What is EXIF data in digital photography?

EXIF is an acronym meaning “Exchangeable Image File Format”, designating a standard adopted in the last twenty years or so, by the majority of digital camera manufacturers. EXIF information is added to each image captured by your digital camera, either in JPEG or RAW format.

Exif = Metadata

The Exif data is so-called “metadata” in computer parlance, i.e. information ABOUT the image, but not forming an integral part of it. However this information is stored in a specific part of the image file called a “header”.

Exif data schematic.

Click to enlarge: Exif data schematic. Image © Charles Martel 2015

Exif and computers

The operating system in the majority of newer computers, both Windows and OS X (Mac), can display at least part of the image’s EXIF information in the file properties window (right-click, “file information” on the Mac; right-click, “properties” in Windows).

File Information on a Mac.

Click to enlarge: File Information on a Mac. Image © Charles Martel 2015

Image Management Software

The majority of image management software is able to read and understand EXIF data and display it with the picture, if so desired by the user.

Click to enlarge: Metadata in LightRoom CC. Image © Charles Martel 2015

Click to enlarge: Metadata in LightRoom CC. Image © Charles Martel 2015

What information is collected as EXIF data?

The EXIF data standard includes information about the device, such as the brand and model number.

Also, information about exposure, including:

  1. Selected ISO setting,
  2. Lens opening (aperture or F-Stop setting),
  3. Exposure time (or Shutter Speed),
  4. Flash activation (or not),
  5. etc.

It may also include geolocation information via GPS if the camera has this function. And more.

How is this important to me?

This information is completely useless for most amateur photographers. The vast majority of them do not even know it exists.

However, for the advanced photographer or pros, EXIF data can be an extremely useful information source. For example, in trying to recapture a specific mood, from a previous (earlier) image.

It may also prove useful to search a database, LightRoom for example, to extract the images made with a specific digital camera or lens. Etc.


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