How I Became a Better Photographer By Analyzing My Lightroom Statistics

How I Became a Better Photographer By Analyzing My Lightroom Statistics

Math is awesome: it can help you uncover hidden trends and weaknesses that might be present in your work. With this free online tool, you can get a great breakdown of your camera and lens usage, your favorite apertures, and much more. Here's what I learned. 

Lightroom Dashboard is a neat online tool that can give you a helpful statistical breakdown of your Lightroom catalog. All you do is drag your catalog file into the browser, give it a minute, and it gives you a full rundown. It's all done browser-side, so there's no need to worry about upload times. Here's what I learned.

1. I Learned That I Need to Shoot More Consistently

What was I doing in early 2016? Oh yeah, binging on "House of Cards."

There were large swaths of time in which I was shooting 10 percent as many photos as my busiest times. I can look back and pinpoint pretty easily why that was, whether it was personal reasons, other professional obligations, or season four of "House of Cards." While we can all expect to have downtime from expected and unexpected life interventions, I knew I could be much better about keeping a camera on my neck or a drone remote in my hands. I stopped waiting for a reason to take a camera with me and committed to taking either my 5D Mark IV or my Phantom 4 Pro with me at least once a day, and I can definitely attest to the difference it has made. I feel sharper, more efficient, and more in control behind the viewfinder, and I've noticed I can consistently go out and come home with quality shots no matter what the circumstances. The best part is that my eye has expanded, and I'm finding shots where I would never have looked before. 

2. I Leaned Too Heavily On My Zooms and I Didn't Use Them Properly

I basically own two sets of lenses: a set of the standard zooms for events and landscape work and a set of primes for portraits and sports. The first thing I noticed is that my zooms have taken way more shots. I thought about it for a while and realized that yes, my unconscious philosophy at events and weddings is to keep my zooms on at all times and only pull the primes out when I'm desperate for all the light-gathering power those wide apertures can give me. And that's silly: I love primes both in terms of their look and the way they're shot with, but I was playing it safe by keeping a 24-70mm and 70-200mm on my bodies all the time — too safe. It was making my work lukewarm and sterile, lacking personality. I said "to hell with that! I'm going to shoot an entire wedding using my 12mm fisheye and my 400mm!" Ok, that's a lie (please don't ever do that). But I did start pulling out the primes more and lo and behold, my images started having more character again and my style was reinvigorated. 

When I say I wasn't using my zooms properly, I mean that there was a surprising chasm where the focal lengths between the extreme ends of the lenses should have been. If I was shooting my 70-200mm, 90 percent of the shots were at 70mm or 200mm. It was like my philosophy was "already at 170mm? Might as well go to 200!" I was turning my knobs to 11 with every shot. It was killing my compositional eye, because I was framing to fit the zoom instead of zooming to fit the frame. Being conscious of this made me more conscious of my compositions. 

3. I Needed to Cool It With the Wide-Open Apertures

Seriously, cool it with the f/2.8.

Entirely unsurprisingly, my most used apertures just happened to correspond with the maximum apertures of my most used lenses. And sometimes, that made sense: if I was shooting a dark reception, I needed that light. But a lot of the time, it was me working either on autopilot or just being lazy. Shooting a portrait? Wide-open prime. Shooting a concert? Wide-open zoom. And that's not to say there's anything wrong with that. But after some thought, it illuminated the problem: I was actively avoiding thinking about backgrounds. I spent a ton of time thinking about my subjects and just leaned on the wide aperture to blur out the background. And while that look is fine, there's more to life than f/1.2, and working on shooting portraits with deep depth of field has been an awesome challenge for me.

4. I Really Hated the 50mm Focal Length

Look! I learned how to use a 50mm lens!

They say the 50mm is that which most closely approximates the human eye, and maybe that's why I'm terrible with it, because it looks so unremarkable to me. Either way, out of all the images in my catalog, only about two percent were shot with a 50mm lens or at that focal length on a zoom. I don't particularly see that as a problem, but it is a tremendously useful focal length, and I realized it would do me a lot of good to embrace it. So, I started leaving my 85mm at home more often and forcing myself to shoot slightly wider portraits. It had a residual effect of improving my posing at all focal lengths. I still don't like 50mm, but working with it has made me better.

5. I Knew What Gear I Didn't Need

Perhaps the biggest boon of analyzing my Lightroom catalog was getting a precise breakdown of how many shots were taken on each camera body and lens. From this, I could easily tell exactly which lenses weren't getting the usage I thought they would when I purchased them, and I was able to thin my gear collection a bit and put that money toward something I needed more. That 14mm prime? It was fun, but I didn't need it, and out the door it went. 

Want to try it out yourself? Just head over to Lightroom Dashboard; it's entirely free and a blast to use.

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Dallas Dahms's picture

I don't think analysing statistical information will improve you as a photographer. To improve in that regard you need to think less about the tools and more about the subject. The end result is a photograph, not just a graph. Look at your work and see how it has changed (or stayed the same) over time to get a better idea of what you need to do in your work creatively.

More art. Less analysis.

Alex Cooke's picture

"Looking at your work and seeing how it has changed" is just another form of analysis, which I also do.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I have similar story called "How I switched from 18-200 kit zoom lens to several primes and other zooms based on LR statistics"

Mike Gillin's picture

This is an interesting exercise for sure. I'm not sure if it all make you a better photographer, but you will at least be more aware of your shooting choices. Results will also depend on if you cull your collection or not. Clearly then you will get different results. Definitely an interesting thing to look at.

Alex Cooke's picture

Of course, the stats you're getting certainly wouldn't pass academic rigor given what you mentioned, but they're a good guideline and generally outline of one's habits.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Interesting idea.Never knew about it. Will give it a try for sure.

Matt Limb's picture

' ... I'm not sure if it all make you a better photographer .....'

I do not think it is intended to do that, despite the article title; but it does make for interesting reading, especially when considering purchasing new equipment!

I use the raw data in LR for a long tome to do this; which lens aperture ISO etc used and not used; but this makes that breakdown much easier to read, allowing you to focus more

Cheyne Wallace's picture

Nice article Alex, i'm the developer of the Lightroom Dashboard, i've read a few articles like this on the LRDB and It's good to see people using it as intended. Surfacing unexpected information is where it's most useful I feel.

In terms of how it can help your photography, you can use the information to discover your least favored common focal lengths and apertures, then set out for a day shooting with lenses in those ranges to try and broaden your horizons and break your habits. I've done this a few times and found it beneficial.

I don't think anyone is expecting to become a better photographer by reading some stats and graphs, but hey if you discover one surprising factor about your shooting habits that triggers you to try something different next shoot, then I think it was worth the 5 minutes of your time to look.

Ryan Weir's picture

Great tool - I love data and I think there are a bunch of things you could pull from this, just depends on what kind of work you do and what you're aiming for. Cheyne, since you're a developer for this, you might be a good person to run this idea by: is there a way to get data on adjustments that are made to photos? I think it'd be good to see if, for example, I end up boosting exposure on 70% of my shots, or 70% of shots during the winter months, or I almost always warm up the WB compared to the "as shot" WB, etc. I think seeing the common gaps between what we took vs. what we wanted to take or end up using would be even more insightful. And, even seeing how our stylistic choices change over time (I.e. I've gotten more into contrast, darker images, less saturated, etc.) would be sweet too! Just a thought. Either way, I really like this tool as is and think you all did a great job!

Rob Mynard's picture

What I discovered was that I used to carry a bunch of primes into a wedding (just in case), when the data showed that I really only ever used 2-3 of them 98% of the time. Now I only carry 3 lenses and my bag is so much lighter :-D

David Schöppe's picture

Do you guys have one Catalog for all work? I create a new one for each bigger shooting.

Rob Mynard's picture

I use a yearly catalog for my personal stuff, but create a separate catalog for each client/wedding.

Rob Mynard's picture

We use this a lot in my camera store as well. When a customer is looking to move away from their kit zoom or purchase their first prime lens, we suggest that they research their shooting history to see which focal lengths they actually shoot a lot of. Many customers will come in to buy a 50mm as their first street prime, (because that's what you get, right?), only to discover that they actually shot most of their favorite shots at 35mm, or 24mm, etc...