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Unlock the hidden info in your photos

September 1, 2013

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2013, The Post-Standard

Hidden inside every photo taken by a digital camera or cell phone is a treasure of information. You never see it unless you ask for it.

That, of course, means you'll never see it at all if you don't know about it. The hidden stuff is tucked away inside a "tag" that works a lot like a sales tag on shirts at a clothing store. Just as the sales tag tells buyers important things about the shirt, the hidden tag in a photo has information about the picture -- what camera it was taken with, when the picture was shot, what the lens settings were and so on.

Some regular cameras and nearly all smart-phone cameras even put another piece of information in the tag. It tells where the picture was taken, using a GPS receiver in the camera or phone. (Uh-oh, there goes that day at the beach taking photos of your kids when you told your boss you were sick at home.)

Experts and cops know where to find this hidden stuff. It's time for you to learn the same thing.

This information is stored in a little bit of text called an Exif tag. It stands for Exchangeable image file format. (There. I said it. No more geek stuff for the rest of the column.) "Exif data" or "Exif info" refers to this tag.

Windows and Mac users have easy access to Exif data, even though they probably never encounter it. Here's how to get at it:

In Windows, right click on an image file (or on the image itself in a folder window) and choose Properties. Click "Summary" and then "Advanced."

On a Mac, right click as you'd do for Windows, then choose "Get Info." Click the "More Info" triangle so it points down. (And, yes, your Mac has a right click. But if that's new to you, hold down Ctrl and do a regular click.)

Mac and Windows photo programs sometimes show Exif info; check the menus and right click actions to find how to see it. On a tablet, the iPad's "Photos" app leaves you clueless, but Photogene ($2.99) does a splendid job of showing Exif info. Android's "Gallery" app does it nicely, without the need for a separate app.