Why Revisiting Your Old Photos May Pleasantly Surprise You


How long have you been shooting photographs? Ten years, twenty, if you are like me, perhaps even longer. Let me ask another question. When was the last time you looked at your old photos? By old, I mean anything over a couple of years. If like me, the answer was rarely, then it may well be time to change that. 

The pandemic and its associated lockdowns have given a lot of people a lot of spare time. I took some of that spare time to go back through my back catalog of digital images dating back to 2002. What I found, really surprised me. There were some really good photos there. Not the photos that I already knew were good, but images that I had previously disregarded as not creative or that did not resonate well with me at the time. 

Today, I am going to invite you to don your rose-tinted spectacles and come on a trip down memory lane to revisit your old photos. 

Two British red telephone boxes back to back
Taken in 2004 I have done a little “cliche” modern processing and it works. By Jason Row Photography

Lost In The Mists Of Time

I am sure that like me, you remember many of your old photoshoots. You remember the locations, the weather, perhaps the beer you drank afterward. But do you remember the actual photos? Probably not in any great detail. So the first stage of revisiting your old photos is to get them up in your image management app and start looking at them.

Actually what you need to do is more than look at them. You need to start rerating them or even rating them for the first time. For me, in Lightroom, that’s a simple star rating from one to five.

All good so far, by why would you want to rerate them? Well, think of it this way. How much more do you know about photography now, compared to say ten or fifteen years ago. How much more is your mind tuned to creativity and good composition now compared to then? Probably a huge amount. 

Screenshot of older images in Lightroom
It's well worth revising and re-rating your older images. By Jason Row Photography

The thing is, a lot of that creativity was still there fifteen years ago, but perhaps more locked into your subconscious, rather than you being aware of it. This means that many of your photos could actually be really good, you just did not know it at the time. The only way to find out is to revisit them with your modern eye.

There is another reason why you should rerate your old images. Trends and fashions change and like haircuts, it’s quite possible that images you took fifteen years ago are back in fashion today. Sadly my own haircut is not. 

Old Images Modern Tools

Clarity, dehaze, HSL sliders, graduated filters. These and many other post-processing tools were not available to us ten or fifteen years ago. Modern editing apps on modern image files can do amazing things. But they can also do amazing things on older images, even ones not shot in RAW. 

Eurofighter Typhoon on afterburner.
Using modern Lightroom tools on a Jpeg from 2004. By Jason Row Photography

Once you have rerated your older images, it’s time to have a go at reprocessing them. If, like me, you are using Lightroom, create two virtual copies of the image you wish to work on. On one image remove any of the processing you might have done all those years ago. This will become your reference image. Then with the second virtual copy, start to make it punch. You may need to be more careful with your editing technique, older files may not have the same tolerances as more modern images, especially if they are JPEGS. However, with the tried and tested technique of small edits, a short break, and a few more short edits, you will soon find you can get amazing results out of the oldest of your digital image. You can even apply this technique to even older scanned film images. 

Whilst we are revisiting our editing techniques there is one area that you really should revisit. HDR, images. HDR as a technique is as popular as ever and for good reason, it helps expand the dynamic range of our sensors. However, HDR as a trend or fashion has changed beyond all recognition.

If you were a proponent of the early HDR craze, there is a good chance that you got sucked into the whole over-saturated, garish-looking craze. It was not photography’s finest hour. However, the chances are you still have those original bracketed images. Now is a good time to revisit them and apply not only modern HDR techniques but also modern HDR creativity to them. You will be able to pull back skies, raise details in shadows and increase saturation and punch, all without making your images look like an explosion in a paint factory. 

A re-imagined HDR image from 2005. By Jason Row Photography

In With The Old, In With The New

If you want to see not only how your photography has developed over the years but also how you built your own style and creativity, then collections are your friend. What I mean by this is that you can use Lightroom Collections to combine together folders of older and newer images.

Amazonian man stands by Amazon river with ship in background
Even some of my old film-based images are in my Lightroom catalog. This is from 1997. By Jason Row Photography

Look for shots of a similar genre and style of all different eras in your photographic journey. Pull them all together into one collection and arrange them chronologically. What you will have created is a timeline of your photographic education. This can be immensely helpful not only in understanding how far you have come but also in deciding where you want to take your photography in the future. 

Canary Wharf skyscrapers in 2003
From 2003 this area has changed immensely. By Jason Row Photography

Not only that, by using Lightroom’s filter tools you can analyze many aspects of your photography over time. For example, what focal lengths you favor, what exposure mode you tend to use, whether you prefer a particular aperture over others. You can also see if those trends have changed over time. 

Photography has always been about the now, about the “defining moment” The problem is that having frozen time, our shots are often lost to time. That’s a sad thing. Unlike the days of film where we needed to dust off boxes of old transparencies, all our images from the last fifteen or twenty years are available at our fingertips. Perhaps now is the time to blow the virtual dust off of them and realize just how good they actually were. 

Further Reading:

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

This post is true on so many levels. I have definitely looked at my older photos at times and found hidden gems that I didn’t even know were there. I don’t do it often enough but I always enjoy a stroll down memory lane with my old images. One thing I think I find with my old phots is that it also shows me how I have improved as a photographer and creative person. I can see what types of photos I used to consider good when I first started and compare them tot he photographs I am taking now and see my own evolution.

Kyle Reynolds

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *