Since cameras went digital we’ve had a few more perks to enjoy alongside our usual photography habits. No longer do we need to pause and think “shall I take that shot?” with expensive film and processing costs giving way to re-usable memory cards.
Pretty much every digital camera available today (give or take the dodgy cheap Chinese ones found on eBay) records EXIF data within each image you take. This data is then useful for improving your photography plus can be quite interesting especially if you’re a bit of a geek.
So if you’re interested in learning from your mistakes, discovering a bit more about your photos and love technical details then it’s probably about time you learned to read your EXIF data.
The EXIF Format
EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File, and the data provided can be stored to JPEG, RAW and TIFF image file formats. If you’re a digital SLR owner and you use the RAW image format, you’ll probably notice your manufacturer has their own file extension (for Nikon it’s .NEF, Canon have .CRW etc…) – these files all store EXIF data along with the exposure.
The data itself can reveal some pretty interesting stuff about your photos. As well as the exact time and date you pressed the shutter (provided your camera time and date was correct, of course), a lot of technical information regarding the photograph is captured as well.
This includes focal length, shutter speed, white balance settings, whether the flash fired and in-depth information about your camera and the exposure.
Newer mobile phones and cameras with geotagging ability (using GPS to record the exact location of the image) now store this information within a file’s EXIF data. Web services such as Flickr can then create a map of photographs tagged in this manner.
How To Find It
In Windows you can use Explorer itself to reveal the data to you. Simply find your image, right click and choose Properties then the Summary tab. You might also be interested in either using your existing image editor (Adobe’s Photoshop and The GIMP both have support for EXIF data).
Linux users can access the data straight from the desktop too. GNOME users (Ubuntu et al) will be able to right click a file, choose Properties and then the Image tab to display the data. If you’re using KDE then right click, Properties and Meta Info should help you find what you’re after.
You’ll probably want to get UFRaw if you’re a Linux user who shoots in RAW format, as you’ll find you’ve got limited support for your uncompressed images otherwise.
Mac OS X 10.4 users will be able to use the Finder to Get Info and expand the More Info section. There’s also the Graphic Converter to be found in the Applications folder (as well as Photoshop, of course).
Making Sense Of It
Many photographers use EXIF data to help improve technique and to compare images that work, with images that don’t. If you’re perplexed as to why one shot looks better than the other then the EXIF data can reveal why.
If you’re new to the technical aspects of photography EXIF data can also teach you a lot, such as the relationship between aperture and depth of field and how badly your camera’s high ISO settings affect image grain.
The time and date information stored in each photo can also help you piece together a collection, providing an almost diary-like representation of your shooting habits.
If you’re a fan of Flickr it’s also nice to be able to browse other users EXIF data, so you can get an understanding of the way other people approach situations. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to view the data (some choose to make it private) but if it’s there you’ll find it under an image’s Actions button.
Regardless of how you use it, there’s no arguing that EXIF data makes up one of the many benefits digital photography has over 35mm film and other formats. It’s an educational tool that can help you visualize your cameras settings against a photo you’ve already taken.
With GPS becoming commonplace within many of today’s photo-capturing devices, EXIF data is becoming more widely used. There’s plenty of ways it can help you, from beginner to pro. If you have any questions about it, let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: Shutterstock