Imagine you have taken that beautiful picture of that flower a few years back. Now you want to make a new photo of another flower, and you really would like to recreate that image. Do you remember what your settings were? Did you write them all down somewhere? What if there was an easy way to find out about it? If you are photographing with a digital camera, you will find all that information in the EXIF data of your image. In this article, I will explain how you can see that data and how it one day might save your pictures for you…
What is EXIF?
EXIF stands for EXchangable Image File Format and is a format description about how to store metadata for images. So every time you take a photo with your digital camera, your camera will not only generate the image files. It will also create metadata about your image and store with the image file. For JPEGs and DNGs this would be directly in the file. For vendor native data formats like NEF or CR, it is included in an XMP sidecar file. This data contains, among others, information about:
the camera you used to take the photo (brand, serial number)
the lens you used to make the picture
date and time when you took the photo
focal length, aperture, exposure time, flash used/not used
How can you access it?
Have you ever looked at one of your photos at your camera’s display? When you toggle the info-button, it will allow you to present extra data about the image. You could have a look at the Histogram, but you can also look at the settings you used to take the photo. So imagine you are out in the field and made that award-worthy picture. But you changed your settings but want to make a second photo with the same settings. What do you do now? Yes, open the image in your camera and toggle the info button until you see it. Phew…the next award-worthy shot is just around the corner now.
But what if you are already back home, the photo is a few years old, and you cannot access it with your camera anymore? Maybe you want to look at the data to see what you did back then and compare it how you do it now. The good news is: you can access this information from your computer as well. Open your file’s properties with Windows Explorer or Mac’s Finder. If you scroll down to the “More Info” section, you will find your exposure settings from that particular file.
But there is so much more information than either of the two would show.
You can install a little, free application called Exiftool by Phil Harvey plus its Graphical User Interface called pyExifToolGUI. It shows pretty much all the EXIF information available and lets you change it too. If you are good on the Mac Terminal, you can access all the information without the GUI by installing ExifTool, but you will also need to install the free Xcode from the Appstore.
You also can access some of the information via Adobe ® Lightroom. Go into the Library module and scroll down in the bottom right menu. Click on the Metadata-entry to open it and choose EXIF or EXIF and IPTC.
Of course, you can use that information when you evaluate your photos. Why does photo X work but not Y? What have you done differently? Is it the composition that makes the difference, or is it something with the exposure? Or maybe a combination of both? Or maybe you are just starting out on your journey as a photographer and the concept of Aperture and depth of field has not yet sunk in? Make a few photos, look at the EXIF data – maybe even create a little notebook with photos and settings inside so you can look it up. And in almost no time you will become a better photographer. Of course, you could also just read my blog series on aperture, depth of field and the exposure triangle. 😉
OK, that’s all nice to know…but there is one setting that might save your day if you should ever lose your memory card or your camera.
How to save your day with EXIF information?
Maybe you saw it when you first got your camera? Scrolling through all the new menus, you might have seen an entry asking you to provide your name and address for Copyright information. Well, why would you enter it if you are not considering to sell your images anyway?
If you enter it, your camera adds it to every photo that you are going to take. Imagine you lose your camera on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii. All your photos are on that one memory card in your camera. And you are going back home the very next morning. Ouch. Did you provide your copyright information? If you did, you might get your camera or at least your memory card back. Of course, there is always Social Media these days to help out with it. But if you are like me, then you won’t have photos of yourself on your memory card. Even if it might take some time before someone is able to reconnect you with your priceless pictures. However, if you provided your copyright information, the finder of your camera can access it too. So unless you lost your camera in a volcano on Hawaii and it melted down, there is still a chance to get at least your photos back. This even if your camera does not work anymore.
Registering your camera online – why is that maybe a good idea?
If your camera were stolen, you could get all the serial numbers from older photos and provide them to the police for their investigation.
There is a helpful free website to register your camera equipment: LensTag. You can register your photo equipment, get a monetary value displayed and mark it as stolen or lost, should the day ever come. Everybody can access the Stolen Gear List. So a potential finder or buyer can check out who owns this equipment and get it back to you. But of course, this also works, if you got an offer that sounded far too good. Check the serial number of the provided goods here and if marked as missing or stolen, do the right thing. Connect the seller to the police instead.
So yes, knowing how to access and use EXIF data might one day make your day!