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exif dataSince 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 6 Easy Tips For Taking Photos That Don't Require Photoshop Fixes 6 Easy Tips For Taking Photos That Don't Require Photoshop Fixes Read More 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.

exif data

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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 How To Geotag Your Flickr Photos & Explore Them By Location How To Geotag Your Flickr Photos & Explore Them By Location Read More 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).

exif photo data

There are also a number of free EXIF data viewers, such as IrfanView IrfanView Blows Windows Viewer Out of the Water IrfanView Blows Windows Viewer Out of the Water Read More with the EXIF plugin, XnView XnView - A Free Image Viewer and Image Converter You Should Really Consider XnView - A Free Image Viewer and Image Converter You Should Really Consider Read More and KUSO Exif Viewer which are all designed just for Windows.

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.

exif photo data

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

exif data

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.

As well as your technique you can also critique your gear and optics. The recorded data can help you determine your next purchase 10+ Cool Accessories Every Photographer Wants 10+ Cool Accessories Every Photographer Wants Read More , and whether you’ve got the spare cash for more kit 5 Essential Digital Photography Accessories You Can Make Yourself 5 Essential Digital Photography Accessories You Can Make Yourself Read More .

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 Flickr - Store, Share, Sort & Search Your Photos Flickr - Store, Share, Sort & Search Your Photos Read More 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.

Conclusion

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

  1. Caprice Augliano
    October 24, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    ANGIOGRAFIA

    dragons-house.com/ksiazki/angiografia/

  2. Andrew Johnson
    September 12, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Why does the banner on this page fill the whole screen? I didn't even read the page because of that! Never seen such a ridiculously large and useless banner.

    • Tim Brookes
      September 13, 2016 at 1:44 am

      Hi Andrew,

      We recently moved to a new theme that displays the banner at full-width, which should be a 1680px wide image (which scales down for smaller screens and mobile devices). This article is actually from 2010, and thus predates our OLD theme (so it's two generations of site design old) hence why the image is rather pixellated and unsightly.

      I've made a note of this and will pass it along to our design guy who I'm sure can make it look a little nicer. If you take a look at any of our current articles you'll see a much nicer banner image! We're still making tweaks and changes to the theme at this stage, but we think it looks much better than it did previously (those banners were large too).

      Tim

  3. Igor Kusin
    September 24, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    There is no Summary tab in Prtoperties. There are four tab, and neither of them is called Summary, only General, Security, Details and Previous Versions.
    What now?

    • Tex Bacalian
      January 26, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      In Windows, it is DETAILS.

  4. Katherine L. Wright
    September 2, 2015 at 5:20 am

    So...lets say you have taken pictures for 100+ people. Lets say you recorded every photo # you wanted to be able to send to the particular person. Then you upload them to your computer, erase the card and shoot again. Then when you sit down to edit...Each photo has a different number than what you saw on screen. ANY WAY TO FIND THE ORIGINAL NUMBER!!!! AHHHHHHHHH

  5. Pete
    May 17, 2015 at 10:54 pm

    I would suggest http://www.pic2map.com which actually utilizes EXIF GPS information to map a photo. For photos without GPS data, it can be used as a simple online EXIF viewer, that shows some basic information.

    I hope more cameras start using geotagging like smartphones do...

  6. Aibek
    November 24, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I would suggest asking this on MakeUseOf Answers, http://www.makeuseof.com/answe...

  7. JuanM
    November 21, 2010 at 8:04 am

    How can edit the EXIF's value horizonta/vertical before making the picture with a camera?

  8. Greg
    November 19, 2010 at 11:51 am

    Another useful free tool is EXIF Date Changer (http://www.exifdatechanger.com)

    Once you start relying on the embedded data for the time of the photo you may find you haven't set the correct time on your camera, or moved between timezones and not updated the time. This tool allows you to add or subtract a period of time from your images to correct this. I have also found it useful when sorting images from multiple cameras to ensure that images from both cameras match up time wise.

    • Aibek
      November 24, 2010 at 9:23 am

      thanks for the link

  9. Greg
    November 19, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    Another useful free tool is EXIF Date Changer (http://www.exifdatechanger.com)

    Once you start relying on the embedded data for the time of the photo you may find you haven't set the correct time on your camera, or moved between timezones and not updated the time. This tool allows you to add or subtract a period of time from your images to correct this. I have also found it useful when sorting images from multiple cameras to ensure that images from both cameras match up time wise.

  10. DG
    November 18, 2010 at 2:26 am

    For viewing the EXIF data of photos online without downloading, you can do that with only 2 clicks using the bookmarklet from http://ImgOps.com (plus a heck of a lot of other things also).

    ImgOps review: http://www.makeuseof.com/dir/imgops-edit-online-images/

    Some bonus nice features of the EXIF tool on ImgOps that may not be found in other tools are:
    1.) Instant display of a Google map if geolocation GPS data is found.
    2.) Display of embedded thumbnail images.
    3.) Additional context and interpretation of some data.

    Side note: For a famous example of an EXIF thumbnail that revealed more than the subject wanted to reveal on the web, Google 'Cat Schwartz exif thumbnail'

    • Aibek
      November 24, 2010 at 9:23 am

      never heard about that Cat Schwartz incident, thanks for heads up :-)

  11. DG
    November 18, 2010 at 3:26 am

    For viewing the EXIF data of photos online without downloading, you can do that with only 2 clicks using the bookmarklet from http://ImgOps.com (plus a heck of a lot of other things also).

    ImgOps review: http://www.makeuseof.com/dir/i...

    Some bonus nice features of the EXIF tool on ImgOps that may not be found in other tools are:
    1.) Instant display of a Google map if geolocation GPS data is found.
    2.) Display of embedded thumbnail images.
    3.) Additional context and interpretation of some data.

    Side note: For a famous example of an EXIF thumbnail that revealed more than the subject wanted to reveal on the web, Google 'Cat Schwartz exif thumbnail'

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