The importance of Looking at your Own Images
In the world of digital imaging, it's often easy to get overwhelmed by the number of images we create. I personally have hundreds of thousands of pictures, and managing them can be a real chore. It’s also very easy to import a set of images, go through them once or twice, maybe share a few and then never look at them again. I know I’m guilty of this, but It’s important to occasionally revisit your older photos.
It may sound like a narcissistic thing to do, to spend time looking at your own photos, but it's not about ego. It’s a valuable learning tool and its something that even professionals and long-time photographers do. By looking at your own work, especially from a while ago, you can learn to be critical of your images, learn to see what works and what doesn’t work, and you can also see how you’ve grown. Learning to critique your own work is one of the most valuable skills that you can have as a photographer.
Of course, you can end up going too far with that, and end up like me. I’m my own worst critic when it comes to my own work. That’s not just with photography though. This has always been the case, and with my design work too, I’m often very hard on myself. Apparently, this is common among artists though, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
I remember reading a comment somewhere a while ago that I found really telling. Someone was complaining about spending time at their computer. They said they hated going through photos at their computer and much preferred being out taking pictures. While I understand the sentiment behind that, I also thought to myself, if you hate being at your computer then when do you actually look at your images? If all you want to do is be out taking photos, and you don’t actually like looking at the results then what’s the point? Why not just go for a walk?
I enjoy the process of taking photos too, obviously, but I also do it for the result of having a good or at least trying to have a good image at the end of the day. Which is why I’m making this point, and why its so important to look at, and evaluate your own work. It’s perfectly fine to enjoy the process of photography, but the purpose of it is to produce a photograph. The image is the most important thing, and the only way to improve your own photography is to start by looking at it and learning to recognise what works and what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t like.
I’m not trying to be negative here, put anyone down, or dismiss the joy of actually taking pictures. However, I think it’s equally important to have an understanding that photography is about creating photographs. It’s not really one of those things where the journey is more important. The result is kind of the whole point. Otherwise, you’re just going through the motions. If you spend all that time taking pictures, then don’t lock them up in a file system somewhere, never to be seen again. Even if you don’t share them or print them, at least look at them every now and then, and appreciate your own work, and your own progress. As I said, it’s not about ego, it’s an essential aspect of the artistic process.
Another thing that I like to do too, now and again, is to go back over old RAW files and re-process them. This may sound like an unnecessary thing to do, but over time, your skills at post-production change, your style changes, and more importantly software changes. I was recently working on some new styles for Capture One (more on that soon), and I was looking for some images to work with for testing purposes. I ended up coming across some pictures from nearly ten years ago that I shot with my old Nikon D90. When I imported them into Capture One, straight away, even before doing any work to them, I got vastly different results than I previously had.
I had fun looking at them again, and reprocessing some of them. I could also see lots of mistakes that I had made, and areas where I’ve significantly improved as a photographer, both technically and artistically. In another set of images that I came across, the results were so good, that I can see areas where I’ve changed, and perhaps not for the better. I could still see some technical flaws, but artistically, they were a taken with a different approach than I find myself taking now, and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. But its a valuable learning experience though, and it allows me to evaluate both where I’ve been, where I’m going and perhaps course correct some of the things in my current work that I’m not happy about. It’s allowed me to rediscover some of the things I had forgotten, and help me get over some of the creative blocks that I’ve had lately.
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