EXIF and image metadata: your essential guide

What is EXIF data? Learn how to view the metadata in your photos, edit it or remove it, and discover how useful it can be.

Every time you take a photo with a digital camera, a range of "behind-the-scenes" information is saved along with the image data. This is known as metadata, and it can include details of the camera, lens and shooting settings used, plus optional information about the photographer, location and more. The way of recording metadata for digital photos is in the form of EXIF data, and it has many practical benefits. As well as creating a complete record about an image, it can also make it easier to find files in your photo library, helping you to streamline your workflow.

Here, we answer the most common questions about digital photo metadata and reveal how to find an image's EXIF data, how to edit or remove it, how to add additional information such as keywords and captions, and more.

What is EXIF data?
What EXIF data is recorded by a Canon EOS camera?
How do I add keywords and captions to EXIF data?
How do I view a photo's EXIF data?
How can I use EXIF data to find a photo?
How do I remove EXIF data?

 A photograph of the seashore sparkling in sunshine with mountains visible in the background, and a box showing EXIF data in the top left corner.

When you take a photo, your camera automatically saves the shooting settings and other information along with the image data. Viewing this EXIF data enables you to review the technical parameters of your photographs, making it possible to work out the sharpest aperture on a lens, for example, or the slowest shutter speed at which you can shoot handheld.

A hand rests on the keyboard of a laptop. The laptop's screen shows the Canon EOS Utility software.

In addition to the EXIF shooting information that your camera automatically saves, it is possible to add further metadata to your images. You can add your name and copyright information, for example, using the Set-up or Function Settings tab in the camera's menu. In addition, Canon EOS Utility enables you to record IPTC metadata to the camera. This information will then be automatically added to every image you shoot.

What is EXIF data?

EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File Format. It is a standardised way of storing useful metadata in digital image files, and it holds a wealth of technical information about how the image was created, including the time and date it was taken, the camera and lens that was used, and the shooting settings.

There are some standardised EXIF fields that all camera manufacturers use to record normal camera features such as shutter speed, ISO and aperture. In addition, there are manufacturer-specific EXIF fields where different manufacturers can record information about specific functions of their cameras. This means that sometimes this data might not all be seen by all software.

EXIF isn't the only type of metadata that can be attached to a digital image file. IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) and XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) can also form part of a digital photo's data profile. So how is EXIF different from IPTC or XMP metadata? In brief, EXIF is used mainly to store technical information about the image, whereas IPTC metadata describes the content of the image and the rights associated with it. While EXIF is more focused on details such as focal length, exposure and flash settings, IPTC can include the copyright status, caption information and keywords.

XMP metadata was developed by Adobe. It is similar to IPTC, in that it enables you to add descriptive information to an image file. However, it is more modern and flexible. Unlike IPTC, it allows custom metadata to be added as well as standardised metadata. When you process a RAW file in Photoshop, for example, the edit details are saved in a "sidecar" XMP file, leaving the original RAW file untouched.

Three screenshots, from left to right, showing the home screen of the Canon Mobile File Transfer (MFT) app, photo selection screen, and a dialogue box to change the order in which the photos are shown.

Mobile File Transfer (MFT) is a Canon app that enables the streamlined transfer of images to FTP/FTPS/SFTP servers. It also lets you register IPTC metadata to images shot on a compatible Canon camera, direct from your mobile phone.

What EXIF data is recorded by a Canon EOS camera?

Canon cameras record EXIF data alongside image information every time you take a photo. This happens in all shooting modes – from the fully automatic Scene Intelligent Auto to the Creative Zone modes to full Manual mode.

The metadata that's recorded includes information about the equipment used, such as the camera model, the lens (plus the focal length, if it's a zoom lens) and details of any Canon mount adapter or extender that was attached.

Additional, more detailed camera settings and shooting information are also written to the digital image file. EXIF data can include:

Selected EOS cameras are also able to save GPS data that pinpoints the precise location where the image was taken as part of the EXIF. However, this may require the camera to be connected to a mobile phone via the Canon Camera Connect app to log the phone's location data. The Canon GP-E2 GPS Receiver brings the ability to geotag images on a broader range of cameras.

It is not possible to alter which EXIF data is recorded as standard when you take a picture, but you can set up your camera to automatically add "author" and copyright information to every image you shoot. This option is available in the Set-up or Function Settings tab in the camera menu. Alternatively, you can use Canon EOS Utility to set or check the copyright information when the camera is connected to a computer.

Two screenshots of the Canon Mobile File Transfer (MFT) app showing transfer destination settings, and partially filled fields under Register IPTC information.

If you know the details of an assignment's subject or location, you can pre-populate the IPTC text fields in the MFT app before you shoot. The data will then be automatically added to the images as they're recorded.

How do I add keywords and captions to EXIF data?

Copyright information isn't the only custom metadata that can be embedded in a digital image. You can add additional industry-standard IPTC or XMP metadata to files later using image editing and management software or apps. Captions and keywords that outline a subject's name and job title, for example, or a wildlife species or event, can be a helpful resource for future reference. If you're a professional agency photographer, then such additions aren't just nice to have, but essential business requirements. Having such information saved within image files can be invaluable when, for example, you're on assignment and sending images to a picture desk or editor over FTP.

Connect your Canon camera to a computer, and you can use EOS Utility to register IPTC metadata to the camera ahead of a shoot:

  1. Select Camera settings in the main EOS Utility window.
  2. Choose Register IPTC information from the list of options.
  3. Fill in whatever you want from a comprehensive range of information, including caption, keywords and contact details, then click Apply to camera. The information will then be added automatically to all images you subsequently take using that camera.

The Canon Mobile File Transfer (MFT) app for iOS and Android simplifies this process further by enabling IPTC metadata to be created, edited and added to images pre- or post-capture while you're still in the field.

Using the app, data such as your name, copyright details and caption information can be sent directly to the camera as "IPTC headers" which will then be embedded in the images. By filling in the IPTC text fields with details ahead of an assignment, you can save time later. The MFT app also enables geotags to be added the moment images are captured on a compatible camera, as can voice memos, allowing you to provide additional details or instructions.

A screenshot of Digital Photo Professional 4 showing the Sort by menu options, with ISO Speed highlighted.

Import your shots into Digital Photo Professional (DPP) and you can not only view their EXIF information but also sort images by various kinds of metadata.

How do I view a photo's EXIF data?

To view the EXIF data in digital image files on a Windows PC, probably the easiest option is simply to right-click on the image file, select Properties and click the Details tab. On a Mac, you can open the image in Preview, go to the Tools menu, select Show Inspector and click the Exif tab. In the Photos app on a Mac, right-click on the image file and select Get Info, and you can view the key EXIF information as well as add a caption, keyword and location details.

If you upload images to Canon's cloud-based photo management service, you can view their metadata in the web interface or in the app.

There are many tools that aim to take you further, from free EXIF editors to paid-for image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Selecting File Info (or its equivalent) often enables you to explore the EXIF data in more depth. Not all EXIF viewers are made equal, though, and some EXIF data may be extracted and presented as raw numbers, which can be hard to interpret.

Canon's free Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software provides a more meaningful summary of EXIF data for EOS cameras, which you can access by going to View > Info. DPP displays the shooting information using the same terms and settings used in the camera menus, making it easy to analyse the EXIF data. It's also possible to view the XMP/IPTC metadata in the same information panel, as well as Recipe details summarising any processing that's been carried out on the file in DPP.

How can I use EXIF data to find a photo?

One of the most useful aspects of EXIF data is the way you can use it to filter and sort images, helping you to organise your photo library and find files more easily. In DPP, for example, you can sort images by lens used, ISO, shutter speed, aperture value and other metadata. In Lightroom Classic, you can use the Library Filter bar at the top of the Library module's Grid view to filter photos by EXIF and IPTC metadata. Keywords, captions and file names can also be used to start or refine a search.

EXIF and other metadata has many other benefits in a variety of situations. If you're a professional photographer supplying images to editors or clients, all the shot information they might require can be included, right down to captions and copyright details. Photo contest judges can confirm that a given effect was achieved in-camera.

A screenshot of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom showing an image of a print emerging from a Canon printer, while the panel on the right shows the option to delete EXIF data.

Image editing software commonly gives you options for editing or removing EXIF data. In Lightroom, removing EXIF is quite straightforward. Go to File > Export and, in the pop-up menu, select Copyright Only, then click the Export button. This will strip the file of any metadata but will retain your copyright information.

How do I remove EXIF data?

Although EXIF data is very useful, there may be times when you'd prefer not to share details that identify you, your location or your camera equipment.

If you host and post images online, some services may automatically strip out embedded metadata for privacy reasons. The cloud-based photo management service offers the option to generate a "thumbnail" version of an image (a JPEG up to 2,048 pixels), suitable for web or app use, and this thumbnail will not include the image metadata.

EXIF data can also be unintentionally removed from a digital photo when you're carrying out post-processing and manipulation, such as compositing images. But how can you remove EXIF data intentionally, or delete specific information you don't want to share?

There are a several standalone EXIF removal tools available, but there are more straightforward options. If you're using Windows, you can do the job directly in File Explorer:

  1. Right-click the image and select Properties, then click the Details tab.
  2. Click Remove Properties and Personal Information at the foot of this window.
  3. You'll be given the option to create a copy of the image with all the metadata removed, or remove some or all of the EXIF data from the existing file.
It's also easy to remove EXIF data in your image editing and RAW processing software, including DPP and Lightroom. Here's how to do it in DPP:
  1. Go to File > Convert and save.
  2. In the window that appears, click and hold the drop-down menu next to Shooting info setting.
  3. You can choose to remove the shooting info or just the GPS info – or leave all the shooting info intact.
You also have the option of including or excluding GPS info when you transfer files wirelessly from a Wi-Fi enabled Canon camera to a mobile device via the Canon Camera Connect app. Removing GPS data from a photo can be a priority for people who want to protect their privacy, particularly if it discloses the location of their home.

Adobe, Lightroom and Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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