On This Day – How Do You Review Your Old Photographs?

Since January this year, I’ve been using Google Photos extensively. Now and then it sends me a message – “On this day in 2014…” and a sample of a few photos I’ve taken back then.

My Google Photo archive is by no means exhaustive (I have thousands more on Flickr, currently set to private since my master reset), but it does encourage me to take a look at older photographs and consider what I was doing then.

Inevitably, the question that follows, is “Am I better photographer today than back then?”

Or put another way, “How have I evolved as a photographer?”

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Let me take you back for a moment to introduce you to an old friend and former fellow salsa teacher of mine called Ramon. Originally from Venezuela, he’s lived long enough in the UK to know our ways and curiosities.

And apparently one of the common traits of our culture is to constantly measure, and forever be chasing progress and improvement.

Specifically with salsa, he was bordering on bewildered at how many people who had only been dancing for a matter of weeks, would come up to him and ask when they could go up to the improvers class and then how long after that they could advance to the, er, advanced class.

“Why can’t you English just enjoy dancing?” he’d often ask me, exasperated.

Ramon just dances because he loves dancing. Whilst a very good, and very natural dancer, he has no idea what “level” he is at, nor does he care. It’s purely about the enjoyment.

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This point can be equally applied to photography. 

Why can’t I just enjoy taking photos? Why do I need some comparison with the former me?

This ever progressive quest is also relavant to the cameras themselves. 

Rather than just buy a camera and enjoy shooting the heck out of it (which I actually did used to do with phone cams and my first “proper” camera, a Nikon Coolpix, before the wonder of film blew my head and the possibilities of my camera collection wide open), why buy one, use it for a week, then buy another and try that for a week to see how it compares with the other. Then buy another, and so on.

You can argue that this approach does over time allow us to discover the cameras that suit us best, the invisible gems that step aside and let us photograph most freely. 

Three or four years ago I wouldn’t have thought about getting another digital compact camera, or that it could offer me any of the pleasures film photography could. But these days, they do just that, and more.

I couldn’t have got here without the couple of hundred cameras and lenses en route.

Of the eight cameras I now consider my core kit, two are film, five are digital compacts and one is almost, just a bit bigger, the Lumix GF1.

I’m very happy with this collection. I’m also really happy with the best photographs I make these days.

But in all honesty I’m not sure I’m any better a photographer – or the photographs are any more accomplished – than seven or eight years ago when I was using phone cams and that Nikon Coolpix.

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Nikon Coolpix P300, November 2011

Should I care? Or should I just appreciate and enjoy using these wonderful little machines to continue hunting for beauty?

I think we both know the answer.

How about you? How often do you review older photographs and compare with your recent best? What about cameras – do you constantly compare and review, or just get down to using and enjoying one? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and remember to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what my photography life looks like right now.

8 thoughts on “On This Day – How Do You Review Your Old Photographs?”

  1. Finding a piece of kit that allows me to enjoy the ‘dance’ is a definite bonus.

    I often sit with my past images trying to glean any crumbs of knowledge from my mistakes, but also to enjoy the few successful ones. I guess it’s all about what you want. Or more precisely, what you want at that particular moment.

    Looking back is important to see how far you’ve come and via which route. You can then plan you journey forward and pick a suitable course, while keeping your destination in mind… If not the destination, then at least the direction. Or you end up in circles or even worse, aimless.

    Learn nothing from your past… then you will surely just repeat it

    1. I think to an extent I am repeating my past photographs, just with different cameras!

      It’s not really possible to do, but in some ways I’d like to start over with no knowledge of the technical sides of photography and shoot with “beginners mind”.

  2. You caught me on a day when I’m feeling fed up with trying to be better as a photographer. I spent a half hour with my camera out in the world today just enjoying photography, shooting stuff I’ve shot before, feeling very much happy with that. I think there’s something there I need to pay attention to.

    1. Jim, I definitely have days like this too. There’s great pleasure to be wandering around familiar haunts and making pictures you’ve made before, just slightly different. It’s like curling up with a familiar and favourite film or book… We can’t constantly be pushing to improve and evolve.

  3. Dan, I was indeed looking at some past photos and they showed me how to pursue a new journey with my photography. I like to focus on what I am doing now with my photography but at times like to look back to see where I have been. I photograph to record my days rather than seeking to improve the quality of my photos. maybe that will happen in time xoxo susanJOY

  4. I think progress is often an illusion. My earliest “serious” negatives are as good as those I am making 50 years later. My prints are much better than those I made when I started, but that is entirely down to my switching from wet prints to inkjet prints. My earliest inkjet prints are still some of my best.
    The one gradual improvement I’ve made is in my choice of subjects. Besides portraits of family and friends my main interest is documenting the ordinary man-made things we see all around us. Looking at my prints from the 1960’s I realize that I was photographing too many things that were old at the time. It’s hard to date many of the prints. These days I try to make my pictures easy to date, hoping that my great grandchildren will find some of them interesting 60 years from now.

    1. I’m reading a very meaty photography book that covers all kinds of aspects, and one thing the author has already repeated multiple times is go with where your interests are. He has found that subjects he was most interested anyway (in his case, historic cathedrals, trees, landscapes) are those he’s most keen to photograph and give him his favourite work.

      I think we need to explore different genres to an extent, but if you’re not really that interested in a subject then it’s going to be hard to imbue your photographs with any kind of life and passion and interest.

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