Why You Should Look Back At Old Photographs

An old image of water flowing between grass after rainfall; a perfect example of why you should look back at old photographs to see how much you have improved.

I am sure I have told you this time and time again, but I feel as though it is important to note, especially in this connotation. My journey down photography lane did not begin with landscapes. Quite the contrary, my friend. No, I began shooting everything and everything in sight. For the first few months of my journey, I photographed everything. But my favorite subject to create art of would no doubt have been people. The multitude of emotions a single person can evoke just with the movement of their eyebrows – it fascinates me. Looking on Instagram, I become so inspired when I see the works of Mark Harless (bleeblu), John Schell, Ben Sasso, Peter Coulson. Even now they continue to inspire me with their lighting, editing, style of shooting, etc. You can truly find inspiration in everything, but that is an article for another day.

After roughly a year and a half of shooting portraits – struggling to find models, my motivation waning – I began to capture the beauty of nature through my lens. Not only was I gaining much more support through social media, I found myself to be less stressed and overall happier. Since then, I have chosen to stick with landscape photography, at some diverging to try my hand at portraiture and other genres. Yet I always find myself going right back to landscape photography.

Why did I tell you this?

Telling this to you, my dear readers, was truly for the sport of telling you a little story. I hope you enjoyed it.

A side-by-side comparison of two portraits I had taken of my girlfriend to see my improvement with portrait photography.

Look back at your old photos every few months

You will not regret doing this. I remember doing this early in 2015, comparing the portrait images I had taken when I first began with those I had snapped just recently. Oh how shocked I was when I found myself truly seeing improvement in my work. Like a woman trying to lose weight, I had not noticed any improvement with my work. My mind was stuck in the never-ending loop of “your work sucks” and “you should just quit now.” When I saw my old work compared with the new, however, I realized that progress takes time. Sometimes it takes more time for you than it will for me; it all depends on the situation. Regardless of whether you notice it, progress is happening every single day. Every time you pick up your camera, bring it up to your eye, and click that shutter, you are making progress.

Another side-by-side comparison of my portrait photography to see how much I had improved in one year.

You will become more confident

The best reason to look back at your old photographs and compare them to recent favorites is that it will quickly give you a boost in confidence. You will quickly notice how your eye has evolved, having been trained to see stronger compositions in the field while also understanding how to better edit your images. I found myself wanting to go out and shoot almost immediately after seeing my improvements. My mind was doused with dopamine; I was high as a kite and it felt so good. And that was just from looking at a one year difference in my images. Imagine comparing images you had taken five years ago and the amount of improvement you see then!

Be warned: comparing your images only a few short months apart will not yield the same effects. There will always be improvement happening but it will not be nearly as noticeable if you are comparing your progress from last month to today.

You will notice where you are still struggling

Personally, this is the biggest benefit to comparing old with the new. By doing so, you will begin to point out aspects you were struggling with back then. And then you will notice where you are still struggling, whether it be your blown-out highlights or your lack of strong composition. Now, this may seem to be a bad thing to some of you. Maybe you are asking, “why would I want to point out my failures?” Well, how are you supposed to improve on something if you do not come to terms with your failures? There is no way to improve your work if you are only looking at the things you are doing right. Instead, begin examining where you are going wrong. If neither of your images are strong in a compositional sense, begin studying composition some more; scour the internet for tutorials on different compositional techniques and then go out in the field to put what you have learned to use. Notice your failures and learn from them. That is how you improve.

In conclusion

This is no doubt something that you need to experience first-hand to truly understand. So go do yourself a favor: dig through your hard drives and find an old image that you remember having loved back when you first captured it. It is perfectly normal to throw-up in your mouth a bit; just choke it down and put that picture to the side. Now open up a more recent image that you love and compare them side-by-side. Look for the compositional techniques you used in both; notice the subject or lack thereof. On a piece of paper, jot down all the differences you notice. Now, look to see if there are any areas in which you are still struggling. There will no doubt be some. Jot those things down too, for they are what you must work on starting now.

Remember - the only way to improve is to get out there and do it.