Metadata Mining

By Roger (13 August 2017)

Sorry to admit how long I've been absent from the blog (tl;dr: I had too many distractions). Let's get back to it, shall we?

Way back in 2013, I did a very basic blog about what photographic metadata is and how you can use it for understanding some of the technical parts of your photography (link). Over the years, we've written about other ways to use the metadata, especially through the use of keywords you add to your personal metadata pool. Today, I'm mining my metadata to find new insights into the photographs I'm making.

Most photographers use their metadata when they are trying to answer technical questions. Things like, which lens do I use most often; how many of my photos are lit with a flash; or how many iPhone photos have I saved. This data is available to you without any effort on your part. The camera automatically records the basic camera information, and it is captured by whatever digital asset manager (DAM) you use to import your photos.

Metadata from camera: Nikon D4, 200-500 zoom lens, f5.6, 1/1600, ISO 320

You can add metadata to your photographs by entering additional photographic details, such as keywords, locations, rating systems, titles, and descriptions. Mark and I strongly recommend this process to add depth to your metadata. Our strategies are slightly different, but we, both, use our metadata for insights into our photography.

You can, however, use your metadata for less technical information as you get more serious about pursuing your muse. This is the point where we get all introspective and do some navel staring to discover where we are on our photographic journey.

I’m making light of it, but you can use metadata searches to discover things about your photography you may not have considered before. It can give you hints to your photographic strengths and weaknesses or point you in new directions to experiment.

First, I'm going assume you enter the additional metadata, mentioned above, into your DAM. This step should be obvious, but, too often, photographers don't take the time for this. If you're one of those people, you're limiting the value of insights you can derive from your metadata, and you'll be unable to try this kind of exercise.

Here's a quick example of how you can use the locational information, for those of us who love to travel. I geo-tag all my images, including all my old, scanned photos from film. When I go into the Map module of Lightroom, I can see all the bubbles showing me locations where I have made photos. As someone who regularly looks for new destinations, the results from this search help direct me to new places.

I went to Maine, a few weeks ago, for just this reason. I hadn't been there since I was 18. The east coast of the US is easy for me, since Virginia is so centrally located, but my map shows me that it's time to head to some more of the western states in the near future. I've been to all 50 US states, but don't have photos from every state. My map of the earth shows me I still need to get to Africa and Antarctica, so I can say I've visited all the continents.

Photo locations from my main database

Let's look at something a tiny bit deeper. While I was in Maine, I was up for every sunrise. Most of them were too plain for my taste – meaning the skies were clear, so there wasn't as much color as I wanted. But one morning, we had spectacular clouds and color, with rays of light beaming through. While I was adding my keywords and doing some initial culling of the photos, my mind drifted off to another sunrise I really enjoyed, from a past photo session. I did a quick search of my keyword “sunrise/sunset” and found I have a little more than 2,200 photos of sunrises/sunsets, and 1,856 of them also have some sort of water in them.

Sunrise in Lincolnville, Maine

I had no idea the vast majority of my sunrise photos had a water element. It makes sense because I like reflections, and I've been around the water most of my life. Now, this isn't life-altering information, but the search showed me something I hadn't realized. Once you have the information, it's up to you what, if anything, you want to do about it.

If you're a new photographer, you're probably making photos of every topic in front of your lens. Great! Keep shooting and learning. However, some will be trying to get beyond snapshots and do some “serious” photography. They've heard they need to specialize in a genre or figure out their “style,” and they aren’t quite sure how to narrow down all the specifics. Look at your data.

Do a sort with your highest rated photos. What do you see? If you look at your best 100 images, and 98 of them are landscapes, you have some new information. It sounds to me like your strongest work is in landscapes. If you think your favorite genre is newborn photography, you need to look closer at the problem. Why aren’t babies represented in your best photos?

I'm not a big proponent for limiting yourself to just a few genres, but it can help simplify your message if you're looking for customers or want to keep your social media focused. On my Instagram account (follow me at @roger_dallman) I alternate between travel and people photographs because those are my strongest genres. Keep in mind that almost every big-time professional photographer shoots lots of different genres, even while they specialize in certain genres for their profession. You don’t have to limit yourself to primarily one or two types of photography; this is supposed to be fun.

I prefer people, but I wouldn't pass up a shot like this one.

There are many ways you can play with your metadata to discover information about your photography habits and trends. You'll get more useful insights if you have fully populated your metadata fields, both from the automatic data imported from your camera and amplifying information you add after import into your DAM of choice. So, next time you wake up in the middle of the night and have some free time, go in and see what your photography is telling you.


It's time, again, for the Kelby Worldwide Photowalk. This year I've signed up to lead (my eighth year!) a walk in Old Town Manassas. The photowalk is free, but you must register (here) to get in on all the fun. The photowalk is on Saturday, October 7th. We'll meet at the Manassas Amtrak Station, at 9 a.m. Hope to see you there.

Last year's photowalk crew, in Shepherdstown, WV

Arlington Revisited

By Mark

It has been a bit, since we have written.  Unfortunately, it is proposal season again and real life interferes with our photography work.  As both of us are military retirees, we take the honor of supporting veterans funerals very seriously.  We went down last month to Arlington, to photograph a family friend of Roger’s internment of their father, a Vietnam era F-4 flyer. 

The Army’s “Old Guard” 3rd Infantry Division is most well known for their role as the keepers of the Tomb of the Unknowns, and the funeral caisson mounted troops.   Less well known is that each service maintains an honor guard who support the services for their members. 

These young men and women demonstrate honor, dignity and respect for each family and they do this, multiple times per day.  

These services go on in regardless of the weather.  Our day was overcast, damp and breezy, but the day before was pouring rain and just miserable.  Yet, the Marines were there laying Senator John Glenn to rest.  You can see the rain pouring off the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ cover in this photo by Rachel Larue.

(C) Rachel Larue

(C) Rachel Larue

There is something that grabs you when you hear the three volleys from the 21-gun salute.

The sun managed to come out and touch the colors at the right time.

I won’t pretend that the sailors march with the same precision as the Army and Marines, but there aren’t too many parade grounds at sea. 

This is Armed Forces Day weekend and next week is Memorial Day.  Take a moment to think of those who are serving, those who have, and those who never came back.   

Getting Started Editing in LR Mobile

By Mark

Late breaking development (so to speak), Adobe today announced that you can now show RAW HDR from the LR Mobile camera app.  Wait, you didn’t know LR Mobile had a camera app?   Well that will be much farther down the listing of topics, giving all of you something to look forward to.

LR Mobile can edit your pictures in a couple of different ways.  First it can serve as a non-destructive method for editing the images on your camera roll.  Secondly, it can edit the photos from your desktop connection which you have chosen to be synchronized.  It is that second category which is amazing, because LR is really working on the very small smart preview file and not on the larger image, but when it synchronizes, the changes you applied are reflected on your image and in the history for that image.

Let’s start with just a basic example.  I shot this not so great image in a restaurant with my iPhone.  The white balance is really off, as my model was not suffering from jaundice.  Just a quick adjustment and now she looks normal, well as normal as our beloved Kaitlyn can be.

Here is a basic image I shot last fall at the LHS football game.  It was a pretty sunset, but the image didn’t quite capture the full range of color.

One of the first editing tasks is usually just selecting and culling the ones you want to work on.  LR allows you to use the same pick or reject flags and/or rating stars.  You then can then filter them quickly, allowing you to focus on only the images worth your time to edit. 

First let’s talk about the basic editing controls at the bottom of the screen:

Filmstrip-does exactly what you expect and opens up a scrollable filmstrip of whatever group of images you are working on.

Crop- allows you to change the aspect ratio of your image using a set of predefined ratios, or you can grab the edges of your image via the control box, or you can rotate the image via the little wheel underneath your image.


Presets- opens up a selection of sub menus with common recipes for adjusting an image; Creative, Color, B&W, Detail, Effect, and Camera

Edit- opens the equivalent of the basic develop module panel from your desktop version.  Over on the left side, underneath the aperture icon are the advanced features we’ll talk about next time.

Everything above applies global changes to the whole image.  They have now added a new Selective control, which lets you apply limited adjustments for those basic panels.  You use your fingers like a brush and can apply multiple fixes. 

That’s a lot of material just in the basic features, so go off and play with your images. Remember, you can’t really hurt anything.

Portraits Without a Studio

By Roger (26 February 2017)

Humans have a long history of making portraits, with all sorts of tools. Photographers began adding to this history as soon as the camera was invented. Portrait photography began as a stiff pose (because of the long exposure times required), in front of a very controlled background.

As film became more responsive and artificial lighting was improved, portraits were easier to make, but the general environment didn't change much. You made an appointment with the photographer's front office; got all dressed up; and went into a separate building, with big (hot) lights. If you were a kid, you knew this was important to your parents, but you felt intimidated by the stranger behind a big chunk of metal and glass. Your parents would joke with you; cajole you; and/or threaten you to achieve the desired “natural smile.” (OK, I may be painting the scene with an over-dramatic brush....)

To be clear, the portraiture I'm describing is a deliberate event to make a person's photograph. We're not talking about great photos of people that happened because an alert photographer, saw a special pose, background, or lighting, and happened to use his camera to capture that moment in time.

Many years ago, I had full access to a nice studio, with tall ceilings, lots of seamless paper choices, big lights, and modifiers. We made mostly formal portraits because that's what clients expected back then. We had room to create unique sets for portraits when we wanted to stretch a little.

Lots of seamless paper and bright lights

Today, however, most people aren't making many trips to the photographer's studio. People don't want to take the time to travel to a studio; they think those sessions are too expensive; or they're more comfortable in relaxed environments. Everyone has a camera on their phones and too many think a snapshot is “good enough.” There are many and varied reasons the old idea of a portrait studio is fading, but studios are suffering from the lack of business.

Regardless, people still want portraits – formal and otherwise. If you want to make nice portraits, but don't want to pay for a studio, you need to move in a different direction. You need to be able to make photos wherever you find your subjects and ensure the quality is comparable to the studios of olden days. This is much easier and less expensive than you might think.

To be fair, there have always been photographers who needed to make portraits away from a formal studio. Wedding photographers might make pre-ceremony studio photos of the bride (as above), but had to make on-venue photos during the wedding. Model and family photographers traveled to various location shoots and brought their lighting with them. You can adopt their methods when you want to make a deliberate portrait.

The equipment list doesn't have to cost you an arm and a leg. With the quality of today's cameras, you don't have to worry about its ability to create a portrait. You want good quality lenses, but that doesn't always mean the most expensive. I recommend some lights and modifiers, but, again, you don't have to spend a fortune. White sheets, in front of windows, can produce a very nice softbox. The only requirement would be practice, to learn how to best use your equipment and produce consistent effects.

Front yard, with flash and softbox

Useful locations can be found almost anywhere, especially if you're shooting tight. Think your photo through and pay attention to your viewfinder. You want to inspect it to see what to include or exclude. In the shot below, you can see I had my granddaughter stand in front of a narrow window panel, by our front door. You can see the dining room table (cluttered, of course) behind her. I moved closer for the final shot, for a cleaner background and easier post-processing.

Inside, with window light only

I made another portrait with her sister, on the other side of the door, taking advantage of the lines of the door panels. They provided more interest, without being a distraction. These photos were taken less than six feet apart but look totally different. The only lighting tool used was a reflector for the second shot.

Outside, with reflector

I like to keep the portraits simple, with few distractions that move the viewers eyes away from the subject. However, that doesn't always mean you need to shoot tight. Even simple backgrounds can help your composition. In the photo below, the horizontal and vertical lines echo the couple's pose and guide your eyes directly to the subjects.

Outside, with flash and reflector

You would be right to point out that I violated a couple of composition “rules” in the portrait of the Native American fighter, from the Battle of New Orleans Bicentennial. He's centered and the wood line cuts across the middle of the photo. It works in this portrait because of the symetry and balance of the subject. The 4x5 crop increases this feeling. The background is blurred, but it's easily identifiable as foliage. You may disagree, but I think this is a case where violating the rules works to my portrait's advantage.

Outside, with reflector

We all like to mix things up a bit, now and then. When you begin to complicate the portrait, you will find more little problems that need to be fixed. For this last photo, the sun was on the opposite side of the B&B. The lamp certainly wasn't bright enough to sufficiently illuminate her face. I used a flash, on the inside and on low power, to fix that. There were obnoxious reflections on the window, over parts of her face, but a slight upturn of the camera took care of those. I needed to adjust her skin tone to reduce the color shift from the orange room. I experimented with cropping out the lamp, but, in the end, I think it adds more than it detracts.

Outside, shooting in, flash

We've talked post-processing in previous posts, so I won't dwell on that here. I put some effort into skin tones and removing obvious blemishes, but I'm not a fan of over-processing the skin. Any stray distractions in the background are removed. I usually just brush in sharpening around important features, like the eyes, rather than global sharpening. And, then it's done.

I still enjoy going to studios when I get the chance, but you don't have to have a dedicated building to make nice portraits. You control what the viewers see in your final photo, and, with practice, you can make a portrait almost anywhere . The results are all that matter to your subject.

You will be surprised how much you can do when you get into the portable studio mode. There are even books covering the subject. One of the best is Nick Fancher's Studio Anywhere (link), if you'd like to go more in-depth. Nick goes into great detail on his portraits, with light diagrams and equipment descriptions. Give him a read.