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
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
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
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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