Exchangeable Image File Format, or Exif according to JEIDA/JEITA/CIPA specifications (rather than the commonly used EXIF) is a standard that specifies the formats for images, sound, and ancillary tags used by digital cameras (including smartphones), scanners and other systems handling image and sound files recorded by digital devices. That is the technicalese of Exif data.


Brief Introduction to Exif

A typical digital camera may provide a base number of values covering:

  • Data and time information;
  • Camera make and model; and
  • Camera settings including orientation, aperture, shutter speed, focal length, metering mode and ISO speed.

The following Exif data is taken from a photo straight out of my camera.



As you can see, there is a wealth of information contained within the photo itself. Exact date and time the shot was taken, the resolution and size of file.

More importantly there are all the details of the photo itself. It is useful information to learn what you have done right or wrong in a shot.

What is also embedded in each photo is the camera serial number itself. This gives you the option of potentially tracking down a lost or stolen camera on an online database such as Stolen Camera Finder. Your mileage may vary, I know no photos from my stolen EOS 7D has shown up on the internet since it left my possession.


What Good is Exif?

Aside from what was mentioned above, one of the great things about Exif is the ability to add your own metadata to your photos.

Here’s the metadata from the same example as above after I have done post-processing and all the usual guff.

EXIF: After Adding Custom EXIF

EXIF: After Adding Custom EXIF

During my post-processing steps, I add my name and copyright message into the Exif. In most cases I also add the title of the photo in so that when I upload a photo to Flickr, the title is pre-populated.

As you can see, I took the Exif data from my Week 11 “52 Selfies” Shot. I usually stop Flickr from displaying my Exif, but if you look above you can see my ISO, aperture, shutter speed, EV compensation and focal length to achieve this shot.


Why Add in Custom Exif?

I do this step as a first line deterrent to photo stealing. A watermark can largely achieve the same goal but it is very in your face and can detract from an image. Exif is far more subtle.

It is not going to stop someone determined to steal your photo, in a way I see it as branding my photo so if it shows up elsewhere on the internet, I may have more than just an image to prove it.


How Do You Add Exif Data?

Really simple. If you own Photoshop, go to File Menu, File Info.

The Customise EXIF Menu

The Customise EXIF Menu

If you are using Lightroom, you will find it under “Metadata” section under the “Library” tab.

ANGRY MAN SAYS CHANGE YOUR EXIF! (Adding Exif in Lightroom.)

Adding Exif in Lightroom.

This is what typically shows up in my files.

This image is the exlusive property of [full name] and is protected under International Copyright Laws. The image may not be reproduced, copied, transmitted or manipulated without the written permission of [full name]. All images are copyrighted © [year range] [full name].

It might be a token gesture against theft, but it makes me feel empowered.

In summary, Exif data can be useful in a number of ways. It is unlikely to be something you will use with every shot you take, but it can be a valuable tool to improve your photography skills and learn from your shots.

The bonus part is that if you decide to post an image somewhere, you can add in your custom Exif data to brand your photo.


Kevin Cheng Bio PicKevin Cheng is a product of East colliding with West, a juxtaposition of old culture and new. Eternally juggling his roles as husband, father, IT boffin, engineer, chef, photographer, gadget reviewer, writer, whisky connoisseur, wine lover and dreamer. He is generally found in a highly keffinated state and is a workaholic who does not understand the meaning of slowing down. He can be found sporadically on Flickr or say hello on Twitter @aerokev.


2 thoughts on “EXIF. WTF. ORLY? What Is It & How Do You Add It To Your Image?

  1. Hi Kevin, Some cameras also allow you to put a customised message directly into the EXIF data with each photo as its taken.This would be useful if your camera was stolen whilst still on location, and then recovered.

    • That’s a good point Nick. I would also suggest keeping information to a minimum, like a contact email or phone number. Sadly there is always a risk of identity theft when too much information is made available.

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