Some thoughts on going back to the well
(alternate title: There's gold in them there archives!)
I love to take new photos of new places - that’s part of what drives me as a photographer. I long for the new, I guess. And over the last few years, I have built up a decent-sized library of images through all my travels (about 130,000 pics now, and counting), most of which are still in need of post-processing and publishing. I’m getting to it, albeit more slowly than I would like.
But hey, this isn’t a full-time job for me, so I make time when I can. I will say that I am cranking them out pretty quickly this year, which was one of my goals in 2015 - so I have that going for me. :-) In fact, so far in 2015 I have published well over 200 photos (including iPhone shots), which you can find in my Flickr photostream - that’s where I keep everything. I like how Flickr let’s you organize things. (You can read some of my musings on Flickr here.)
With a large backlog of things I want to share (not just photos, but a couple of product reviews, and a laundry list of other topics to write about), you may find it odd that there are times when I dip back into my previously published photos, and do some re-editing.
I don’t really have time to do this, but sometimes I do it anyways. It's a great exercise.
But sometimes, it's a necessity. This recently came about because a customer contacted me about an image I shared several years ago. It was an HDR of a sunset in La Jolla, CA and - according to my current thinking - it was more of an over-the-top HDR. Ok, it was a very over-the-top HDR. It’s not even remotely close to what I would do with the photo today. But they liked it, and they wanted it, and I was happy to oblige.
You see, my style has changed quite a bit since the “early days” of 4-5 years ago, and (in my opinion at least) my application of HDR is much more subtle - most of the time. Now and then I hammer those pixels, but mostly not so much.
But here’s the thing - the photo was done in such a way that I HAD to re-process it in order to make it larger for them to print (I made a LOT of mistakes early on in this creative pursuit of mine). But the problem was this: I had no idea what I had done to get the photo looking the way it did. I knew generally what software I used, mostly because it was all I had at the time, but as far as the steps I used to create it, specifically? No idea. No. Idea. Whatsoever.
So what did I do?
I did the only thing I possibly could do - I started to re-process the photo that I first created about 5 years ago. It was a lot of trial and error, though mostly error. And guess what? It took me forever to get it looking even remotely close to what the client was expecting. (No surprise.) I finally got it there, but the whole exercise was a great learning process. A bit painful I might add, but still a great learning process.
Here are some things that I encountered, observed, and learned by going back to the well, and why I recommend it as a fabulous creative exercise:
Your stylizing choices really do change over time - and perhaps drastically.
Assuming your processing is somewhat consistent from image to image (I am often a creature of habit), don’t hesitate to chronicle this somewhere, as a point of reference at least, should you ever need it. I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast, so a journal of this stuff could come in really handy someday - like last week! :-o
Your workflow has probably changed quite a bit too, and likely for the better.
But just like the last point, if you chronicle this somewhere you can refer back to it. Can you remember which filters you applied, and in what order, when processing your pics in years past? Can you remember which software products you used? I know what I do today, but that’s different from last year, much less several years ago. You could even keyword this stuff into the image in the library, I guess. And I am not suggesting you do this for every image - because that’s a little too OCD - but maybe some just general notes about your “style”.
Use this exercise as a yardstick to measure your development.
Your skills have likely matured - a LOT. Most of the images in today’s post were processed years back, but just sat there on my hard drive because I didn’t like the results at the time. They were flat, boring - even ugly in some cases. Perhaps I just didn't have the right skills in post-processing to bring the image to life, and I certainly lacked the confidence to "put them out there".
Now that I have come back to look at them with fresh eyes - and better skills in post-processing - I have been able to create photos that I deem worthy of sharing. These are also all single exposures. Part of the reason I never did anything with them in the past was that I was just TOO addicted to HDR and these, being single frames, just got passed over in favor of “better” shots to share.
Software gets better over time...
That’s another thing about today’s photos. I don’t think I could have gotten the results you see here 5 years ago. Maybe I could have with a lot of work, but with all the advances in software, it sure makes things quicker and easier on us...and at least in this case, it saves these from being banished to obscurity forever. And I rather like these photos I am sharing today. I’m glad that I dug them out.
...but it also gets different.
I used Topaz Adjust on the original image 5 years ago, and thus used it on the re-edit, in an attempt to "get it right". That product has gone through a LOT of changes in the last 5 years (and I’ve used it all this time, though not on every image), so even remembering the way you did things back then might not lead you to the same end result these days.
This is an endless source of entertainment...
I realize some photographers consider what they published in the past “off limits” because it’s a snapshot (no pun intended) of where they were at the time - artistically speaking - but I am not that way at all. I have occasionally gone back to previously published photos and done a re-edit, just for the hell of it. It’s damn fun, especially going into it with the mindset that it’s damn fun! You can easily pass a few hours doing this.
...so know where to draw the line.
When you have a large library of photos, you have to decide what’s worth a re-edit, and what’s better left alone - otherwise, you could spend all your time just messing around with the old stuff and never get the newer work published. Nothing wrong with it of course, but I suspect a lot of photographers are like me, and want to create new work from recently captured images. There’s an addiction to the new, so to speak.
You may create some amazing work - and you didn't even know it was there.
Although I would do this whole photography thing for free (and in some ways, you could argue that I do!), I do want to earn some money from my efforts if possible, in order to fund new purchases and travel. So why not dip back into some old favorites and give them a new look? Or like I did with these photos - dig out ones that you never did fully process, and never shared, because you thought they weren’t “good enough”. You may find some real keepers buried deep in the archives.
It’s your art, and it’s your right to do so. Why not then share those pics wherever you host your shots for viewing? I add mine to my Flickr photostream as well as put them into my portfolio site on SmugMug. No one will ever discover them if they just sit in my library, collecting virtual dust. What good is that? You’re not doing anyone a favor, least of all yourself. So share that stuff!
And now thanks to this little accident of mine, I have this whole post worth of images to share, because once I fixed that one old photo for my client, I started looking at all the others I took of that sunset...and it was a beautiful sunset. Real beautiful, in fact. So then I got busy processing, and processing and processing...and all of these photos above are the results.
And guess what? I added all these to my portfolio site, and they are going on Flickr too...because that’s where they may get discovered by people that might just be looking for a California sunset picture. So don't hesitate to dive back in to some old files - you really may find a diamond or two in the rough!
And if you read this far, then you may be asking "where is that HDR you are referring to, Jim?". Well, here it is - this is my re-creation which mimics the stylizing I did on it 5 years ago...not at all what I would do today, but 5 years ago, well...things were a little different for Jim here. :-) I was VERY in to pushing those pixels around.
And yes, curiosity killed the cat, so you can bet that after finishing this for my client, I went back to it and decided to reprocess as an HDR in the style that I prefer today...so below is that version of the pic. It's still a somewhat aggressive use of HDR - depending on your definition of aggressive, of course - but it's way closer to what I would do with the photo today, and more closely resembles my current tastes.
And lastly - yes, in case you are curious, that first photo at the top of today's post is a single exposure from the bracket set used to create this HDR. That's another reason I am doing less and less HDR - I find I often get a result I am pleased with when using just a single exposure. Not always, but often.