How to use EXIF data

EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format – a slightly intimidating name for a very useful feature in digital photography.

What exactly is EXIF data? It’s essentially a snapshot of camera settings that’s recorded when you take a photo.

You can view this information on the back of the camera or in image editing software, image viewers and photo management platforms.

How to use EXIF data

Why would you want to view EXIF data? Well, for a start it’s a great way for newcomers to photography to improve their technical knowledge.

It’s also useful for more experienced shooters who want to identify camera and lens settings that produce the best quality results, and to assess where a picture could have been improved.

EXIF includes information such as the camera, lens and focal length used to take a picture, the date and time it was taken, whether the flash was fired or not, plus white balance, exposure mode and exposure compensation details.

Not all of this information can be viewed in all software – and to be honest, you don’t need it all anyway.

EXIF data

When it comes to reading EXIF data, the most useful part is the basic exposure information: aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

By looking at where the image works/doesn’t work, and how this relates to the EXIF data, you can understand how to set your camera up next time you shoot a similar subject.

Take this shot, for instance. Some of the foreground and background details aren’t in focus. By using the EXIF data, we can see that the aperture was f/11. Next time we know we could increase the depth of field to get more in focus by selecting a smaller aperture, such as f/16 or f/22.

Reading EXIF data

Zooming in, you might notice that details in the picture are slightly blurred. By looking at the shutter speed in the EXIF, you can see that this was too slow to take a sharp picture.

You now know that next time you’d need to use a faster shutter speed, or put the camera on a tripod. Or, if you have to shoot handheld, to increase the ISO. The EXIF shows that it was taken at ISO 160, and increasing this to ISO 400 or above would allow you to use a faster shutter speed and/or smaller aperture.

Of course, nothing beats a tripod to allow to use a low ISO, smaller aperture AND slower shutter speed!

So, EXIF data is another tool to help you on the road to improving your photography, whether you’re viewing your own images or looking at the work of other photographers. It’s no wonder that photo management platforms like Canon’s Project1709 include an EXIF viewer as standard.

How do you use EXIF data? Is it something you regularly refer to when reviewing your own work – and that of others? Let us know in the comments below…

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