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First of all, let me tell you one thing. I'm not a photographer and know nothing about photography.

I'm a programmer making a software program for photographers, and I would like to know what are the most important exif data for photographers to look at when seeing other photographers' art work.

I prefer that the list you will give will be of 10 items or less. But if you feel that 10 is not enough you can expand your list a little bit more.

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Before creating any software product, generally one does a literary survey of similar product available. I'd suggest you go through flickr, irfanView, smugmug etc to see how and what they do it.. those products have gone through many iteration and their UI have evolved after input from many photographers. –  Sridhar Iyer Sep 6 '11 at 17:16
    
Thank you for the advice. I have done the survey on the mentioned softwares and more. Except for smugmug which I have never heard of earlier. It looks very interesting and I have signed up for the trial to see what's the deal with it. –  Hassan Al-Jeshi Sep 7 '11 at 4:11

3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The most important are the ones that are needed to help the decision at hand. This will depends on the context and who looking at images.

For everyone:

  1. Date & Time - Are probably most important. They are often different than the file-data since that may reflect when the files were copied, shared, sent, edited, etc. To look for a photo of an event or to find the time-of-year when things looked like that, this is key.
  2. ISO - Along with resolution (Metadata but not part of EXIF) determines the maximum possible print size for an image.

For the photographer himself and to learn from other's work:

  1. Aperture & Shutter-Speed - This is the basic of exposure and that lets you know how a shot was taken. If you are the client looking for a photo, you really do not care but another photographer may.
  2. Metering mode & Exposure-Compensation - Same as above, good for photographers to know how a shot was taken. Even the one who took the picture can use that information to learn and improve his technique.
  3. Focal-Length - In 35mm-Equivalent terms, otherwise it becomes very difficult to compare. This is important to manage photo gear, decide which lenses to take and which ones to leave behind.
  4. Lens Model - Also helps with trip preparation or purchase decisions for others.
  5. Camera Model - Various uses, sometimes to look for specific quality or image characteristics.

For client requests:

  1. Keywords - The first things clients look for is a photo of a specific subject or concept.
  2. Resolution - Clients have a print size in mind and resolution together with ISO is required to determine which photo is usable.
  3. Aspect ratio - Some usage like publications, advertising, banners, etc require a specific aspect ratio. Note that the final aspect-ratio is more important than the shot aspect ratio which is mostly fixed by camera (contrarily to consumer models, only a few pro cameras support multiple aspect ratios).

There plenty of other useful ones and sometimes we use certain data to compensate for inadequacies in others, particularly keywords. For example, it is impossible to keyword all images for every possible future use. Someone may ask for a photo of something which is not keyworded but I known that I probably took it with such lens or camera.

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1  
Hmm. I'm not sure ISO is so top-level important independent of other information like camera model. Otherwise, great answer! –  mattdm Sep 6 '11 at 14:28
    
For learning from others' work, I'd also add focal length 35mm equivalent - easier than knowing and multiplying by crop factor for given camera model (and full-frame camera might be shooting cropped image with a smaller-format lens). –  Imre Sep 6 '11 at 14:41
    
@Irme - Good point, I've edited the answer to reflect this. Native focal-lengths often trip me up since I shot with over 100 cameras. –  Itai Sep 6 '11 at 15:25
    
@mattdm - For those who make large prints it is critical but it depends on the cameras you use. I've had shots published and largish prints made from cameras with small 2/3" sensors but I would only offer those for ISO 200 or less. DSLRs generally start reducing possible print sizes from ISO 400-800 but ISO 6400 (for example) shots can still be used for post-cards and small pamphlets. Metadata is most useful when it helps finding images that match the customer's needs and ISO is one of the most important factors. –  Itai Sep 6 '11 at 15:30
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The answers are grouped by use, but if I had ONLY 2 to choose it would be a tough call. I'm guessing keywords and date/time. –  Itai Sep 6 '11 at 16:02

Certainly these:

  • Focal length
  • Aperture (F number)
  • Shutter speed
  • ISO/Film
  • Flash

Nice to have:

  • Camera model
  • date & time
  • Geo location
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In addition to Itai's answer, I'd also include :

Copyright & ownership informations 

(so that the person seing/manipulating the image is aware of the rights on it, if any). Or have those easily accessible (maybe a little dot saying "hey, those fields are not empty" ?) It doesn't mean that if those fields are empty anything can be done with the image. But it is a good thing to see what the owner of the photo wanted to have other people know.

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