much data as some of the websites listed above, but it will give you the most commonly used EXIF settings.
If you’re looking to take a quick look at a few settings like shutter speed, focal length, aperture, and resolution, you can right click on an image in its folder and press “Obtain informations.”
This will give you a quick overview of the settings you are looking for, and can easily be done with a batch of images if they are all selected.
Built-in EXIF viewer in Windows
To view an image’s metadata in Windows, right click on the image in its folder and select “Properties.”
Click the “Details” and the EXIF data will be listed. You will also see an option to edit and remove EXIF, which is covered later in this article.
Advantages and disadvantages of EXIF data
In a world where EXIF is often shared on social media, there have been discussions about certain advertising ethics and practices of the parameters you used in a photo, your location, and other parameters. Here are some pros and cons of sharing and using EXIF data.
1. Teaching and learning. EXIF is a great teaching and learning tool. If you want to learn the proper balance between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO in certain scenarios, find photographers who share their EXIF data and try to replicate their tactics. Of course, it would be even better to learn how to adjust your settings adaptively, so see the corresponding con below.
Point: Investigate EXIF by going through the data and wondering if you can figure out why a certain parameter is the way it is. This will help you understand the “why” behind certain metadata and give you a better understanding of why you might change a parameter in the field.
2. Organization of post-production. EXIF can help you stay organized in post-production. Maybe you have a bunch of high ISO photos and want to run a batch denoising algorithm on those images. Knowing how to read their metadata is important to know what images you might want to process. Use Adobe Lightroom’s metadata search feature to search your entire catalog for certain settings.
3. Consistency between photos. If you need to be consistent (i.e. you’re doing portraits for a company that hires new people throughout the year and wants similar photos for each of them), you can refer to your own EXIF to try to stay as consistent as possible. If you’re outdoors, environmental factors can influence your consistency, but the picture should be somewhat similar if you’re in the stadium.
4. Evidence of crime. EXIF has been extremely useful in criminal investigations, especially with advances in GPS technology. Photos shared and sent with location metadata stored in EXIF files have helped determine the whereabouts of people involved in criminal activity. Even simpler than GPS, the date and time of the shot, which are recorded in EXIF and can also be used as evidence.
1. Direct copying is not useful. Simply copying someone’s settings won’t help on a shot where you need to adapt, such as portrait shooting, adventure shooting, and most types of commercial photography. Using jazz musicians as an analogy, they are generally respected for their ability to improvise and use what they know about music to create new, equally good or better ideas. Sure, they would sound great if they played a complex solo exactly like someone else, but that’s not helpful in many scenarios and leaves no room for creative interpretation. Instead of copying someone’s EXIF, learn how EXIF combines to create a great image and use it to your advantage.
2. Lack of originality. With the point above, originality can be compromised if other photographers use your exact metadata to produce an image like yours.
3. Privacy issues. Certain parameters, in particular those related to location, may have impacts on the privacy of individuals and the environment. Hard-to-reach places that have been recorded in EXIF have been “uncovered” and ruined by erosion, detritus, and other adverse human impacts. On social media apps in particular, there are security issues regarding sharing images with a specific location, as many smartphones store GPS coordinates in their EXIF and the apps provide an option to share them.
4. Inconsistent standards. EXIF standards are not necessarily maintained and kept up to date. This can create confusing, unnecessary, and counter-intuitive data.
How to remove EXIF data from your photos
EXIF can be an invasion of privacy in different ways. Luckily, there are plenty of methods to remove EXIF from your photos, selectively and completely.
Remove EXIF from Photos on Mac
Mac OS doesn’t have a built-in EXIF remover, but it will allow you to easily remove the location of an image. Merely open your image in Previewopen it Inspector (Command + I)click the “GPS» tab and select «Delete location information” basically.
If you want to remove all metadata, ImageOptim is a free, easy-to-use program that will remove all metadata from an image in seconds. Be aware that this is irreversible, so if you want a copy of the metadata somewhere, it’s best to make two copies of the image and delete only one.
At this time, ImageOptim does not appear to support Apple .HEIC compression, so you will need to convert photos to .JPG or .PNG. You can change various settings, but be sure to do so before dragging and dropping images into the software.
Remove EXIF from Photos on Windows
Windows has a built-in EXIF removal tool and allows you to selectively remove EXIF from an image. Right click on the imageselect “Properties“then click”Detailstab”. You will see a button that says “Delete properties and personal information”, which will allow you to selectively remove EXIF settings from the image. You can also just create a copy with all possible properties removed.
Remove EXIF from Photos on iOS and Android
First of all, it is possible to deactivate geolocation (recording of GPS data on your photo) in the settings or your Camera application. If you still want to geotag but want to remove the location of a specific photo on iOS, just go to the Pictures app, swipe up and select “Adjustunder the map.
From here you can edit or delete the location.
iOS and Android have apps to completely remove metadata from photos. Check out Exif Metadata for iOS and Photo Metadata Remover for Android as two free options.
EXIF is the file that stores certain parameters of an image called metadata. You can use this to your advantage as a photographer by learning from your own metadata and others, and it can also be detrimental in terms of security and privacy.
Understanding EXIF is important to becoming a better photographer so that you can take advantage of its benefits and be aware of its drawbacks.