Are We Only As Good As Our Last Photograph?

Think for a moment about the best photograph you’ve ever made.

Which one(s) come to mind?

How long ago did you make it?

A week ago? A year ago? A lifetime ago?

Now think about the last photograph you made that you were proud of.

How does that one compare with the best one you’ve ever made?

Are we only as good as the last photograph we made?

Once we’ve made even one photograph we love, does it follow that we can potentially make another equally as satisfying – if not more so – at any moment?

Does any of this matter?

Are we better just enjoying the art and the passion and the hobby of photography in whichever form we love most, and forgetting about these kinds of measurements and comparisons?

What do you think?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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14 thoughts on “Are We Only As Good As Our Last Photograph?”

    1. I agree, constantly comparing yourself on any level can become obsessive and detrimental to your health and enjoyment of the activity in question. I guess we need to feel we’re improving (even in the sense of enjoying as much as we can, rather than improving in terms of how “good” the photos are) but not be constantly analysing this so we lose the enjoyment factor.

  1. Dan, I realised from this post that I love the content of my photos, the memories they capture with little concern about the quality of the photo or techniques used etc. With my photography I look around me at what I want to capture and if it’s in the frame and not too blurry I take it!!!! thanks for the post Dan. It got me thinking about my photography again beyond happy snapping

    1. This is so true, I know when looking at old photos from my childhood for example, I don’t think about what camera or film was used, it’s just about the memories and feelings the image evokes.

  2. Depends. It can be more complicated than that:
    1. Luck. You were at the right place at the right time and now you are out of luck
    2. You bought a new lens or a new camera and you are motivated
    3. During a period of time you had more free time to use your camera
    I believe that in some cases you may became (temporary) a worse photographer. If you learn a new technique, you may shoot some average photos until you master it.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful input Denis.

      What do you mean by luck? Like the weather or lighting conditions being very amenable at a certain time you happened to be there with a camera ready? I would suggest ardent photographers would say you make your own luck, by consistently putting yourself in places where the right conditions are likely to occur.

      I’ve read this from numerous street photographers especially, where a photograph can look like a spontaneous chance moment, but in fact was the result of the photographer casing the scene extensively, waiting (perhaps for hours) until the right subject came into view and then taking a few shots and hoping one was good. I guess this is equally applicable to wildlife or nature photography. If you spend longer periods in the places where the wildlife you’re hoping to photograph is likely to be, you increase your chances of getting the photographs you want.

      I’m often recommended the Magnum contact sheets books (still on my wish list though!) which from the excerpts I’ve seen shows that what we think of as one masterful photograph is simply the best one made public to us by the photographer, amidst dozens, even hundreds of others that didn’t make the grade.

      I prefer more spontaneous rambly photography myself, but appreciate how some photographs find the “stage” for their photograph first, then wait for the right time/light/weather, and then wait for the right subjects to complete the scene. I can see how much thought and preparation and craft goes into it.

      Yes I think having any new gear usually means some kind of learning curve, where you’re not likely to be making your best photos with that set up immediately. But perhaps the energy and excitement of having the new equipment means you shoot more – and learn more quickly – than if you were using existing gear you might have become bored of using. It can accelerate learning I think.

      Yes this ties in with free time too. With any hobby or practice, the more time you devote to it, the better you are likely to become. Also this is why I like extended photowalks of at least 60 mins. I can’t get into short snatched walks for a number of reasons, one of them being I’m not likely to make photos I like if I only have 15 mins and feel pressured.

  3. “Are We Only As Good As Our Last Photograph?”
    Short answer: I (really) hope not!
    Longer one: I do not know what is my best photograph, if it exists. As for the photos I am quite satisfied with, there are certainly a few. There is even one that comes to my mind which is not that old, one or two months ago. But I do not associate any meaning to a “good” photograph in terms of my ability to do other ones, to do better ones. Quite often I do not realize when I take the photo that it will be a good one according to my point of view, that I will like it particularly. There is a part of chance in that the decisions that I took or not, consciously or not, were good and bring something special. And I like that surprise effect which remains when you first look at a set of photos!

    1. Thanks Joel. There’s also the factor of us changing over time as we view photographs. Something we made years ago we might appreciate at a new level today, because of the additional experiences we’ve had in the interim. It’s like music, I can listen to records I loved when I was maybe 18 or 20, and still greatly enjoy them, but just see different things in them now, and have had additional experiences to relate to them with.

  4. Freeing space from a external hard disk by deleting raw photos I checked photos I took eight years ago with a compact camera and I liked them. I used to be harsh against my more recent photographs as, being my goal to have a memento of something or somebody I saw, I was more aware of how the place looked in reality, so forgetting can be a bit of a blessing. I think by now I can configure my devices to have a good approximation to what I want so no more stress in that regard : D

    1. I think perhaps two processes are at work here Francis, first that you have become more familiar and competent with your devices, so you can more easily achieve the kind of outcome you want with your photos, and second, perhaps with time you (and we all) let go a little of the process and aren’t so obsessive about every tiny detail as we were before.

  5. Comparison is the thief of joy -Theodore Roosevelt
    I know that to improve I should be looking at my pictures in an attempt to improve them. And I should be comparing myself to others. I just don’t think that’s something that the great photographers did, though. I think they took inspiration from other artists but as they were pioneers, they didn’t really look at painters because the painters were into things more surreal than reality… and they wanted to portray reality.
    I myself look at painters like Bouguereau and how they see light (considering most of what I do is casual portraits of my family…) I also look at Clyde Butcher as inspiration for my landscapes, probably the only photographer I really get inspired by. But I won’t compare myself to them – and I certainly try not to compare my older photographs with my newer ones. It’s just a hobby for me…

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