What is EXIF? :: Digital Photo Secrets

What is EXIF?

by David Peterson 16 comments

We hear so much about EXIF data, but not many people know how useful having the EXIF data can be.

EXIF Explained

I remember a time back in the film camera days, when the cameras imprinted the time and date onto the photo. At the time this was a handy way to know when a photo was taken. The problem was that if the camera's date was wrong (and usually it was), so was your picture. And more importantly, there was this awful date imprinted on your lovely photo!

With digital cameras, this has all changed. On each and every shot, the camera records not only the date and time, but all the other camera settings used to record the photo. That includes the shutter speed, aperture setting, ISO setting, is the flash was used, the focal length and lots lots more.

This is stored with the photo in what is called EXIF data inside your jpeg file (not technically correct, as EXIF is actually a file format, but it's good enough for our discussion). When you copy the image to your computer, the EXIF data is copied as well, as a part of the image.

EXIF Shot Information

EXIF Shot Information

How can I see the EXIF data?

  • Lots of web photo applications like Flickr show the EXIF data if available alongside the photo.
  • Most paint programs allow you to view the EXIF data (Photoshop shows you in the metadata window in Adobe Bridge).
  • You can view the EXIF data in Windows XP by right clicking on the image, choosing Properties and then the Summary tab. This is cumbersome though!
  • Specialized (and free) programs like EXIF Reader for Windows or PhotoToolCM for the Mac show you the EXIF data and allow you to edit it.

Use EXIF as a learning tool

As Flickr, and my Digital Photo Gallery among others display EXIF data (if available) alongside the photo. Looking at this camera shot data as well as the image can give you lots of insights as to how different camera settings affect photo characteristics.

In fact the pro photographers reviewing photos for my Photography Dash often look at the EXIF data to help them know what the camera did, and thus what changes can be made to make an image better.

Here's your homework for today

  • Take a look at the recent images uploaded to my Digital Photo Forum Image Gallery and look at the EXIF information below the photos.
  • Use an EXIF display program on your computer to see the shot records of the last few photos you have taken.

Pay particular attention to the Shutter Speed, Aperture (F-Stop), and ISO. You'll quickly start to learn how each of these values affect a photo in different lighting conditions. If looking at other people's photos, pay attention to the type of camera used as well. Most of the time you'll be surprised at how great photos with Point and Shoot cameras are!

Have you learned anything from the EXIF data? Tell me what in the comments below.

Most people think this post is Interesting. What do you think?


  1. Ryan says:

    People need to be aware of the privacy risks of metadata tags like Exif. This data can disclose information such as GPS location. Before publishing pictures on internet everyone should use an exif tag remover utility to be sure that they don't leak private information!

  2. David Carr says:

    Thanks!! That is probably rudimentary information for photographers that have been shooting digital for awhile. I'm a dinosaur coming from film. We used to have to carry notebooks around, and write down all of that info. It was cumbersome.

    I've been pulling up my latest shoots all morning, and I am already starting to make the connection between what works and what doesn't. All of the tips are great, but this is my personal favorite so far.


  3. Liene says:

    Very well explained. I googled what is EXIF, your link was the first one I clicked and I need to look no further. Thank you.

  4. Margaret Otimi says:

    I just love learning more and more thanks Dave much appreciated....

  5. Edgar Hoover says:

    What software is required to make contact prints from digital images

  6. David Peterson says:

    Hi Ujik,

    Unfortunately, no. If the GPS data was not active at the time you took the photo, and it's not stored in the EXIF information, there's no way to retrieve it.


  7. ujik waskita says:

    i have a photo from black berry, the gps is not active. Can I get the location info ?

  8. Olu says:

    These are very valuable and lifelong tips at no cost. Thanks for these lessons and tips, I for one will always remember them.

  9. SS Reddy says:

    What the letters EXIF stand for? I know IF stand for Image Format? What about E X?

  10. Amit says:

    This is interesting. The last sentance impressed me.
    "Most of the time youll be surprised at how great photos with Point and Shoot cameras are!"
    Since I started using my DSLR, I was underestimating my old P&S Kodak C340. But really, It can also capture great images. Its the photographer who must know how to use the equipment.
    Thanks David, you have opened my eyes. :)
    I feel sorry about my old Kodak and apologize it..

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