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I have two Macs: an Intel Mac mini (2018, running Catalina 10.15.7 I think) and an M1 MacBook Pro (2020, running Big Sur 11.6.1). I have an external SSD which I use for lots of work stuff.

On both computers, when I open a local Finder window (in Column mode) and select an image, the preview area on the right shows me a selection of metadata about any image I select: dimensions, camera make, etc. This is what I see on the MacBook for a picture on the local drive, for example:

On the mini, this also holds true for files on the external SSD – but not on the MacBook. On the MacBook, this is what I see:

No metadata. Doesn’t appear in Get Info either. (There is metadata in this file; the preview area looks like this for all image files on the external drive.)

Essentially the same issue was troubling someone on Reddit three years ago, but that thread didn’t seem to lead to any kind of answer. I can’t seem to find anything else describing this issue.

Like the asker there, my external SSD is also not excluded from Spotlight, but unlike theirs, it has a different formatting: the internal drive is APFS, while the external one is exFAT. This is also the case on the mini where it works fine, though, so that doesn’t seem to be the issue in and of itself.

So what might be causing metadata from not appearing for files on external drives and is there a way to fix it to get my metadata back?

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My immediate suspicion would be that the external drive is not being indexed by spotlight.

Get Info view of the same file on two drives, one indexed, the other not…

enter image description here

From comments
If the drive appears to be indexed but is still not working, add it to Spotlight Privacy, wait a minute then remove it again. That should force a re-index.

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  • That was my immediate suspicion as well, but I can’t see why it shouldn’t be indexed. The drive is not excluded, and Spotlight doesn’t seem to be still indexing, as far as I can tell (i.e., there are no mdworker processes owned by Spotlight running – in fact no mdworker processes at all, just one mdworker_shared process owned by me). Dec 28, 2021 at 10:11
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    Try adding it to Privacy, wait a minute, then remove it again - that will force a re-index. There may be a conflict between the two indexing types between the two OSes, but I've nothing I can test that with.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 28, 2021 at 10:13
  • Okay, now it’s Indexing, will wait and see if that does anything. Dec 28, 2021 at 10:23
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    After some indexing, it seems this was indeed the issue. Excluding the drive and then un-excluding it did the trick. Dec 28, 2021 at 14:16

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