For the instructions straight up, skip to the section ‘Actually Using ExifTool’. This intro is about why you would want to use ExifTool in the first place.
Why would I want to use ExifTool in the first place?
ExifTool is a program that edits metadata on images. If you make and share pictures, even just snaps you make with your phone, it’s good to have a little knowledge about what’s actually in those picture files. Image metadata can contain info about the time and location a picture was taken, the camera settings that were used, the camera itself (make, model, serial numbers), how it was edited, the copyright and author, and many other things.
Here are some examples of what an image file can hold:
Types of metadata
EXIF, IPTC and XMP are the 3 metadata formats you will commonly find in an image, with EXIF being the most familiar to photographers. EXIF is where the interesting info is stored, like camera settings, capture time, location and colour space. Copyright and author info are often there too. IPTC is much more limited and stores only date/time, creator, copyright and descriptions that you might add like title, keywords and caption. XMP is an Adobe format (no longer proprietary) that can store all sorts of stuff. Aside from basic name/copyright/date/camera model, it also records editing info from programs like Lightroom and darktable.
When sending a picture out into the world, I like to make sure that there’s no private info on it, but I also like to have my name on it somewhere. Some metadata is also important for displaying the picture properly. In social media, metadata use varies by platform: sites like Facebook and Reddit will strip metadata from images when you upload them. More photography-oriented sites like Flickr, 500px and DeviantArt will display any camera setting info that the file contains:
In the beginning this piece might have sounded like a warning about privacy (which it is, in part), but my real interest in it, and the reason I came to ExifTool, is because I wanted to preserve metadata. Many photo editors, including Lightroom and Photoshop, have limited ability to do this. You can’t pick and choose all of the things you might want to keep or clear. So we need something more powerful. But before we get on to ExifTool, let’s look at-
Alternatives to ExifTool
The main reason I’m writing all of this is that ExifTool is not all that beginner-friendly, and not just because it doesn’t have a GUI (it’s command line only). It’s not hard to use, there’s just a difficulty barrier when getting started. This is kind of an ‘ExifTool for dummies’ since the official one is still under construction. Anyway, you may already have an easy solution for your metadata needs.
- if you’re interested in wiping all exif data, or everything except copyright info, then Lightroom/Photoshop/Capture One have you covered if you’re already using them. The free editors GIMP and RawTherapee can also remove all or most metadata during the edit process.
- if you need to wipe/edit a small number of files, you might like https://www.thexifer.net/ – upload your pics and off you go.
- if you shoot film and want to add in copyright info, camera/film/settings info, you could try AnalogExif. I only found it while researching for this piece, but I think it’s brilliant for that purpose. It doesn’t show/edit all metadata, however. There also aren’t proper entries for film type in EXIF (as you might expect for a digital file), so it has to fudge that stuff a little bit.
- ExifTool does actually have a GUI, called ExifToolGUI. I lied earlier. This hasn’t been developed for about a decade now and is only for Windows. It seems to work pretty well for editing details here and there and it can also batch edit. However, you have to add each tag to your ‘Workspace’ and clear them one by one. It doesn’t leave an original image as ExifTool does. You can find it here: https://exiftool.org/gui/
Still, none of these can do what ExifTool can: quickly wipe data while keeping exactly the bits you want. So finally, this is:
Actually Using ExifTool
If you’re on Linux just use your package manager (it may even be installed already). If you’re on Windows, there are extra steps. After you download and unzip the executable from the website (here), rename it to ‘exiftool.exe’ (without the ‘-k’), and copy the .exe to your C:\Windows folder (if C is your main drive). You’ll need admin permission for this. You can run it without installing it this way, but you have to ‘cd’ to its folder first, in order to call the program. Being able to call the program without typing in its file path first saves some hassle. If you’re on Mac you can apparently download and install the package like any other. I haven’t checked this myself – I’m just going off YouTube and the website here.
Since this is a command-line program, you will need to open a terminal to use it. On Mac, this is an app just called ‘Terminal’. On Windows, find the ‘Command Prompt’. On Linux, you’ve probably got a favourite emulator already.
Tags can be shown in ‘human-readable’ or ‘machine-readable’ form. Simply running ‘exiftool filename’ will show the ‘human-readable’ tags:
exiftool C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg ExifTool Version Number : 12.34 File Name : bebebe.jpg Directory : C:/Users/Oscar/Stuff/Junk File Size : 3.7 MiB File Modification Date/Time : 2022:02:02 19:55:23+11:00 File Access Date/Time : 2022:02:02 22:56:58+11:00 File Creation Date/Time : 2022:02:02 19:55:23+11:00 File Permissions : -rw-rw-rw- File Type : JPEG File Type Extension : jpg MIME Type : image/jpeg Exif Byte Order : Little-endian (Intel, II) Make : FUJIFILM Camera Model Name : X-Pro2 X Resolution : 300 Y Resolution : 300 Resolution Unit : inches Software : Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 10.4
etc. I cut it short because that is about one tenth of the info listed. Note the first line is the command: exiftool filename. Unless you’ve changed to the directory, you need to put the full path – in this case ‘C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg’. If the path has spaces in it, use ‘ ‘ or ” ” before and after. Be careful of spaces in names and info!
To show ‘machine-readable’ tags you need to add ‘-s’. So ‘exiftool -s filename’:
exiftool -s C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg ExifToolVersion : 12.34 FileName : bebebe.jpg Directory : C:/Users/Oscar/Stuff/Junk FileSize : 3.7 MiB FileModifyDate : 2022:02:02 19:55:23+11:00 FileAccessDate : 2022:02:02 22:57:27+11:00 FileCreateDate : 2022:02:02 19:55:23+11:00 FilePermissions : -rw-rw-rw- FileType : JPEG FileTypeExtension : jpg MIMEType : image/jpeg ExifByteOrder : Little-endian (Intel, II) Make : FUJIFILM Model : X-Pro2 XResolution : 300 YResolution : 300 ResolutionUnit : inches Software : Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic 10.4
Not all that different, but you need to know the ‘machine’ tags in order to change them.
To change an entry is ‘exiftool -tag=blah filename’ where ‘blah’ is what you want to put in. So let’s do that:
exiftool -Model=potato C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg
The exif data now shows a new camera model:
ExifTool leaves an ‘original’ file with the metadata unchanged that you can archive if you want.
You can change tags on multiple files at once by sticking them all on the end of the command. To do all the files in a folder, simply put the folder path instead of the file path:
exiftool -Make=JIUJITSUFILM C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\
I didn’t actually do that though.
Tip: location coordinates will appear in long form in the list. Eg. ’11 deg 33′ 01.8″ N 92 deg 14′ 01.4″ E’. However, when adding coordinates you should use the short form, which for this location would be ‘11.550498, 92.233715’.
Wiping all tags
‘-all’ affects all tags. Using the argument ‘-all=’ sets all tags to nothing. So a command would look like:
exiftool -all= C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg
Don’t stop reading here, though: there are still some tags that you will likely want to preserve, such as colour profile information and orientation. You can do this with the next command. So far this has all been stuff you can do in other programs. On to the special stuff.
Copying and preserving tags
We come to -tagsfromfile. This is the killer command. With this you can copy tags from one file to many, and you can even copy tags to the same file while you wipe it. Doesn’t make sense? I know, but it still works!
The syntax is: ‘exiftool -tagsfromfile sourcefile -tag(to copy) targetfile’. So if I wanted to copy the artist and copyright info from bebebe.jpg to boobooboo.jpg, I’d write this:
exiftool -tagsfromfile C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg -Artist -Copyright C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\boobooboo.jpg
I can also add commands together:
exiftool -all= -Make=JIUJITSUFILM -tagsfromfile C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg -Artist -Copyright C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\boobooboo.jpg
This will wipe everything in boobooboo.jpg, while changing the camera brand to ‘JIUJITSUFILM’ and copying the artist and copyright info from bebebe.jpg. My boobooboo.jpg will have only info about artist, copyright and make. My bebebe.jpg is unaffected.
You can preserve info while wiping a file by copying the info from the file to the same file. Sourcefile and targetfile are the same. For example:
exiftool -all= -tagsfromfile C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg -Artist -Copyright C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg
This file will now be clear of all image metadata except for its own artist and copyright info. This is how I wipe a file: using ‘all’ with ‘tagsfromfile’ to copy back info that I like.
Important tags to preserve
While you wipe a file’s metadata, you might like to keep info about the colour profile and orientation. You might not, too, that’s up to you. These are your files, I presume. Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.
Use -tagsfromfile to preserve that info in the file, with the tags -ColorSpaceTags and -Orientation. Once I add in all the arguments that I like, my command looks like this:
exiftool -all= -Artist='Oscar Saunders' -Copyright='(c) 2022 Oscar Saunders. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.' -tagsfromfile C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg -Make -Model -ExposureTime -FNumber -ISO -FocalLength -LensInfo -LensMake -LensModel -Title -ColorSpaceTags -Orientation C:\Users\Oscar\Stuff\Junk\bebebe.jpg
This produces a warning about the colour profile being deleted, but that info is being copied back straight away so I ignore the warning. This file now has only the info I want on it, which includes camera settings so I can upload to Flickr.
This is basically the extent of my use for ExifTool but there is plenty more that you can do with it. Now that you know a bit, take a look at the site and forum and see how else ExifTool can suit your needs, as well as all things that can possibly go wrong with this program: https://exiftool.org/#limitations
If you have problems, I’m probably not knowledgeable enough to help. You’re on your own! Goodbye!