How Looking Into the Past Can Help Your Photography in the Future

How Looking Into the Past Can Help Your Photography in the Future

Do you track your own development? By looking into the past of our photography career, we can learn a lot about our progress and how to move on.

Development of Your Photography

No matter what age you are, as long as you are able to read these lines and make sense of them, you are able to learn photography. If you will master it, however, depends on your dedication and your time. Talent is just a very small fracture of your skills and will only help you develop a little faster than others. It’s just a small advantage that can be balanced by your enthusiasm and eagerness.

Developing a skill needs practice. You need to learn how to use your camera, see light, create ideas, and process them. It also means doing your homework. Read articles on the web, get photography books, talk to fellow photographers, and visit galleries or exhibitions. Also, do a lot of research in the field of photography which you prefer.

One of my first attempts of travel photography with a DSLR. Quite basic.

How You Will Change

There are a few stages which you will come across sooner or later in your “career” as a photographer. In the beginning you will be amazed. You shoot your first images in manual mode and feel superior. Showing your work to everyone, you might get a little shocked that no one cares. Friends and family smile at you and say “Wow, nice”, but they won’t give your images too much attention, even if you tell them about what was so special about a long shutter-speed or the sharpness of your lens at f/5.6. This is when you must not give up. You just started.

Later, you become humble. You learn the ABC of photography and become more self-critical. As you are more and more interested in other people’s work, you are constantly asking yourself: “How did they do that?”. By growing your interest, you try things out and you improve your skills. Still, you should not just look at what others did, but also what you did. How did you achieve your goals and which ones did you miss?

Just a snapshot about one year later, but sometimes you are lucky, I guess.

Track Your Photography

Tracking your photography means looking back. Take a look at your older work every now and then. Actually, there are a few different reasons for that. Firstly, seeing improvement will give you satisfaction. A little dopamine never hurt somebody. Whenever you’re stuck and think you will never become a good photographer, take a look at your origins. Where did you come from? Isn’t there a huge difference between your first DSRL snapshot of Auntie Helen and your recent Junior portrait? Being satisfied prevents you from frustration. In times of failure and struggle, remind yourself that it’s all a part of our development. Look at how far you've already come.

Secondly, you will find out that there might have been some really nice images among your old portfolio. Not only your skills developed, but also your eye. Maybe, you didn’t like an image before, because it didn’t fit into the rule of thirds. Now, you will realize that you like it, because it works well without the rule of thirds. You can find out why and develop your eye. Or you post process your images again and find some gems hidden underneath your first attempts with Lightroom! I found some horrible HDR landscape images and over-processed portraits of my family, the last time I went through my older collections. Reducing the contrast and – most of all – the clarity, made them become a nice memory of that time.

Thirdly, you can also remind yourself about what you already tried out, where you stopped, and in which direction you developed. You can track the development of your style and also critically review if you took the right path. Did you follow your initial goals? Didn’t you like shooting the milky way more than you like creating portraits? Where does your heart belong? Seeing old images can release a nostalgic feeling in you, which might bring you back on track. You can also rediscover that you were great in shooting portraits, before you started product photography. Maybe, you should try to open a small side business, again.

Later, I figured out that your success rate depends on preparation and planning.

What’s Next?

There are many conclusions which can follow your review. Firstly, you can simply analyze and learn. You can give your photography a new direction or get back to techniques that you once tried out, but never properly developed. I once figured out that I was kind of okay in retouching faces but started to do documentary and landscape photography. Every now and then, I go back to not forget about dodge and burn or frequency separation. It’s fun, too!

Find out what you like about the images and what is common in them. This is how you can find your own style. Do you like this style, or do you need to improve something? Is there a really good concept that is missing something? Re-shoot it. Shooting the same image (or an improved concept) after a while is an amazing way to check your improvement and build up your self-confidence.

I’m not even talking about the comments of others, yet. If you had once taken an image that was technically weak, but your friends and family already liked it, how cool would it be to improve the weaknesses? Make it perfect, print it, and hand it over to the people who already liked your first version. You’ll be proud as a peacock and others will be amazed. Appreciation is the engine of our work. Tracking your development can inspire you. Letting others take part in your development will motivate you to continue.

Today, I try to incorporate stories into the images. I love looking back and see how all these concepts have developed through time.

Entertain Yourself

Going back through your old photographs can also be very entertaining. You will remember funny situations and see hilarious facial expressions. You might have forgotten them, because they were never meant to be published. But what about the 50th birthday party of your best friend? Additionally, you will be confronted with the sins of your photography youth. Did you really tell that model to pose like this? Why would you flash your corporate headshot backdrop with an orange gel? Did you believe that this was a witty, provocative thing?

Whatever you will find, it’s always worth looking back, every now and then. In my case, it’s hardly more than seven years of photography. I wonder what will happen when our more experienced photographers open their treasure chests on the attic?!

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1 Comment
Greg Sheard's picture

I often look and compare my old work to my new work. I've been shooting for about 3 years and can see huge differences in my images and friends, family and clients see it too. It's a fun exercise to do and can be a laugh when you look at older editing styles.