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Friendly Reminder: Look at Your Old Work

Friendly Reminder: Look at Your Old Work

Like many photographers out there, some days I look at my work and feel disappointed. There are a plethora of reasons you can feel down about where you’re at in your work, even if it’s completely irrational. I’ve found that one of the best things to help in such a slump is to look at my old work. 

Most of it makes me cringe, but it’s the perfect reminder of where I started and more importantly how far I have come. Maybe I’m not where I want to be yet but holy moly just looking at where I was a few years ago can be eye opening.

We live in a world of constant stimulus, infinitely connected to each other without a chance to breathe sometimes. You can start to feel suffocated when comparing your work to all the photos and artwork all around us every day. I keep an album of old photos I took when I got my first camera in 2009. These are the photos that typically make me cringe, like looking back at what you did with your hair in high school. 

Instead of looking at the first photos you ever took and questioning why you even owned a camera; re-viewing photos from more recent years is far more productive to see your actual progress as a photographer. I was clearly putting in effort back when I started but it becomes immediately clear to me how much my shooting and editing has developed from not that long ago. For me, this can be the perfect reality check when I get in a slump regarding my own work. It can reinvigorate my motivation to continue working and sometimes even motivates me to go back and edit old photos that have more potential than I saw my first pass through.

old photo march 2012 yosemite valley

March 2012, Yosemite Valley

Looking at old photos is one thing, sharing them with all of you is another, so go easy! Six years ago was around the time I started to take photography a little more seriously and like many photographers starting out, I shot all types of subjects: flowers, people, concerts, everything! This family trip to Yosemite was the first time I had been to a national park and was likely the first step I needed to find my passion for landscape photography. 

Recently I revisited Yosemite with new skills, more time, and a better understanding of landscape photography. I came back from that trip with a few photos I deemed worthy for my portfolio but I still felt a bit down on myself. Why didn’t I shoot more? Why did I sleep in one day? Why didn’t I shoot more variety? The truth is, like many photographers, I am my own worst critic. Looking through my old photos reminds me to just take a step back and appreciate the whole picture. Maybe my work isn’t perfect, and I may not be satisfied with it sometimes, but it’s still much better than what I used to do. It gives me confidence and hope that in the future, my work will have improved enough that maybe I look back at the photos I’m editing now and cringe.

new photo march 2018 yosemite

March 2018, El Capitan

Am I where I want to be? Never. There is always room to improve. Just don’t let yourself get stuck thinking you aren’t progressing fast enough, that your work isn’t perfect, or that you are not as good as someone else. Remember how far you’ve come from where you started and don’t stop enjoying what you shoot. 

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Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

That latest photo you've taken of Yosemite is truly spectacular! Nicely done!

Alex Armitage's picture

Thank you for the kind words!

Sean Molin's picture

I don't know if anyone else feels this way, but actually looking back at a lot of my older work I think "damn, I've actually done some really amazing and creative work." Some of it has never seen the light of day. Some of it is for clients in busy wedding seasons so I didn't have the time to process what I had actually done.

And, sometimes, it's that feeling of "have I gotten lazy?" Is my work I'm doing today living up to or exceeding my best work in recent years past? I think this is a very real conflict that is easily overlooked because beginners don't exactly have this problem.

Alex Armitage's picture

I think many of us could write an essay on dealing with all of these topics. I think what I fear the most is looking back at my old work and thinking I haven't gotten any better or at least changed my perspective.

mlittle's picture

Hahaha. This is what I've been doing all day!

Jim Cutler's picture

1) If you don't cringe about some of your old work then you're not growing as an artist. It's a good sign when you think you could work it better now. 2) Save all your raws. I keep telling new photogs on FB who are getting serous (and who have HDR turned up to 11 so it's a joke) to enjoy the likes from all the folks who don't know better but save your RAWS. You may see your current processing differently someday, and want to re-work it.

Alex Armitage's picture

Seriously though, have you looked at your hair style from high school? Look how far we have come :)

Daniel Laan's picture

Solid post, Alex. I can certainly identify with "Never". :)
Imagine what your next 6 years might hold for improvement if you work just as hard as you have done the last half a dozen years.
Keep at it and well done with catching that light on El Cap. Props to you.

Alex Armitage's picture

Props to mother nature! Thanks Daniel :)

Ralph Hightower's picture

Yup. I am a Byers-Briggs INTP; I am my own worst critic.

Alex Armitage's picture

I'm also an INTP. I feel you!