Have you ever been asked for your image´s EXIF data?
…and well, what´s the point?
EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File and stores information on your image like used ISO, aperture, shutter speed etc.. On image sharing sites like Flickr, 500px and others this data is taken from the actual image and displayed with the image title, name of photographer, the caption to the picture and info like geographical and time data. I sometimes receive questions asking for this information. I want to be honest with you: it usually makes me raise an eyebrow because I don’t really know of what value the information is.
I mean I get the point, seeing some sort of info about the technical settings that lead to an image (supposing the written settings are correct) may give orientation especially to beginners on how to reproduce similar. And that can be helpful for example with night photography. How long was the image taken? How far was the aperture opened and to what ISO did the photographer crank his camera? But still in most cases there is no absolute wrong or right in which settings an images is taken with.
Yet, I know it is almost common sense to share this information coming with an image. Like it is common to have paintings on a museum wall accompanied by a little tag next to it with artist´s name, title of work, year of release and material the art was made of. Maybe it is just me, but my interest for these informations sinks in the just mentioned order. I care for the artist´s name, the title of the work may give a deeper meaning to it, year of release is often less interesting (except for when I know the artist just started that year, or was close to his death maybe) and the material really only matters to me if it is something really crazy or unexpected. I am actually thankful the brush manufacturer, canvas brand and color pigment details aren’t mentioned. Because really, does that add to my experience of seeing the image?
So the question “what camera did you use for this image?” is of no importance to me. I don’t ask “what car model did you use to arrive here?”, either. If you arrived safely and made it from A to B just like you planned to then I guess you are fine. Same with the camera. It´s you who uses the gear that makes the image. The camera can only help capturing it. Maybe make it more convenient for you to achieve what you desire. And except for extreme conditions you can achieve almost the same results with a huge range of different cameras, brands and models. But I rambled enough about this matter here.
Coming back to the days I started out – frankly speaking that´s just a mere 3 years ago, I know where the question for EXIF data comes from. It is the desire for orientation on how to ‘rebuild’ similar images. With more experience you will ultimately realize: yes, it can be helpful but also so misleading. My advice to ambitious starters who want to work the manual mode of the camera – I strongly recommend doing so for full control and pleasure of photography – is: focus your attention on how to read and react to the histogram of your camera much rather than rebuilding settings of other images.
Remember, settings of a camera and therefore the resulting EXIF data are the result of a photographer’s decision in the field under specific circumstances and in a very specific moment. Even when being at the exact same spot I bet you will have a hard time rebuilding an image with the same settings as used by another photographer some time before. Why? Because light conditions can change drastically and so does wind. Wait a minute, why wind? Well, just imagine this example: you want to have beautiful lupines as a foreground element in your image. You carefully set up your tripod and have your camera set on your desired aperture sweetspot of f10. You check the histogram and go for a shutter speed of 1/3 seconds for a well exposed image. You press the shutter and check the result in the display. To control sharpness you zoom into the image and find the flowers in the foreground blurry because of their movement in the wind. To keep the long story short: a couple of test shots later you find yourself using a complete different setting in order to have a fast shutter that freezes the moving lupines. In that case opening the aperture (which will leave you with having to focus stack) and or increasing the ISO significantly because the much faster shutter speed takes away needed light of your exposure. Will those settings be ideal? Most likely for that situation, especially if you know your gear well and know how much you can open up the aperture and increase the ISO without sacrificing too much image quality. But we all would agree that the settings wouldn’t be ideal if there was no wind shake.
There could be many more examples. And just think of another thing that will lead to less than optimal settings: it´s the mistakes of a photographer. I can only speak for myself: but have I made wrong decisions in the field? Oh yeah, plenty. When things get hectic in short time frames of good light, or hanging over a rock while waves come crashing in, you leave much room to make errors. Luckily it doesn’t happen all of the time. And it doesn’t necessarily mean an image is ruined altogether. It might just be less than what could optimally be achieved. And I am not even naming the times when I am just tired and exhausted on a photo tour chasing light and not sleeping enough. It would be dishonest to say you can be on top of your game each and every time settingswise. But you needn’t be: there are many ways to photograph an image. And there are many ways to overcome shortcomings in editing. The bottom line is: you need to have your artistic vision and your creativity come across. Your camera and settings are tools in getting there. Not a blueprint for reproduction. Thank god. This may be confusing at the beginning, because as a starter you would love to just have defined rules that most certainly make for good images. But the more experienced you get the more you cherish the freedom of being able to travel different roads, yet, still arrive at your desired destination.
So from now on when I will get asked for EXIFs again, I will just provide the link to this article instead and say “keep shooting and enjoy!”.