How Retrospectives Help You Grow Faster as a Landscape Photographer

When you wrap up a landscape photography trip, what happens to all the photos that didn’t make the cut? If you're like me, you almost never see them again.

After an initial pass and flagging the photos I like, I turn on filtering in Lightroom so I can focus on promising photos.

After all, when you have 3,500 photos from a 4-week trip to whittle down, the goal is to find the best shots and spend your time editing the photos that have a shot at being editable. But if your goal is to grow effectively as a photographer, those didn’t-quite-work-out photos are a treasure trove of learning material.

This video walks through a sample retrospective of some images that didn’t work out from last year’s trip to Ireland and the U.K. Retrospectives are common in business, and a personal retrospective is incredibly effective at speeding up your learning pace. On my last trip to Oregon, the lessons I learned through retrospectives played an important role in my favorite shots.

There isn’t necessarily a mandatory rubric for a retrospective, but some of the key steps you should walk through are:

  1. Turn off filtering. Browse through the entire shoot and curate shots that were close to working out, but not close enough.
  2. Critique. Analyze these images from an artistic perspective: Is the water too distracting? Is the light flat?
  3. Identify the cause. Why did I end up shooting distracting water? Did I feel rushed to shoot because the best light was disappearing quickly?
  4. Recognize the situation. In the future, how would I recognize this situation again? Was a sunrise shoot in a national park too difficult because of the commute?
  5. Prevent the issue. Given this situation again, what would I do differently to prevent the issue? Could I car-camp next time so I would have plenty of time to set up the best composition?
  6. Take action. Write down your takeaways and just before your next shoot, review these notes so you can intentionally apply them.

None of these steps are rocket science, but they help us associate an effect with its cause. Retrospectives bring to light the cognitive biases that influence our thinking so we can conquer them on the next shoot.

Do you have an example of how digging through some unsuccessful photos helped you on your next shoot? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Jonathan Lee Martin is a fine art landscape photographer, educator and globetrotting digital nomad. He’s traveling the world for a year to discover unique landscapes and help fellow landscape photographers lighten their load to go further.

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Great re-post. I liked the original idea, but it is definitely made better with images.

Thanks James! I enjoyed the format this week too, so more to come — slowly learning more Premiere Pro =P

Good addition to last weeks video, i really need to start doing that instead of just deleting bad photos

Very interesting; appreciate your thoughts.

And FWIW, it's pronounced "cuhl", not "cool". ;-)

Haha, I didn't notice that till I was editing the footage and put the mic away so I let it slip this time =P