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The Importance of Looking Back At Your Old Photography

When I first started with my d-SLR, in 2004, I thought my photography was hot stuff.  Here I was with this big heavy camera and a detachable lens. I really had NO idea what I was doing. Even though I never used full auto (the green box), I was a fan of the “face symbol” and “running man” icons.  I let the camera decide most of what happened. For my first few months using the Canon 20D camera, I had no idea what ISO, Aperture, and Speed really meant.  I read the manual, got the Bryan Peterson book Understanding Exposure, and did a little research online.  I also practiced.

Fast forward to 2012.  I was recently looking through old photos I had stored on disk and locked away in a safe. I scanned through photos from my first year with my SLR. I cringed.  Then I analyzed a few. The biggest things I noticed were underexposure and lack of clarity.  My photos were NOT sharp and one after another were dark.  Remember, I was in a form of “auto” mode.  The camera is smart, but not that smart.  After a year or so I was in full manual mode for exposure and things improved a lot.  I also slowly upgraded my lenses, which made a huge difference.

But the biggest difference, in hindsight was learning to select my focus points in the back of my camera. When I first was learning, everyone said “focus and recompose.”  So I did.  This lead to one soft or blurry image after another.  They were just never crisp.  The photo below is an example of this. You can tell, even in the edited version, that her eyes are not tack sharp. Cringe again…

Are you wondering why I’d share my mistakes with the world, on a blog read by so many?  There are two reasons:

  1. It is important to track your own growth as a photographer. You should only compare your photography to your own past work.  If you start looking at other photographers, you will always find someone better than you, and some worse.  And you will never gain self-confidence.
  2. I want you to learn from my mistakes.  If even a few people look back at their old photos today and see how they have grown, it is worth it.  If you come back to this post and share a tip in the comments on what was instrumental in improving your photography, others can learn from you too.

I expect to look back at my current work someday and think “wow, in 2012, I had no clue…”

Here’s an “instant flashback” of mine.  I did a quick re-edit, which helped, but I know if I was in this same location today the photo would be much improved in focus, lighting, composition and more.  As the unknown authored quote goes, “Strive to be a better version of yourself.”

old jenna2 600x570 The Importance of Looking Back At Your Old Photography

 The Importance of Looking Back At Your Old Photography

Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions

Jodi Friedman is the founder of MCP Actions. She designs popular Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets that make editing faster, easier and more fun.

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18 Comments

  1. 1

    I certainly agree with not comparing your work to others. I also think that you should limit how often you look back on your own work, or critique your own work, if you shoot professionally. I find I have a big problem with confidence or second guessing my own work if I spend too much time worried that past work wasn’t “up to par” or that my current work still isn’t good enough.

  2. 2
    Kim P says:

    Love this! I have been using my DSLR (my first) for 4 years. I just took Canon Discovery Day courses and was surprised at how many functions I was not using (or did not know I had). And I have read the manual and David Busch’s version several times! One of my biggest “ah-ha” moments was the selective focus points you mentioned. I have struggled with getting consistently tack-sharp images and now I am excited to see how much I can improve. Thanks for the great reminder to keep looking back to see how far we have come. :)

  3. 3
    Gina Parry says:

    I did the very same thing last weekend and found this photo I took with a small point and shoot camera. 5 years ago I had no clue about anything, didn’t have a DSLR either and had no idea how to edit let alone the software to enable the processing. Although this particular image is a little out of focus, I took it into photoshop and got to work on it. The difference from then to now is huge and I feel a little proud of my hard work and time spent learning the hard way. Never never give up – if you have a passion, GO FOR IT with all you have x

  4. 4
    Janelle McBride says:

    Great article. Been doing this alot lately.

  5. 5
    Vanessa says:

    I just gotta say THANKS for sharing your Thoughts & Experience. I’m just starting to follow my Passion as a Photographer & most of the time I feel very confused & do not know how to get better. Your Example & story and/words definitely is a boost. :) Thanks Again!

  6. 6

    The two biggest leap for me came from shooting with a photographer whose work I admire. When I looked at her pictures in camera, they looked overexposed compared to mine but nothing was blown out. It was then that I realized just how underexposed my shots consistently were. I changed my metering and WOW. Huge difference in skin tones and quality. I hate to look at my past “professional” photos — so embarrassing.

  7. 7

    Ha ha, I deleted one “leap” but didn’t delete the word “two.” Oops.

  8. 8
    Vanessa says:

    DO not mean to say Photographer as a “Professional” lol just as I like to take pictures :). I know many people get offended with anyone calling themselves “Photographer”. (Clarification)

  9. 9
    Yolanda says:

    I can pinpoint three things that helped me improve my photography dramatically. The first was reading the book you mentioned, Bryan Petersen’s “Understanding Exposure.” The second, was another book by David Duchemin called “Vision and Voice,” which is part Lightroom guide, but more a guide to understanding your own creative voice in order to make post processing decisions directed by that voice. And finally, switching to back button focus, instead of using the shutter release to focus. As soon as I began back-button-focusing I finally was able to control my camera and consistently begin getting the shot I wanted, instead of settling for the shot I was able to get.

  10. 10
    Leighellen says:

    I totally agree!!
    My son’s 7th birthday was just a few weeks ago. I went back to post some pictures from his baby days. I was super excited because at that point in my career, I had already gone pro, so I “knew” the pictures would be good. Holy smokes, was I sorely mistaken! Yes, there were props. Yes, there were back drops. But…NOT tack sharp and not exposed properly. I think I was still using A/V mode at the time. I was able to use Photoshop to not completely embarrass myself but, geesh! Now that I can look at it from the vantage point of “see how far you’ve come?” it really helps feel like I have grown.

  11. 11
    Bethany says:

    I started with a 20D in 2006 and I always think it is interesting to look back the first year that I had my camera. Such good advice to compare yourself only with your own work. I forget to do that a lot. But when I do, it’s wonderful to see how much I’ve improved and look forward to getting even better!

  12. 12
    Chris Moraes says:

    I have done this a couple times over the last couple months, and yes, it was astounding how much I improved in the first year I had a DSLR. It was also helpful because now I am able to go back and delete a lot of the subpar pictures and only keep some that are decent so that I still have photos of those memories but not a bunch of mediocre ones to wade through. And luckily, my kids still looked adorable to me even with the bad exposure and out of focus-ness.

  13. 13

    Loved the book Understanding Exposure. I am still working on the techniques it talks about, but i already understand my camera and how to shoot fully manual better. Thanks for the reminder that we should compare our own work to our past work. It’s too easy to compare myself to other photographers, especially with the internet and pinterest!

  14. 14
    Laurie in FL says:

    I am now where you began… but loving the journey of learning. Thanks for your blog.

  15. 15
    Chelsea says:

    I just recently did a post for my son’s birthday where I went back to photos of him right after his birthday up until now, and it was painful to look back at those old pictures, but it is nice to see how far I’ve come and to be able to see what I’ve learned in the past 3 years. I had a P & S, and just got my dSLR this year. Most of what I notice is the difference in composition since I didn’t have much control over anything else before. Great advice!

  16. 16
    guest says:

    neat

  17. 17

    Amazing post very much informative and useful for me. Thanks a lot for sharing with us !!

  18. 18
    Jean says:

    lovely!

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