Exif data. Have you ever heard these words and wondered, “What is EXIF data?” You’re not alone; I asked myself this exact question, too, when I first got into digital photography!
Exif stands for “Exchangeable image file format.” Many photographers (and camera companies) may capitalize it as “EXIF.” However, the official term is simply “Exif.”
So, what is it? Exif is a standardized format for saving information about an image, within the file of that image. To be clear, Exif data is not visible in the image itself. In the image above, we just see Lightroom’s conveniently added Exif in the display. Exif data is stored as an extra part of the file.
So, to view Exif data, you’ll need to use an application that can read and display it.
Whether you capture raw or JPG images, your camera is automatically adding Exif data to the files it creates. Stored in the Exif data you will find information such as which camera & lens were used, the exposure settings, image dimensions, and other parameters.
In the following article, we’ll cover these concepts:
- What is Exif Data?
- How to view Exif data? (Various Ways)
- Why reading Exif data is important for photographers
- How to remove Exif data from photos
As a photographer, technical details like Exif may seem opposite to what you want to think about; it’s literally a bunch of coded numbers and information! How un-creative! However, even this technical data can greatly help your creativity and artistic vision! So, let’s dive in…
What Is Exif Data?
Exif data can include all kinds of information about the photos you take. It will tell you which camera and lens you used, what your exposure settings were, and other things like whether or not you used flash or even GPS location data.
In the days of film, if you wanted to remember your exposure settings or anything else, you usually had to write it all down, for every single shot you took! Having all of this information automatically “hidden” in the file of every digital photo you capture can be highly useful to photographers today, which we’ll get to in a minute.
How to View Exif Data? (Various Ways)
There are a lot of different ways to view your images’ Exif data. The moment you capture an image, most of the important Exif data is displayed right there on the camera’s LCD, as you scroll through the info display settings during image playback.
On a computer, unfortunately, the most basic file viewer applications such as Windows Explorer and Apple’s Finder don’t make it easy to view Exif data. Thankfully, all dedicated image viewing and editing applications make it easy to view Exif data.
In Adobe Lightroom, in particular, there are numerous different ways you can view Exif data. In the Library module, to be precise, the right-hand tab will display virtually all possible Exif data. Also, Lightroom can overlay different Exif on the main image area (Loupe) itself, in the upper left.
Additionally, many photo viewing and editing applications allow you to edit your Exif data, including adding or deleting certain details. For example, in Adobe Lightroom’s Map section, you can easily load a GPS log that you created on your phone while traveling, and have it automatically add that location data to every image you captured while traveling!
Displaying different Exif Data in Lightroom
One useful feature in Lightroom is the ability to display important Exif data as an overlay in the top left corner of your image. Which info is displayed can be customized by hitting CTRL-J or CMD-J; this will bring up the Library View Options, and you can customize both Grid View and Loupe View Exif display. (See below)
Why Reading Exif Data Is Important for Photographers
There are a few great reasons why you should understand how to read your images’ Exif data. It’s not just for camera nerds!
Technical Feedback & Improvement
First and foremost, having Exif data attached to every image has been a powerful learning tool for today’s photographers. As I mentioned, in the days of film it was a total guessing game; when you got your photos back from the lab, you may have wondered why some of them were blurry, and some were tack-sharp. If only you could remember which shutter speeds you used for which photos!
With a glance at the Exif data for all your images on a recent photo shoot or adventure, your learning curve becomes a lot easier. Blurry photos? Check the shutter speeds. Background not in focus? Check the aperture. Are your image’s shadows totally noisy? It’s probably the ISO, or just an under-exposed image!
By reviewing your images’ basic Exif after every photo shoot you do, you’ll see a rapid improvement in technical perfection, because you’ll know which mistakes to avoid. For example, you’ll know exactly when to reach for your flash or other lighting tools as a portrait/event photographer, or exactly when to grab your tripod as a landscape photographer.
Creative Feedback & Improvement
Aside from technical feedback, you can also gain creative insight into your style as a photographer, too. How is this possible? If you’re using Lightroom to catalog all your best photos, which we highly recommend you do, then you can quickly look at your favorite ten (or your top 100, or 1000) images and notice if there are any patterns.
Do you frequently use certain focal lengths or similar apertures to capture many of your best images? You may discover that you have a favorite lens, or even a favorite focal length and aperture, that yields your best work.
Oppositely, you may discover that you’ve never really explored a certain focal range, even though you own lenses that cover it. This can be useful for the next time you feel stuck in a creative rut and want to try something new.
Either way, for both technical and creative reasons, you should definitely get in the habit of reviewing your Exif data every time you go out to take pictures! In the long run, you’ll see an exciting improvement in your photography skill and creativity.
Chronicle Your Photographic Journey & Adventures
Another useful way that you can use embedded Exif data is to help chronicle your various adventures and your photographic journey overall. Some cameras have GPS built-in, and you can geotag every one of your photos automatically. For cameras that don’t have this feature, you can always add GPS data later, using a GPS log from a different device, as I mentioned.
This is a really fun way to review and enjoy the images of your travels and adventures! Being able to look at a map and see all of your photos pop up in the various locations is an exciting, unique storytelling tool.
Last but not least, Exif data can help you maintain and enforce the copyright ownership of your images. In-camera, you can embed copyright data into every image you capture, complete with your name, a copyright warning, and your website address or other contact info, depending on which camera you’re using.
In the past, I have actually had local print labs call or email me and double-check to see whether they can print the images my clients brought them! This is because I export all of my images with copyright information embedded, both high-res and web-res.
NOTE: Of course, someone who understands Exif can indeed “strip” that copyright info, which we’ll get into next. Alternately, if someone is merely screenshotting an image on their phone or desktop/laptop computer, that creates a whole different image, and no Exif data is transferred.
How to Remove Exif Data from Photos
There are a few reasons you may want to remove Exif from your photos. Of course, if you’re stealing someone else’s photos you might want to delete the Exif to cover your tracks. We are going to strongly disapprove of such an unscrupulous activity, obviously. Never steal another photographer’s photos. You may be able to strip Exif, but doing so may only make you even more culpable in a lawsuit!
With that being said, one very common practice for many photographers is to export their images without certain information, such as exposure info, facial recognition, or GPS location data, while still including copyright and other critical data.
Thankfully, this is very easy now with most raw image export interfaces. In Adobe Lightroom, towards the bottom of the export panel, simply select “Copyright Only”
There are nearly identical options for most other image processing applications, such as Adobe Bridge / Camera Raw, or Capture One, Affinity, etc.
Alternately, if you’re working with a JPG photo that you have already edited and exported, some applications allow you to add, delete, or subtract Exif data later. Adobe Bridge is one such application; it is included in a Lightroom/Photoshop subscription, by the way.
Why Is My Exif Data Missing?
Before we conclude, there’s one more question you might be wondering. Let’s say you have a relatively new camera, and you already understand how Exif works. So, what if you import your photos into Lightroom, and you see this? (—)
Those dashes are supposed to be your lens data. Where did it go? Usually, these dashes simply mean that you’re using a lens that doesn’t have any electronics, and therefore it cannot tell the camera anything about those settings.
Often, there is nothing you can do to fix this unless you want to go oldschool and actually write down the missing Exif for each image and input it later using Adobe Bridge. Nikon DSLRs have the ability to mechanically read the aperture setting of your old Nikkor AIS lenses, which is neat, and you can manually input focal length and maximum aperture for multiple lenses, but unfortunately
Now you know that Exif data isn’t just for camera nerds! It can be a useful creative tool, it can help you protect your images, and much more. If you have any questions about Exif data, such as where to find a particular piece of information, or how to get it to display a certain way in your editing application, please leave a comment below!