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Opinion: Reflecting on your photography past will help you improve

Hard drive
(Image credit: Samsung Memory on Unsplash)

Although many of us are free to head out with our cameras again, I’m willing to bet very few of us are racking up the same number of shutter actuations that we were before all the lockdowns began. 

If you’re anything like me, you’re at your most confident when you’re taking plenty of photos and challenging yourself. So, as I sat on the sofa watching yet another motorsport event I’d once planned to photograph, I decided to quit wallowing, dust off my external hard drives, log onto the best cloud storage sites and relive my journey as a photography enthusiast. 

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Considering all the time I spend taking photographs, it’s very rare that I’ll revisit my work – so for that reason alone I found this an interesting experience. However, it soon dawned on me that I was completely blown away by some of my old photos – blown away by how awful they were! 

That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Even Henri Cartier-Bresson had to start somewhere – and for every wonky, blurry or dust spot-riddled image, I was reminded of how much I’ve improved as a photographer. 

Progress feels slow or nonexistent when your confidence drops, and it’s easy to feel stuck in a rut. However, by filtering through my photos, I was able to identify improvements even when comparing my latest images with those I’d captured a mere few months prior. Being able to see that progress was hugely validating, and it’s something we can all do.

There are many other reasons to revisit your library, though. You’ll find hidden gems that you’ve either forgotten about or, through lack of experience, dismissed once upon a time. And you might even spot a few naughty habits, too; perhaps you have a tendency to blow out highlights, maybe your subject variety is in need of a shake-up, or perhaps you’re leaning too hard on that clarity slider. 

In fact, editing alone is a fantastic reason to rifle through your old files. I found myself blushing brighter than some of my overly saturated images of yore – and with editing trends changing all the time, I’d suggest everyone has at least one photo they’d like to overhaul. So, having rummaged around for the raw files, that’s exactly what I ended up doing. 

We photographers are in a unique position, because documenting our progress is par for the course. And while we all have different goals, strengths, weaknesses and tastes, we’re all still progressing and we’re all still learning – and that's something that fills me with confidence.

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