ExifTool by Phil Harvey is an incredibly useful tool if you’re working with image metadata. It’s the gold standard of being able to view, edit, and use the metadata that’s embedded in images files of all types. It’s also free and open-source.
A potential drawback is that it’s a command-line tool, which can seem intimidating at first. But that also opens up all sorts of potential for combining with other tools, such as ImageMagick of some of macOS’s built-in tools, for some really useful photography workflow hacks.
I’m putting together some guides on various ways to use ExifTool that might be of particular interest to photographers. But to get the ball rolling, here’s a guide to installing it on Mac.
There’s more than one way to install ExifTool, and you can find some options here.
But for the purposes of this, I’m going to focus here on the Homebrew method. In part, that’s because it’s easy and reliable. And it’s also consistent with the way to install some other tools on Mac such as ImageMagick.
Step 1: Install or Update Homebrew
Fresh Installation of Homebrew
If you don’t already have Homebrew installed, open Terminal and run the following command. This command downloads and runs the Homebrew installation script.
/bin/bash -c "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/Homebrew/install/HEAD/install.sh)"
Yes, you can copy and paste this in; you don’t have to retype it, as you would with some consoles. Make sure to include the quotation mark at the end.
Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the installation. It’s pretty descriptive about what it’s doing.
It will probably first ask you for
sudo access. That’s console-speak for your administrator password to prove you have the credentials to run the necessary scripts.
Homebrew will download and install ExifTool and all its dependencies. You’ll see a bunch of stuff going on in the Terminal window. That’s normal. Stuff like this:
When it’s finished, you’ll see something along these lines, which includes the message that the installation was successful.
If you’ve previously installed Homebrew, it’s still a good idea to make sure you’re running the latest version.
To do that, use this command in Terminal:
This command updates the list of available packages and their versions.
Step 2: Install ExifTool
Homebrew will download and install the latest version of ExifTool and all its dependencies.
brew install exiftool
You can verify the installation with:
This command should return the version number of ExifTool, confirming that it is correctly installed on your system.
There’s a lot that ExifTools can do that can be very useful in photographers’ workflows. Rather than provide a laundry list of them here, I’ll cover some of the best ones separately.
But if you want to start getting a feel for how to use ExifTools and what it can do, here are some places to start.
Read an Image’s Metadata
To read the metadata of an image, navigate to the directory containing the image and run:
Replace: Change myimage.jpg with the name of the image file you want to inspect.
Tip: Rather than typing the path to the image or navigating to the folder with the image, you can type the “exiftool” command followed by a space, and then drag the image file from Finder into the Terminal window. Then press enter, and it will automatically detect the path to the file.
Remove All Image Metadata
NB: This overwrites the original file, so be sure you’re using a copy or have a backup.
To remove all metadata from an image while preserving the original file, use:
exiftool -all= -overwrite_original myimage.jpg
ExifTool is a powerful utility, and its extensive documentation can be accessed through its manual page:
Or you can visit the official ExifTool website for comprehensive guides and usage examples.
What is Exiftool?
ExifTool is a command-line application and does not have a graphical user interface (GUI). However, its command-line nature makes it extremely powerful for batch processing and integration into automated workflows.
The tool was developed by Phil Harvey and first released in 2003. Over the years, ExifTool has been actively maintained and updated, becoming the go-to utility for metadata operations due to its robustness and comprehensive support for a wide array of file formats. It is written in Perl and can be run on Windows, macOS, and Unix-like systems.
It’s highly specialized in its focus in that it only deals with metadata. You can’t resize images or convert them to a different file format.
But when it comes to metadata, there’s nothing else to compare. It goes deep.
From the name, you might guess it can deal with EXIF metadata. But there are, of course, other types of image metadata. IPTC is probably the most well-known, but there are plenty of others, and there’s a very good chance that whatever metadata is embedded in the image file can be at least read–and probably written–but ExifTool. That includes GPS, XMP, JFIF, Maker Notes, and a bunch of other types of metadata.
ExifTool is widely used by photographers, archivists, and forensic analysts due to its powerful capabilities in extracting metadata fields, which can be essential for cataloging, archiving, or examining the provenance and authenticity of digital media. It’s particularly renowned for its ability to work with metadata in a non-destructive manner, making it a reliable tool for professional workflows.