4 Reasons to Go Back and Re-Process Older Raw Files


As photographers, we eagerly plan mornings, weekends, day trips and vacations around being out in the field. When we get back to our computers, many of us are downloading our files shortly after walking through the door. Then it's moments of “Yes!”, “Sighs” and a few colorful words thrown in when that one that you really wanted was an “almost”.

As exciting as it is to process our new little gems, it can be almost as rewarding to go back into our older files and look at them with a fresh set of eyes. Here's four reasons to go back in time.

1. The Forgotten Photos are Waiting

Just this weekend I went back to view photos from 2014 to free up some space. I uncovered some files that didn't get a lot of attention when they were downloaded. The image of the Scarlet Macaw below caught my attention. I'm not quite sure of the reason it was passed over. Maybe because it was on a photo trip where there were over initially 3000 photos to select from and then process?

2. Diamonds in the Rough

Sometimes there are photos that you can't delete for a variety of reasons. A) Exposure bracketing (see article on Exposure Bracketing) was used which meant many photos may have been put into the ‘later' list for merging and processing. B) The color photo had potential but it didn't wow you…yet. Check out 4 Quick Methods to Convert Your Photo to Black & White and C) There were other photos that you were more interested in at the time.

Using ‘B' above as an example, I found a color photo that I converted to Black and White. This was a photo taken at sunset on Lake Michigan. The colors were soft, the water smooth and the rocks had a subtle shimmer. In color, it was a nice photo. When I processed it in black and white a richer dimension was added.

3. New Processing Skills/New Software Features

As our photography techniques evolve, so do our post-processing skills, techniques and habits. Today, Lightroom's local adjustment tools – Radial Filter, Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush for targeting specific areas are used on a more regular basis than a year ago. I also started using Photoshop CC in early 2015. The power of working with Layers and Photoshop's plethora of refined editing capabilities have been applied in older photos.

Additionally, software such as Lightroom CC adds new features and enhances existing ones. Going back in Lightroom and selecting Reset (at the top of all the enhancements so I preserve my work if I want to revert back) provides the opportunity to work from the ground up with new and/or refined skills and program features.

4. Discarding and Freeing Up Space

The idea for writing this article came from revisiting 2014 files to discard unused and unwanted photos. I was looking for images that I'd never touch due to quality, composition, etc. The longer time goes by, the easier it is to discard older photos.

However, each time I go back to old files on my hard drive or those stored on my external drive, I find a few that I really like and process. For information on backing up the cloud using for extra protection refer to Protecting Your Work for a strategy on backing up your photos.

The next time you don't have any new images to work on, take a trip down memory lane. What you find may inspire you!

About Author

Sheen Watkins is a conservationist, wildlife photographer, instructor, author and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website.

I couldn’t agree more and read an article about this same topic a few years back. I’d headed out to visit national parks out west with a D90, my SLR camera at the time. I didn’t know much of what I was doing other than a few basics and was kind of disappointed with most images captured. A few years later and with more post production knowledge under my belt, I went back through those RAW images…talk about some diamonds! Great article and one I’ll save as a reminder!

Thanks for the insightful blog.

I have also found some gems hiding in the Lightroom catalog from previous photo outings. Some of those uncovered gems turn out to be real prizes. Recently a client wanted a 3 foot print of a landscape I made 4 years ago using an older less capable camera. When I went back to see if I could tune it up using new software (#3 above) I found a slightly different exposure (bracketing) that was actually better, I was able to deliver a better product by going back. I have thousands of images that I told myself I would get back to but have never found the time. Winter is almost here and that provides more time for digging for gems in the library.

I’ve had this experience several times recently. Lightroom entered my toolset just 3 years ago and I’ve been slowly adding 10+ years of images into the catalog as time and interest allows. I’ve *discovered* hundreds of images, both JPEG and some needing to back to the RAW, that benefit from a breath of new editing technique and then they join the ranks of my current best efforts.

I don’t discard the raw files, even in some cases if I shoot a sporting event as jpg I will create a copy to screen/delete from. I actually don’t keep everything in Lightroom for the very reason that I might reprocess them differently. There are other great programs out there that will let you view all of the folders of raw files, so they’re not invisible or forgotten after removing from Lightroom.

Yes I’ve put a lot into primary storage and on site backups, cloud backups as the 3rd copy are cheap, and no external drives to fail. I suppose as the current drives get to be end of life or if I fill them, I can upgrade to something larger or reconsider what I have for backups.

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