How to Learn From Your Photography

by June Jiang | April 15, 2016

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Look to your own work for inspiration.

Like most photographers, I’ve accumulated plenty of photos over the years. While it takes time to review them all, I’ve found I can learn by looking at my old photographs. This past winter I spent some time revisiting my earlier work. It was a fun activity and here are some of my findings.

A Clear Learning Path

Everyone started somewhere. Revisiting some of my old portraits, it was obvious I made tons of common beginner mistakes. Now, I’ll never put my subject in the dead center of a photo or take a portrait without a hint of depth. I also use a backlight, which was missing from my earlier work. These were skills I learned over time and have become second nature to me.

How to Learn From Your Photography

Missed Opportunities

When I reviewed old photos from a trip to Hawaii, I identified tons of missed opportunities. “If I had pointed my camera a little bit up, I would’ve captured the entire sky and the waves, instead of just the waves,” or  “The reflector I used was too close to the subject and she was squinting!” and “I wish I had my big camera with me when I took the photo of a surfer gazing into the ocean.” Why didn’t I see those problems back then? I’m a better photographer now so I “see” better, and, at the same time, my artistic tastes have shifted. Back then I was more focused on what was in front of me, but now I think more about everything in the environment. I also understand how important it is to exhaust every possible camera angle before moving on to the next subject.

How to Learn From Your Photography

A Few Good Ones

For whatever reason, some of my old photos didn’t pass my initial screening back then, but now I see the potential within the original image. Now I see that if I use a crop tool to focus on a portion of the photo, rotate it a bit, and sharpen it more, it can become a great picture. Again, it isn’t that I made poor judgment calls back then; it’s because my tastes have shifted and I have better software to use to enhance the image. I can identify photographs worth “rescuing,” especially if I have the raw files.

Old Photos, New Tweak

Old photos can go from dull to dazzling by using the many photo editing tools available today. Where it used to take at least an hour to retouch skin, now I can do it in a few minutes. Photoshop automatically corrects distortion based on lens type. I can also use the Lightroom app on my phone to edit and enhance my work from anywhere.

Lessons Learned

As photographers, we often look at other people’s work for inspiration. For a change, I encourage you to go through your photographs and discover the lessons your earlier work can teach you. You may also find you can “tell a better story” by editing and enhancing past photos with the tools and skills you have today.

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