EXIF and Your Work


The Exchangeable Image File Format (EXIF) is a specification for the file format used by digital cameras. Basically, it is an additional bit of information (known as metadata) that is contained within an image file. It saves data such as the camera’s make and model number, Date and Time, Shutter Speed, ISO Speed Rating, Focal Length, Lens, and so on. For obvious reasons, this can be an incredible learning tool if you are aware of it. Here are a few tips for using the EXIF in your routine.

Support for EXIF

Nearly all digital cameras will create EXIF metadata when a photograph is stored. On your camera, you may be able to access the information with the touch of a button or through a menu option. In Photoshop or other photo editing programs, you can often view the EXIF metadata when you select File Info from the File menu. The pages labeled Camera will have all the information about the shutter-time data.

Most likely, your camera takes pictures in either JPEG, TIFF or RAW format. All of these files will support EXIF data without any problems. PNG, which used to be my favorite format for archiving, apparently doesn’t support EXIF metadata natively. Unfortunately, I only learned this recently, and many of my old images which have been converted to PNG do not have the metadata intact. If you want to keep the EXIF metadata intact, you’ll want to avoid converting your images to PNG files.

Using EXIF In the Field
Here’s the scenario: You’re out in the field taking a series of shots. You take a bunch of shots and then take a break to review them. One of your photos turned out pretty good, but you just noticed that there was something in your image that you wish wasn’t there. It’s easy to forget exactly how you set up your camera when you were snapping the photo. But the good news is you can quickly check the EXIF metadata on that particular image and you can duplicate all of the settings.

You’ll need to look at your camera’s manual to figure out how to access this data. Admittedly, most cameras simply refer to this data as “Detail”, “Image Info” or something else. It’s rare to see the term EXIF mentioned in the camera’s interface. But your manual may cross-reference it in your index.

Using EXIF (much) Later
One of the things that I love so much about EXIF (and one of the reasons I am leaving PNG behind) is that it gives you a window into the past. Back when I used film, I would keep a notebook on the photographs I’ve taken complete with all of the information about each photo. I would keep these with my contact sheets, but lets face it: I didn’t keep notes on every single picture. Especially when you’re working with capturing sports, children or other fast-moving subjects, you don’t have time. EXIF is always recorded, and you can always pull it up at a later date. Better yet, it’s not (usually) a separate file, so it’s always part of the image itself.

As I mentioned earlier, Adobe Photoshop and Bridge both have easy ways to view metadata. All you simply need to do is select File Info from the File menu. It is very likely that the import and library management program that came with your camera also reads your EXIF information. In Nikon’s NView software application, it actually displays all of this in a sidebar. Google’s Picassa does the same. For that matter, your community website (Deviant Art for example) will automatically display EXIF metadata (if available) for all photographs. This has an added benefit of allowing you to see how others achieve effects within their own work.

If there is only one take-away from this article, it should be that you should never ignore your EXIF metadata. Especially if you’re new to photography, it will be an indispensable resource as you learn and progress.

Further Reading:

  • EXIF (Wikipedia.org)

About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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