What is photo metadata?

Before the advent of digital photography, anyone who wanted to save additional information about their photos didn’t have many options. The simplest one was to write down the aperture, shutter speed and so on by hand after each photo was taken. With some compact cameras, the date and time could be exposed directly onto the film, and professionals used so-called multifunctional backs that could write some selected data on the edge of the negative strip.

What is photo metadata?

With the triumph of digital photography, it suddenly became easier to store additional information about the image – the metadata – in the image file itself. Three different formats in particular have become established, used by camera manufacturers, software developers, and web applications.

The Exif format is a development of the Japanese camera industry. It made it possible for the first time to add digital metadata to image files in JPEG and TIFF formats. The following Exif data is supported by almost every camera and smartphone manufacturer:

  • Date and time
  • Aperture, exposure time, focal length, ISO value, flash information
  • Photographer and copyright information
  • Preview image (thumbnail)

Geo information and camera angle – for smartphones and cameras with GPS receiver these are inserted automatically, the location can also be inserted later on the computer
This format was developed by news agencies and newspaper associations to simplify image exchange. The abbreviation stands for “International Press Telecommunications Council – Information Interchange Model”. It allows photographers and picture agencies to include information such as the following:

  • Image description
  • Source, creator, contact information
  • Copyright notice
  • Urgency
  • Time of creation and digitization

Location information

Copyright information is often of particular interest to photographers. According to the German Copyright Act, “information originating from rights owners for the purpose of rights management” may not be changed or removed. In practice, however, proceedings are very rare. In 1994, Adobe Photoshop was one of the first programs to support the IPTC-IIM standard and incorporate it into its in-house file format.


The software manufacturer Adobe launched the XMP format (Extensible Metadata Platform) in 2001. XMP data can include not only IPTC data but also Exif information and other details that can be used by programs such as Lightroom and Photoshop. This also allows you to define information fields that are important for your own workflow. However, this additional data is then usually only readable with the program with which it was added.

In practice, most camera and smartphone manufacturers use a mix of Exif, IPTC and XMP information. And usually metadata is stored not only in JPEG and TIFF images, but also in uncompressed RAW format.

However, when converting from RAW format to another, there can be problems with the metadata – for example, fields are not displayed at all or umlauts are displayed incorrectly. If you use different image editing programs, you should check whether the metadata is then preserved.

Displaying metadata of photos

Special software is recommended to display the metadata of a photo. The common operating systems of Windows and Mac OS show some, but usually not all of the stored information.

Online tools

The easiest way to view metadata is with online tools, such as “Jeffrey’s Exif Viewer”. However, you have to upload the image to the site first. It remains invisible to other users, but if you want to be absolutely sure that your photos are not processed by some server, you should use local software.

The online program displays all included metadata, geo-position and camera angle directly on a map. For example, almost all photos on Spiegel Online still contain the original metadata of the photo agency – if you want, you can use the tool to display the exact date the photo was taken, the agency, the agency photographer and the original image description.

Desktop software and browser extensions

In addition to popular programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, there are a number of specialized applications that can be used to view photo metadata. Some applications also manage this for the RAW formats of the most popular camera manufacturers.