EXIF data is a simple record of camera settings such as ISO, shutter speed, and aperture captured with any digital image. This data is embedded into the files saved by the camera.
Many photographers are curious as to the EXIF data recorded in photographs I and others publish in places like Flickr. I usually turn that information off so you can’t see it. Here’s why.
If I go to Glacier National Park in January and make a photo at Lake McDonald, the circumstances I find will be much different than you find in August. The sun angle will be different. Chances are very good that the temperatures will be warmer. There will be a different quality of light (depending on the weather.) There will be snow in January but not August. The shadows will fall in different places, etc. So if I make an image at ISO 400, F.8 at 1/60th of a second on my Nikon D7000, it’s almost impossible to believe that you – selecting that same ISO, aperture and shutter speed, would get the same results.
In other words, using my settings to take your picture won’t be helpful. Yes, there is an argument that you can learn from making mistakes, but in my opinion, it’s a lazy man’s way to learn. It’s better to go make your own images. Study the impact of the exposure triangle (ISO, shutter speed and aperture) on each shot, and learn those characteristics from doing your own work. You’ll start to recognize what’s going on to the point that some day, if you shoot often enough, you’ll be able to walk into the field and with nothing more than your naked eye, guess the proper exposure.
There’s another reason I don’t usually share this info. On several occasions I’ve broken this rule and let people see the EXIF data on my photos. Invariably, something like this happens next. Someone sends me an email saying they went to the same place I did, used my settings, and their picture sucked – followed by “You don’t know what you’re doing. I used your settings and they didn’t work. How can you call yourself a professional photographer?” Sigh. This sort of abuse is nothing new to me, but there’s no reason to help perpetuate it. I think people do themselves a disservice by trying to apply my personal settings to their own shots. It won’t work. So why help it along?
Lastly, I think that the emphasis in photography on gear, technology and technique is ill-placed. Lately – as in the last few years of my career, I’ve found more personal satisfaction teaching the CONCEPTS behind photography. I think looking for light, story telling, composition, mood, etc., are more important. I’d rather teach these concepts because I think they offer more long-term benefits. This is akin to offering someone who needs food seed rather than corn. With corn, they will fill their bellies today. But tomorrow, they will be hungry. With seed, they can grow crops that nourish them all the time.
I have been accused of not sharing the EXIF data because I want to “protect my setups.” Not only is this patently false, it’s ridiculous for all the reasons I’ve already shared. Additionally, I’ve been writing about photography online since 1998. I’ve done everything in my power to share everything I know with the simple goal of helping others improve their photography. If I thought sharing the EXIF data would help, I’d do it. In fact I have done it. In rare circumstances (such as trying to explain BOKEH or depth-of-field) I have shared such data, and will again where I think it’s appropriate. But in general, I don’t find it helpful to the way I like to teach.
I realize some of you will disagree. That’s okay. I wanted you to know my reasons for my choice and hopefully motivate some of you to concentrate less on gear and technique and more on art, craft and vision. Hopefully you can still learn something here even if you are the person who really wants the EXIF data.