Hummingbird intro

The wonderful world of digital photography is an amazing thing! You can take a photo of something and instantly see a thumbnail of the image on your camera or smart phone. Don’t like it, delete it and try again because it only cost you a little battery time. Gone are the hassles of sending your exposed film off to get developed, only to find days or weeks later that your finger covered most of the lens. Taking photos has become easier and graphic editors have allowed us, the picture takers, to change an image in ways we could never have imagined just a few years ago.

The interesting thing about digital images is that all that information is actually stored in a file within your camera or phone. That photo file contains metadata (fancy term meaning data about other data) and is called the EXIF, which stands for Exchangeable Image Format. The EXIF file contains a variety of info but usually includes day, date, time, camera brand, camera settings, copyright information as well as the GPS location of where the image was taken. Wow – that is a lot of stuff and it comes in handy when you take multiple exposures of a subject to determine the correct lighting, aperture and shutter settings for your photo.

Hummingbird thumb

While the EXIF information is of great benefit to those wishing to know the ISO setting, aperture, shutter speed, etc. that it took to create a unique image, it is generally of little use when sharing your images online and could in fact be harmful. More about that later.

First, let’s take a look at a typical EXIF file. I use FastStone (a free graphics editor that I highly recommend) for my go-to editor but it would not allow me to do a screen capture of an image and its EXIF info at the same time. So for this example I switched over to Zoombrowser EX, a graphics editing program that came with my Canon DLSR camera and used FastStone for the screen capture. To my knowledge all graphics editors available these days have the ability to view EXIF information. So to continue, in ZoomBrowser you click on the image to select it, then click on Properties (circled in red). The EXIF window opens displaying the EXIF info for that particular image.

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In the image below, one of the first things I want to point out is that you have the ability to add notes/text to any image because, after all, it is a digital file. When you first see the EXIF info, at the top you will note the date the image was last modified, file size, etc., but about 1/3 the way down you will see the section called Comment (circled in red). You can add whatever text you want to the image and it becomes part of the file. I use the Comment feature when sending turnings off to a gallery. I keep photo records of all my turnings and it is a great way to note which gallery the turning was sent to as well as listing the asking price.

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This next image of the EXIF window shows the first half of the Shooting Information for the selected image. The EXIF displays the image file name, the type of camera used and its firmware version. It also shows who owns the camera, if you entered that info into your camera or phone settings. The rest of the info shows the detailed camera settings for the image, should you want to duplicate your efforts or share those camera settings with others.

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The image below shows the same Shooting Information window as above but has been scrolled to see the second half of the info. The bulk of the info pertains to camera setting but please note the section at the bottom as this is something most people are not aware of and may not want to be sharing with the general public!

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Did you know that cameras and phones have the capability of adding the location the photo was taken to the image file? Many people use the GPS function on their smart phones (and some digital cameras) and that automatically activates the location feature throughout the device. Is it a problem? Well, that depends on you and how you feel about others knowing, possibly tracking your activities. I know it sounds paranoid but consider this, you take a photo of your grandchild or child at daycare and post it to show how cute they are. The EXIF info shows your name and includes the very location where the image was taken. Not only that but the last entry in the EXIF shows the actual serial number of the camera. There have been a number of cases in the news where ‘bad guys’ were tracked down and arrested by using the EXIF information from a photo they posted online.

Here is a snippet from Wikipedia about one such case:

In December 2012, anti-virus programmer John McAfee was arrested in Guatemala while fleeing from alleged persecution[15] in Belize, which shares a border. Vice magazine had published an exclusive interview on their website with McAfee "on the run"[16] that included a photo of McAfee with a Vice reporter taken with a phone that had geotagged the image.[17] The photo's metadata included GPS coordinates locating McAfee in Guatemala, and he was captured two days later.[18] To read more than you’d ever want to know about EXIF, check out this Wikipedia link.

Well, tracking someone is a good thing when used legally but remember the big stink about NSA, CIA, FBI and a few other lettered agencies monitoring phone traffic and the web in the search for bad guys? It takes nothing to write a program (BOT) that searches the web looking for EXIF info. Google, Amazon and Facebook already gather personal information for direct advertising purposes. Are they mining your EXIF info in addition to your online activities? How many times have you visited a website only to have a popup ask you to share your location? Every time the EXIF shows up in an image posted on the web, the world has your name, GPS location and the subject matter of the photo. No big deal for most folks but it is something I wanted to bring to your attention because it has the potential of being misused.

So, what do I recommend?

Make a copy of every image you plan to post online and then only work with that copy. Strip the EXIF info from the copy before resizing it to fit the requirements of the site you are posting it to. This accomplishes two things: 1) leaves the original image intact which proves copyright should anyone try to pass off one of your images as their own, (This has happened to artists I know and having the original image with EXIF info proved that they were the owners.) 2) removing the EXIF info also reduces the overall size of the file when saved. When you have thousands of images stored like I do, even saving 2-3% can really add up.


Graphics editors have the ability to totally remove the EXIF file but you have the option to remove certain portions of the EXIF also. For example, let's say you want to keep your name in the EXIF file to prove ownership. There is a very simple way to do that in Windows 10. Go to File Explorer and locate the image that you want to edit. Right click on that image, then click on Properties.

That opens a popup window with 4 tabs across the top; General, Security, Details and Previous Version. Click on Details (circled in red).

File EXIF thumb


That opens the EXIF file for the image and by clicking on ‘Remove Properties and Personal Information’ at the bottom of the window, you can selectively remove elements of the EXIF but NOT all of it! To remove all of the EXIF info, you will need to use your graphics editing program. The point is, you do have options.

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Have you ever been on a website where someone uploaded a photo only to have it display with the wrong orientation? Your camera stores the image orientation in the EXIF and your graphics editor reads that info to present the image correctly when viewed on your phone or computer. A problem uploading images can occur in a couple of ways; when a website cannot translate the EXIF info to determine if it is portrait or landscape or when the person uploading the image removes the EXIF file but fails to save the image with the correct orientation before uploading. Try it sometime. Take a photo with your camera or phone held sideways. View that image in your graphics editor and it will look just fine. Remove the EXIF file and the photo will then revert to being back on its side. Once you flip the image to the correct view, you need to save it to add the new orientation to the EXIF.

The EXIF information is actually interspersed throughout the image and not stored in a separate file. This can lead to another issue when the image containing EXIF is resized and the EXIF info gets damaged in the process. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it can create some very odd results when trying to upload to a website. An example would be when a website refuses to upload the image because it is too large, even though it had been resized to fit the requirements of the site. This happens because the damaged EXIF info indicates the wrong size. Another example is where a website cannot recognize the upload as an image and then refuses to upload that unknown file type. If you experience anything like that, just remove the EXIF file from the image, save the image and then try to upload again. In my experience, this solves the issue.

In closing, I just want to say that EXIF is neither a good thing nor a bad thing, but it does exist and I wanted to bring it to your attention. Certain aspects of it can be useful and certain portions, in my opinion, are concerns for privacy and safety.

A lot of information is available on the web about EXIF and its uses. I highly recommend doing some online reading on how best to use your EXIF files safely.

I am NOT an expert on this subject but would be happy to answer any of your questions.


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Thursday the 18th. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.