Studying EXIF IS NOT Helping You

I've been a photography educator for a long time and a photographer for much longer.  On a saddeningly regular basis, I meet folks working hard to improve their photography trapped in what I call the Well of EXIF.  There are schools of thought that say studying other people's EXIF can help you make better images.  I violently disagree.

Studying and recording someone else's EXIF data is a COMPLETE WASTE OF TIME.  Strong message to follow.  STOP.  It's not helping, it's hurting.  The only EXIF that matters, and even then not very much, is your own, and then only when you are trying to figure out what you did to make a photo great, or what you did unsuccessfully because the image did not work out.

EXIF is only relevant to the person making the image, the specific subject, the exposure situation the time of day and the location.  Otherwise, it's just garbage data.  You might want to know what you did at a specific focal length with a specific focal distance from an aperture perspective to achieve a certain depth of field.  Or you might want to determine the shutter speed you used to get that really wonderful motion blur for that specific subject in that specific situation.

Getting the point?  EXIF is a complete exercise in specifics.  Writing down a set of EXIF data to use at a different time, at a different location, with a different focus distance, with different light is not only worthless, it can destroy the joy of photography.  

It's akin to believing that if you shoot only in Manual mode you will become a better photographer.  That belief has no foundation in reality but it does smell bad and gets on your shoes.  Same deal as thinking that mimicking someone else's EXIF will make your own photography better.

So stop the insanity.  Photography, as we know, is a conjugation of latin words for light and writing.  That's perfectly accurate, but more importantly, photography is all about learning to see.  If you can see beauty and horror and excitement and tedium and can work to capture what you see in a manner that others can see what you did, you are being very successful.  

It amuses me in a dark way, faintly smelling of brimstone, that those who believe studying EXIF is critical also believe that Program mode is for idiots.  A is A.  A thing cannot be simultaneously one thing and it's opposite, quantum mechanics notwithstanding.  An aspiring photographer is far better served shooting in Program mode and working on learning to see, than filling up a card with poor images having no vision, that are simply photocopies of EXIF from another time and place with camera settings made without intent to create vision.

Studying EXIF will not make you better.  Shooting in Manual without understanding WHY will not make you better.  In fact, it may even drive you away from photography because there will be little joy and lots of frustration.  So I dare you to do the following.  Put your camera in program mode and go shoot 100 images.  No looking or caring about settings.  Let the incredibly well researched computer in your hands do that minor work and you do the hard work of seeing, composition, position and timing.  That's how we learn.  Oh, by the way, not every one of those 100 images will be perfectly successful.  If you get between 6% and 10% honest keepers you will have done very well.  Probably a higher success rate than you would have gotten worrying about settings.