Channel Your Ultimate Inspiration by Retouching Old Photos From Your Archives

Channel Your Ultimate Inspiration by Retouching Old Photos From Your Archives

We all have them, those cloudy days when you just can't create no matter how much you want to. As normal as this is, it's very frustrating. I'll spend hours doing random things before getting to work in hopes of stumbling upon any crumbs of inspiration left behind. I've found a few things that always work like going for a walk, sitting outside or talking with other artists. However. I've found value in working on old images.

I've started using this technique to boost my confidence when I get stuck.  At first, I thought I was crazy for even opening these old images to rehash them. After I finished editing the first one I found that it brought me waves of inspiration, confidence, and a sense of progression. It's not easy to think about how far we have come as artists, with these images you can actually see the transformation. 

Retouched version by Gabrielle Colton
Archived image taken by Gabrielle Colton, Atlanta GA.

If you're anything like I am, you hate your images right when you upload them. Luckily our perfectionism is what makes us keep going but we all still need a little confidence boost and this form of reflection is the only thing that does it for me. This routine is also a great tool to check yourself in all areas of your work: lighting, posing, retouching, angles, and directing. In most of my old images, the lighting sucks and I was shooting from way too high. In all the old images I chose to edit so far I learned new Photoshop techniques to change the lighting closer to what I would do today. Because my old images are always strangely lit, I was forced to figure out new skin and hair Photoshop tricks. In addition to the creative benefits, you might hear from some of your former clients too. We may not admit it, but we all love attention and so does everyone you've ever photographed. These awesome people trusted you to take their photo the first time, so this will hopefully spark interest again or at least get you a post like. 

Retouched version by Gabrielle Colton
Before Image by Gabrielle Colton

When choosing an older photo to edit I look for the ones I favored when I took them but didn't have the post-processing skills yet to carry out my vision. The feeling of looking at your old edits compared to the new one is amazing. This is a completely genuine and authentic way to become inspired. Unlike scrolling through Pinterest, this practice is purely your own. By looking into your own work you won't be tempted to mimic other artists' style and moods. You will find that your own individual style will start to consistently emerge in your photos. You'll find your own voice. There are infinite different sources of inspiration and creativity you can search for online. To save yourself from drowning in the vast world of other peoples work, anchor yourself in your own experiences, mistakes, and triumphs.  When you build a style up with a foundation of your own heart and soul, you will create an untouchable, unbreakable essence in your work. 

These are a few of my old images alongside the recent retouch, I would love to see yours in the comments!

Retouched version by Gabrielle Colton
Gabrielle Colton Photography- Savannah Georgia

Fstoppers Premium Tutorials

Check out the Fstoppers Store for in-depth tutorials from some of the best instructors in the business.

Log in or register to post comments


Jeff Morris's picture

I tend to do this during slow times, and it tends to be with travel photos. I'll go back to an old image I liked and try to apply what I've learned since then to improve (at least to my eye) the final product. Or I'll take the same image and retouch it a few different ways as a fun challenge.

That's actually a good idea for an Fstoppers discussion groups (old vs new retouch). Start one for us, won't you Gabrielle? :)

Christian Madsen's picture

I'm truly amazed by the last retouching example, it is a completely different picture and angle and redrawing her hands must have been painstaking!
Other than that I agree, it is a nice thing to do at slow times and also a good way to see how you have progressed as a photographer.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Haha, that was the only one where I chose a different photo entirely, my apologies!

Igor Butskhrikidze's picture

all my pictures older than 1 year are going to recycle bin! my best ones will be taken in a future! =)

Gary McIntyre's picture

Before and after, a couple of years apart. I was actually clearing out lrcats and harddrives last weekend and decided to re edit it.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

I love it, beautiful! Great job stretching the image vertically so she is less wide and the added makeup really ties in the smoke.