Did you know that most cameras embed hidden information (called metadata) into every photograph taken? And when you share those images—such as uploading them to social media—that hidden information can stay embedded in the photo? And that people can view that information for almost no effort?
That metadata is called EXIF data (Exchangeable Image File Format) and is mostly harmless… but in rare cases can be abused by malicious users and cause you problems.
Here’s everything you need to know about photo metadata and how to remove EXIF data when you don’t want that information to go public.
What Is EXIF Data?
Photography is complex and intensely technical with lots of things you need to know: exposure, lighting, composition, posing, etc. There’s so much to learn that even a genius would need several decades to master it all.
EXIF data is basically all of that technical information that gets stored in the photo file. By extracting and looking at an image’s EXIF data, you can see how that particular photograph was taken, which is a great way to study, learn, and improve your own photographic skills and knowledge.
EXIF data can include:
- Camera manufacturer and model.
- Data and time the photo was taken.
- Compression type used for the photo.
- Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings.
- Metering mode.
- Flash mode.
- Pixel resolution.
On the whole, EXIF data is actually well-intentioned, innocent, and practical. The problem is that certain devices may embed extra bits of data that can betray your personal privacy and security.
Consider a GPS-enabled, camera-equipped smartphone. When you shoot photos with your phone, those photos may be embedded with the GPS coordinates of where you took them. This can be great for geotagging your photos, but can also give away the location of your home to internet strangers if they find your photos on social media.
Consider a DSLR camera that you’ve been using for years. Not only can EXIF data include the manufacturer and model of your camera, but it may also include the camera’s serial number. If you ever share an iffy photo online, it can be traced back to your camera. It could also be used (theoretically) to find other photos on the internet that you’ve taken with that camera.
The NSA collects and analyzes EXIF data. It’s hardly a surprise today, but several years ago files were released that included training materials from the NSA’s XKeyscore program that showed how it aimed to use EXIF data (and other pieces of data) as part of intelligence collection.
Is it likely that EXIF data will stab you in the back? Probably not. But is the possibility always there? Yes. Unless you have an intentional reason to keep EXIF data, you should always consider removing it just in case.
Want to know how to remove image metadata? Here are some easy methods you can use to strip metadata, even if you have zero technical skills.
1. Remove EXIF Data With Windows File Explorer
Windows has a built-in method for clearing EXIF data from images and it couldn’t be more straightforward to use.
- Open File Explorer (Windows key + E shortcut).
- Navigate to your image.
- Right-click on your image and select Properties.
- Click the Details tab.
Windows 10 can detect two photography-related categories of EXIF data: “Camera” and “Advanced photo.” Camera data includes technical aspects like aperture, metering mode, and focal length. Advanced photo data includes serial number, white balance, EXIF version, etc.
At the bottom, as you can see in the screenshot above, you can click on Remove Properties and Personal Information to open the EXIF removal tool. The tool lets you either create a copy of the image with all metadata removed or pick and choose which properties to erase from the selected file.
You can also select multiple images in File Explorer and use this process to remove metadata from all of them at once.
Note: One downside is that Windows 10 can’t (or won’t allow you to) remove every bit of EXIF data. I’m not sure why Microsoft kept this limitation in Windows 10, but if you need to absolutely nuke all EXIF data then you might be better off with one of the other two methods below.
2. Remove EXIF Data Using GIMP
GIMP is a free and open-source software that can easily strip EXIF data from an image. It may even be easier than the Windows 10 method above!
- Open GIMP.
- Open your image in GIMP.
- Go to File > Export As to export the image. Name it whatever you want, but make sure you give the image a JPG extension!
- Click the Export button.
- For export options, expand the Advanced Options panel and uncheck Save EXIF data.
- Change the other options to your liking, then click Export to finish.
The only downside is that batch removal is a nuisance with this method. You have to open all images and export them one by one, and even though it only takes about five seconds each, it’s pretty tedious.
Note: You could also do this using Photoshop instead of GIMP, but is it really worth buying Adobe Photoshop just to remove EXIF data? No. But if you have it, might as well use it!
3. Remove EXIF Data Using a Mobile App
If you take most of your photos on your phone, then it may make more sense to use an EXIF data removal app so you don’t have to involve your computer in the process.
Before you install a third-party app, first check your Camera app’s settings to see if you can disable EXIF data generation. Some camera apps may only let you disable location inclusion, while others may not allow you to disable EXIF data at all.
Still need an EXIF removal app? You can try Photo Metadata Remover for removing EXIF data on Android, or you can try Metapho to remove EXIF data on iPhone. Both are free to download, but Metapho requires an in-app purchase to unlock the ability to remove photo metadata, edit date and location, and share safely to social networks.
Other Photo Tips to Keep in Mind
When you’re choosing an online photo hosting service, consider picking one that automatically scrubs EXIF data. Make sure to check your social media settings, such as the photo privacy settings on Facebook.
EXIF data is just one way we’re all sharing too much data online.
While you’re at it, check out our article on photography skill-building exercises. You may also be interested in making money with your photography, including the best places to sell your photos online.