Using the Lightroom Metadata Panel: How and Why to do it

While searching through my collection of photos for an upcoming class that I was teaching recently, I was looking through the metadata filter frequently to find the images I needed. However, what I discovered was much more beneficial for my photography than just a handful of images to use in an upcoming class. It’s easy for people to think that metadata filters for an easy search function however, when you begin to examine the information it gives you this is an incredible tool that can enhance the quality of your photos in variety of ways.

Metadata Options in Lightroom

The metadata filter can be found within the library panel in Adobe Lightroom

What is the Metadata Panel?

In the Library panel within the Library panel Adobe Lightroom, the metadata filter is an advanced search feature which lets you search your library of photos using almost any data contained in your images. The dropdown menu to the left offers a variety of search options. You can add a search column by pressing the top right-hand corner of an existing column, and then selecting “add column.”

You can also change the contents of a column that is already in use when you click on the column’s title. It allows you to look up basic information such as the date that an photograph was taken, or the camera used, and also allows you to search for things like flash firing, lens focal length, ISO aperture, shutter speed and more. All results are displayed in the following column and include the number of images that correspond to each parameter on the right side. Clicking on any of these outcomes (say, Canon EOS 5D Mark II under the “Camera” option”) will show all images that have the same feature in the library tab below.

Once we’ve learned the best way to use this screen, let’s take a examine ways in which we can utilize this information to enhance our photography.

Clicking the column title will give you a drop-down with all metadata search fields

Metadata Search Fields

1. Help You Identify Things You Might Want to Try

A quick glance at your metadata panels will tell the shutter speed and apertures you’ve used to create the images from your library. It will also show the most important thing is the number of images that were taken with each set. As I looked through this information I immediately noticed that I only have a few images with long exposures as well as the majority of my photographs were taken at 1/125 or higher. In the context of the photography I work in, it is logical however, it also implies the long exposure is something that I might like to play around with.

In addition when I click on those long shutters in the metadata panels will bring up all the photos I’ve shot at these shutter speeds. I realized that a number of my most favorite photos were captured at higher shutter speeds, making it even more crucial to continue testing. While you definitely don’t require an the same amount of settings, observing patterns could give you ideas of what you can improve your capabilities.

Big Sur Long Exposure
X-Pro2 + XF10-24mmF4 R OIS @ 13.8mm, ISO 100, 4 seconds, f/22.0

Caption: I shot this four second exposure at Julia Peiffer Beach in Big Sur After reflecting on my previous work with the metadata filter. It helped me realize my need to develop a more long exposure photography.

2. Help You Identify Possible Problems or “Crutches”

As I examine my aperture setting, it’s instantly obvious that I’ve shot the majority of my photos at a wide aperture or very close to it. It’s a tempting thing do. I mean, I’ve already spent money on these expensive lenses. Why not make use of these lenses at such high speeds you ask?

While it’s difficult not to adore portraits that are shot with large apertures. However, an easy glance through my photos (again by clicking on each number in the list will display all images taken with that particular setting) shows it’s more an issue of habit rather than a necessity. The ability to identify patterns shouldn’t be difficult – a collection of portrait images, as an example, will tend to tilt more toward those with large apertures, whereas landscape photographers will have the majority of their photos shot with smaller apertures. It’s worth taking the time to examine those numbers, and the photos could help you identify interesting things to look out for in the near future.

Canon EOS 50D + EF70-200mm f/4L USM @ 75mm, ISO 400, 1/4000, f/4.0

This picture of a camel provides a excellent illustration of my tendencies to shoot with wide-apertures. A fun photo could have been much more appealing when the entire face of the camel had been sharply focused.

3. Show You the Limitations of Your Gear

If the lens with the longest focal length you have is one with 70 mm of focal length and you’ve got many images taken with the same distance, then it could be an indication that it’s time to get longer glass. If your lens is the fastest one that is shooting at f/2.8 wide open, and you’re noticing that you shoot wide and wide open, it could be the time to test some more powerful primes. ISO is another area that you could be facing limits. Are you always striving to achieve those high ISOs?

You only need to click to look through all the photos you’ve shot at ISO 6400, and then decide which cameras provide acceptable levels of noise. It’s even better if you click ISO 6400 under the “ISO” column, and then every camera you’ve tried with that settings within the “Camera” column to check how well the quality is compared.

Lightroom Metadata Toolbar Example

The right aspect of this column informs me the number of photos I’ve got in my collection that were taken using each aperture.

4. Get Started Using Prime Lenses

Many photographers begin their journey with zoom lenses, and at times moving to prime lenses may be a bit daunting. Yes, the speedy glass may be appealing but is it too restricting? If you’re just beginning to make the switch to primes it’s best to begin by using a focal length you’re comfortable with. The column of focal length will quickly reveal how many photos you’ve captured for each of the focal lengths and you can utilize this information to determine the best base for the next purchase of a prime lens.

Focal Length Section of Metadata Tab

A quick glance at the column of focal length illustrates how much I love using my lens of 50mm.

5. Look for Surprises

Sometimes, simply looking through that data may let you discover facts about your work that you didn’t know about. When I first took a close look at the Camera information I was stunned by the amount of photos I snapped on my iPhone. It shouldn’t be a surprise since I carry it everywhere however, I would never think that I’d have to depend so much on the ease of use on my smartphone camera.

I set out to make all of my “good” cameras in a more accessible location and accessible by taking them out of the camera bag that was in the closet and placing them in a more accessible location in the home. A quick glance at the number of photos taken with each camera over the time after I made the switch proves that it actually did have an impact on how I shoot as well as the cameras I use to shoot with.

Black and White Photo Inside Hotel

Although I try to use my DSLR or mirrorless cameras to capture day-to-day moments, there are instances where the most suitable camera is the one that’s readily available. This particular photo was taken using my phone while on my way to the elevators at the Hyatt Regency in Boston.

6. Identify Slow Periods and Times When You May Need More Inspiration

Going through the Dates column provides an easy way of seeing the number of photos you’ve taken throughout the year, and also every month. Although businesses experience less busy and slow times, what about the personal tasks we do? My winter is a slow photographer with March and February being my lowest point almost every year. Knowing this, I’m determined to make it a point to plan an excursion or workshop, class or perhaps even challenge myself to an individual project in February. I’m going to try and overcome that creativity boredom.

7. Prepare for a Trip

The process of packing your gear for the trip is an issue with the continuous tug and pull between trying to pack light without losing everything you would like or require.

When I’m looking for the new area I take the time to study (via Google, Flickr, and so on.) the places I’m planning to visit for a better understanding of the area, and determine the kind of images I’d like and then plan my equipment according to that. But, all of this research will only show me what other photographers have done with that area. It doesn’t provide me with the information I’m likely to decide to photograph the exact place.

The metadata filter can be useful. I love looking through photos I’ve taken in similar circumstances or in similar locations (or even in the same place in the event that I’ve been there before) and then use the metadata filters to determine the cameras, lenses and settings I used for those pictures. In my return visit in Big Sur, I looked through the metadata filter of the previous trip and found that the majority of my photos were taken with super wide lenses or super telephoto. I didn’t have any images that were in between. This allowed me to narrow down my lens selection, and I brought only the equipment I required.

The metadata filter in Lightroom is far more effective than an instrument for searching. If you decide to utilize it to truly think about your working and photography practices, here are some of the ways it can assist you grow and improve as photographer.