What is EXIF MetaData and is it safe?

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Posted by Sam Adrain

What is EXIF metadata

In the days before digital photography a lot of photographers would carry a notebook in which they would make notes of camera settings like aperture, shutter speed, film type, lens used and even what filters they used, where the shots were taken, the list goes on…

But with the advent of digital photography the camera can now do all that for you in the form of EXIF metadata or simply EXIF.

EXIF is short for Exchangeable Image File, a format that is a standard for storing interchange information in digital photography image files.

All digital imaging devices be it DSLR, Mirrorless CSC, phones & tablets will embed this data within an image file.

This is true of whatever format you use be it RAW or Jpeg.

This data is also found in other formats such as TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) BMP (Bitmap Image File) GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) PNG (Portable Network Graphics) DNG (Digital Negative Format) PSD (Photoshop Document) as well as many others.

So why embed this data?

Well for one it is used primarily by editing software to align it to whatever the camera settings were at the time of the shot.

For instance, if you saved the image as Jpeg then any of the picture control settings you had set in the camera would be transferred into the editing software so as the image displayed on your monitor would replicate what was on the view screen of the camera.

But it does not stop with basic settings which includes all the information displayed in the viewfinder and any other screens on the camera.

As you can see from the screenshot of an image open in Lightroom Classic it has imported camera settings make and model along with details of the lens used and its settings but you will also notice some personal information included as well.

This only shows a fraction of the EXIF data available. Many photo storing website, such as Flickr, can display much more data.

You can also upload your images to websites such as EXIF Data Viewer and Online EXIF Viewer to gather this information, as well as many EXIF readers available for download.

Where in the World?

The image above was taken with a DSLR that is not equipped with inbuilt GPS unlike the camera used to take this next image. As you can see it now as automatically tagged where the image was taken.

Taken in New Zealand

As you can see modern digital devices can store all sorts of useful information about our images.

This includes all the information displayed in the viewfinder and any other screens on the camera, great for those studying a photograph to be able to see what equipment and settings were used.

Personal Data

This is all very helpful you might say BUT here is other side of the coin so to speak, this information can also prove to be very useful to those who might exploit and use this data in ways that could prove to be a security and privacy risk.

As you have seen above there is personal information, and for instance if you take photos of your family or pets in your garden then the location of your home could be exposed.

There is also the fact that the pictures were taken with expensive equipment – it is all there for the world to see on any image that you would upload onto the world wide web, be it social media, google photos, Flickr, in fact any type of online photo site the EXIF data is there for all to see.

Some sites like Flickr allow you to hide this data whilst others like our own photoclub247 do not permit the image data to be download or viewed.

Unfortunately the vast majority of sites do permit the EXIF data to be viewed and although some social media sites claim to remove EXIF data this is not strictly true they in fact only hide the data which for those who know where and how to look it can still be found.

Although there is readily available software that can edit the EXIF data and remove personal information leaving only the camera settings, my advice would be not to set up this information in the device to start with and only use it if you have a particular reason to require it. 

Unfortunately we live in an age where personal information is traded like a commodity with email addresses being harvested and sold to marketing companies who then send out spam and other unwanted mail to use in identity theft where the victim can end up losing large amounts of money so taking care of your personal details is evermore important! 

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Posted by Sam Adrain

Sam is an Electro / Mechanical engineer by day and a self confessed technophile and petrol head all the time! Photography genres Sam enjoys include wildlife, landscape and motorsport, the faster the better. You can see more of his work on his Flickr account or his profile on PhotoClub247

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