Getting Hands On With Detailed Metadata

Getting Hands On With Detailed Metadata
Every digital camera records all sorts of information about each exposure in text-based data that’s embedded into each image file. This EXIF metadata includes everything from the exposure settings (such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance) to the camera details (make and model, number of shutter actuations, whether or not a flash was fired) and much, much more. Sometimes it can be very helpful to dig into that metadata for various reasons, including sorting and finding image files or gauging the health of a camera’s mechanical shutter. Here are a few different ways to dig into the wealth of information contained in an image file’s EXIF metadata.

Lightroom

Getting Hands On With Detailed Metadata

Along with its powerful tools for organizing and editing RAW image files, Lightroom offers tremendous capability for working with metadata—both by adding and editing custom IPTC metadata (things like copyright and contact information) and by accessing much of the EXIF metadata contained in an image file to help sort images by attributes. For instance, let’s say you photographed a set of images at two different apertures—ƒ/8 and ƒ/7.1. In the end, perhaps you decide that those shot at ƒ/8 are one-third stop too dark. But since they’re scattered throughout the take, finding and editing them one by one would take forever. Instead, click the Library Filter toolbar found atop the thumbnail view in the Library module and then click on the Metadata heading to sort by a variety of metadata attributes including focal length, ISO and aperture. Click on any heading and a dropdown menu of options appear. Choose Aperture and you’ll be presented with filters for all of the apertures included in the folder you’re viewing—in this case, ƒ/8 and ƒ/7.1. Click on ƒ/8 and the view will switch to just those images that are a third-stop underexposed. You can then make an edit to the brightness of one file and apply it to all the others in the group (which are all ƒ/8 and one-third under) before returning to the unfiltered set. Now all those underexposed images scattered throughout the take are normally exposed, and it was facilitated by Lightroom’s ability to harness EXIF metadata for filtering groups of images.

ExifTool

Getting Hands On With Detailed Metadata

If what you want to do is to really dig into the wealth of information—as in, the pages and pages of information—contained in the EXIF data of a given image file, then you should download the free open source ExifTool software from developer Phil Harvey. Available for Mac and Windows machines, ExifTool isn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy application, but boy does it deliver on a simple promise: to help you view and edit metadata (including many other types of data beyond the EXIF of its name). Download and install the code, and via the Windows command line or the terminal window on a Mac, you’ll enter simple text commands to view the metadata. On Mac or Windows, simply type EXIFTOOL in the command line, and then a space, and then drag the image file in question onto the command line (which automatically enters the path to the file). ExifTool will then display the EXIF data—all of the data—in line after line of code. You can delve into things like the orientation of the camera, its temperature, picture styles, area autofocus details and so very much more, in each case depending on the camera model and what the manufacturer chooses to save in the EXIF data. It’s almost too much information for any common purpose, but if you’re looking for specific details—for instance, how many shutter actuations on the camera at the time of capture—you can use ctrl-F (or cmd-F on Mac) to find specific words or phrases within the text. You can also edit metadata should you want to, and you can even choose to learn a variety of other ExifTool commands that give the application much more functionality. I find it incredibly useful just for its data viewing capabilities alone. There’s a lot of metadata contained in every image file, and ExifTool helps you get your hands on it in a simple and straightforward way.

EOSCount

Getting Hands On With Detailed Metadata

One of the primary reasons photographers want to dig deep into the bowels of their image files’ EXIF data is to determine the shutter actuations of the camera they’re using. This is useful particularly when buying or selling a used DSLR because different camera models are constructed to different standards, with pro models typically built to handle hundreds of thousands of actuations of the mechanical shutter, while entry-level cameras don’t have such heavy-duty shutters built in. You can find the life expectancy of a given camera’s shutter with a quick Google search, but finding the actual shutter count can be a bit trickier depending on the manufacturer and camera model. Nikon, for instance, includes shutter count in the easily accessible metadata of its cameras’ image files. Select an image file on a Mac, for instance, and click cmd-I to get the file info, and you should be able to view the shutter count. Canon, however, typically makes finding that information a bit trickier. On a recent sale of a used 5D Mark II body, I wanted to let potential buyers know how many shutter actuations this camera had—like disclosing the mileage on the odometer with a used car. The easiest approach to find this very specific bit of data is to download EOSCount software. Simply download the free software and connect your camera via USB cable, then run the application and it will tell you the shutter count—after prompting you to pay a couple of bucks for the information. (It also provides the serial number, firmware version and battery capacity.) In the end, the software is free, but the information isn’t. But if you’d care to know, for instance, that the camera you’re selling has more than 313,000 shutter actuations and therefore is much nearer the end of its lifecycle than most comparable cameras on the market, it’s a few bucks well spent.

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