Friday, July 27, 2012

Eschew EXIF

There are forums out there on the internet where people spend far too much time looking at EXIF data for photographs, and not enough time looking at the photographs. I've even seen cases where people got irate because a photograph lacked EXIF data. Apparently, some people need to know what shutter speed was used for your photograph, before they can tell you what's wrong with it.

In the first place, don't listen to these people. They have nothing to say.

In the second place, don't be one of those people.

EXIF data, histograms, all that technical ancillary data, it tells you nothing that matters which cannot be seen in the photograph. Look at the photograph. EXIF and so on can be used to test yourself, to help you learn and judge whether you're seeing correctly, but it's never authoritative.

If you can't tell roughly what focal length was used to shoot a photograph (relative focal length, the number of millimeters doesn't matter and depends on a bunch of factors -- all I mean is "super wide", "wide", "normal", "long", "super long") then one of two things is true:

  • it doesn't matter to the photograph
  • you can't see very well

There are plenty of photographs where the focal length doesn't matter, because the scene is pretty much two dimensional. In that case, who cares what focal length was used? Anything will do. If it does matter, and you still can't tell, learn to see better. Practice. This is where looking at EXIF can help you. Just don't talk about it, do it quietly.

Aperture? Can't you tell by looking? Either it doesn't matter, or you can't see. Shutter speed? Ditto. Exposure? Contrast range? Don't you be looking at the histogram! Not until you've made an honest guess, at least.

Lighting? Don't go asking about what lights went where. Look at the photo. Any light that matters made itself known by casting some light. Go find that light.

And whatever else you do, criticize anyone based on their EXIF data. Don't be a stupid nerd! Look at the photo and talk about that.

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