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Use Metadata to Improve Your Pictures
Pages: 1, 2

What Should You Use to View EXIF Data?

You have many options for viewing the EXIF data your camera captures. As I mentioned before, iPhoto provides you with most of the important information that you commonly would need. Also, take a look at the software bundled with your camera. For example, both Nikon and Canon provide image utilities that are compatible with Mac OS X, and they are pretty good at giving you the data your camera captures.

Since I shoot many of my pictures with Canon cameras, I use their bundled Image Browser when I want to access all the important metadata accompanying my pictures. Here's a sample of the EXIF output I get from Canon's Image Browser application:

Dig deeper into digital photography! In addition to reading the O'Reilly Digital Photography Pocket Guide by Derrick Story, you can also learn more helpful techniques like these by attending his all day workshop at the San Francisco Graphic Art Institute on Nov. 22, 2002. More cities are being scheduled.

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Top Ten iPhoto Tips -- Yes, at first glance, iPhoto appears deceptively simple. But there's a Unix-compatible database lurking beneath that beautiful Aqua surface. This article gives you five "data in" and five "data out" tips that will help you get the most from this very cool iApp.

Metadata from Canon Image Browser Application

  • File Name: IMG_4580.JPG
  • Camera Model Name: Canon PowerShot G2
  • Shooting Date/Time: 10/14/02 17:21:15
  • Shooting Mode: Program AE
  • Tv(Shutter Speed): 1/160
  • Av(Aperture Value): 4.0
  • Metering Mode: Evaluative
  • Exposure Compensation: 0
  • ISO Speed: 50
  • Lens: 7.0 - 21.0mm
  • Focal Length: 14.6mm
  • Digital Zoom: None
  • Image Size: 2272x1704
  • Image Quality: Super Fine
  • Flash: Off
  • White Balance: Cloudy
  • AF Mode: Single
  • Active AF Points: [ Center ]
  • Parameters: Contrast Low; Sharpness Normal; Color saturation High
  • File Size: 3176KB
  • File Number: 145-4580
  • Drive Mode: Single-frame shooting
  • Owner's Name: Derrick Story

This application shows me settings such as white balance that aren't displayed in most image editors. I don't always need this level of detail, but it's nice to know it's there if I want it.

Photoshop 7 does a pretty good job of reading and displaying metadata too. Just go to File -> File Info, then select EXIF from the dropdown menu in the dialog box. It's the last one at the bottom of the menu. Photoshop doesn't provide everything, but it does give you lots to chew on.

Image data from Photoshop.
Photoshop 7 provides lots of image data. Some of it you probably won't need.

Another handy tool that I keep on my Dock for quick and dirty data checking is EXIF Viewer for Mac OS X by Ali Ozer. This free download provides you with most of the data you need plus displays a thumbnail image to boot. I simply drop the file on the application icon on my Dock, and the information is quickly displayed.

The only bug that I've discovered so far is that sometimes the viewer incorrectly displays the flash information. For my Canon images it says that the flash was on when indeed it wasn't. But other than that, this nifty app is a reliable time saver.

Screen shot.
EXIF Viewer for Mac OS X is a great addition to any photographer's Dock. Just drop the image on the app icon, and you're presented with a thumbnail image and lots of data.

Final Thoughts

I recommend that you keep a set of original files for all of your important images. In part, I think this is just good file management. But I also like to have those original pictures because I know that the metadata will be intact for me to review whenever I want.

When we manipulate pictures and save them in optimized formats, important metadata is sometimes removed from the header. If you don't have those original files to fall back on, you might lose that information forever. Plus, it's always wise to have the unaltered, uncropped picture stashed away safe and sound.

We're just scratching the surface of picture metadata. Soon GPS-equipped cameras might be able to record positioning coordinates to the EXIF file, that could later be translated into locations when browsed with the image editor. Who knows what else? But for now, tapping EXIF data can certainly help us take better pictures and serve as a permanent record for when we recorded them.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit

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