As a beginning photographer, it’s a good idea to learn about all of the different aperture, shutter speed, focal length, and ISO settings that contribute to a great picture. You want to know how all of these variables work together to create the final product you present to your audience. That’s why today’s digital camera models are so incredibly useful. They actually save all of this information every time you take a photo in a separate part of your image file known as the photo’s EXIF information.
An EXIF file is basically a collection of facts about the picture you just took. It is a recording of the camera model used, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, and in some cases, ISO speed and GPS coordinates. As cameras continue to get better, more information is recorded in the EXIF file. Who knows what we’ll see in the future. Perhaps there will be cameras with temperature and barometric pressure sensors so you can see how that affects the photo as well.
Quite a bit of information is available in EXIF
Where you can find EXIF information
You can access the EXIF information for a particular photo either from your camera or your computer. On most camera models, simply press the little “i” button. A menu containing all of the EXIF information should pop up. If you’re a mac user, right clicking on an image file and selecting “get info” will bring up the EXIF information. PC users will do something similar, right clicking on an image, choose Properties and then Details. Another way is to load the image in your favorite paint program.
What to do with EXIF information once you have it
So what should you do with all of this information? It is really best put to use when you are trying to create a better version of the same kind of photo. Let’s say, for example, that you keep walking the same beach every morning, and you always take a picture of the sunrise. When you get home, you notice that the picture isn’t as bright as you want it to be. So you remember which shutter speed you used from the EXIF information, and make a mental note to decrease the shutter speed slightly the next time you go out to take the photo.
There are other applications as well. EXIF files are a great way to reverse engineer what your camera’s automatic mode is doing. That way, you can wean yourself off of it and learn how to shoot in manual mode. All you have to do is take a photo in automatic mode, look at the EXIF information while you’re out in the field, and then recreate the settings in manual mode. Try to figure why the camera’s automatic mode is doing what it is doing, and you will better understand what is going on.
Using the EXIF information will also help you understand how your camera’s automatic modes can often fall short of the ideal. Perhaps you took a photo in automatic mode and found out later on that it didn’t have enough depth of field. You check out the EXIF file, and sure enough, the aperture was set to F5.6 when it really should have been set to F8. The next time you go out into the field to take the photo, you can copy the automatic settings and adjust the aperture to create more depth of field. Of course, you will also have to decrease the shutter speed and use your light meter to get the correct exposure, but the EXIF information will at least give you a basis to start all of these slight modifications.
Eventually, you’ll just know
As you become a more seasoned photographer, you will eventually no longer need to refer to the EXIF information every time you go out and take photos. You will have a keen understanding of the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, ISO speed, focal length, and everything else that comes together to make a photo work. You will know how where to meter your shots to get the best lighting as well as all of the small adjustments you have to make to get something you want.
Until then, keep using your camera’s EXIF information to tweak your photos and make them better. When you take almost everything in manual mode and most of your pictures look great, you probably won’t need to keep referring to the EXIF files all of the time. I’ll let you be the judge of that.
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