150 Revisiting Past Work and the Genesis of New Ideas

Today’s conversation is all about going back. Taking a look at photographs from weeks, months or years gone by and seeing them in a new light. This is episode 150 of The Great Outdoors Photography Podcast for August 10, 2022.

For today’s episode I’m joined by Brie Stockwell, a photographer and Creative Coach from Texas. However, this show notes blog post is written only by me, Brent Bergherm.

Revisiting Photographs

Reviewing where you’ve been photographically, both creatively and physically, is a great part of the creative process. It allows you to take stock of a few things and to consider new possibilities as well. What might you do differently, or where might you be inspired to go next? Maybe to revisit an old favorite, or to go visit a new location to discover something new.

Certainly you may run into some negative issues as well. Whether it’s lamenting the inability to get out, the inability to visit someplace you long to see, or maybe even reviewing your images from year’s past will illustrate the reality that things are just no longer the way they once were.

While there’s many situations we are unable to control it’s still a very valuable experience to revisit our past work and not get bogged down by the potential downsides you may experience when you do take a trip down memory lane.

How to do it?

I’m talking the actual practice you’d take in Lightroom or your favorite raw editor. I am assuming you’re working in a raw editor so that you have complete freedom in re-editing your images.

Do you get rid of all the previous develop module settings and start from scratch, or do you simply take the current processing and make changes from there.

I say it depends on a few factors. If you want to see it with completely fresh eyes, it’ll likely help to totally reset the develop settings. However, I’d still suggest you make a virtual copy first so you still have the original processing easily available to you.

Standard Practice?

This whole idea of revisiting the work after a period of time is generally how I work anyway. I’ll do an initial edit of my images. Then I’ll revisit them about a month later and see if I still like these process settings. I have found that editing my work this way makes it easier for me to ensure that what I’m ultimately showing as the final result is a truer representation of what I “saw and felt” at the time of making the image. When I make an initial edit I may go overboard one way or another. But when I come back and check on it later I’m able to balance what I’m seeing with what I recall from that experience in the first place. If it’s accurate to my memory then it’s all good. If I need to make changes to be more accurate to my memory, or if I need to alter it further to better communicate the overall impression I had with the place then I’ll make those changes. I have found that the passage of time helps me be more authentic with what I want to share and say about these places than if I don’t do it.

Why do it?

The simplest answer: To better understand yourself as a photographer. Maybe you don’t make any changes at all to your overall processing decisions. Maybe you make drastic changes because you have a new thought or a new meaning you want to get across. Either way, you’ll come away with a better understanding of yourself as a photographer.

You’ll possibly notice some themes that define your work. This can be hugely valuable. Especially when you’re back out in the field next time. Maybe the process of revisiting your work will make you better in the field as you’re making your decisions about what to say with your photograph and what to include in your photograph. With the practice of reflection on where you’ve been through your creative journey, you’ll be able to make decision more quickly when out shooting and you’ll possibly have more meaningful compositions because of it.

Finding the thread that makes it all come together…  that’s powerful stuff. That’s when you can really get excited about the work and the energy really starts to flow!

When your point and purpose becomes more clear to you, it’ll become more clear to your viewers too. Who doesn’t want to have an easier time developing a message about what your photography is about? I know I do, and I’ve been shooting for over 20 years. Brie has been shooting for just about 2–3 years and we both are still actively looking for clearer and more honest ways of expressing the thoughts and ideas behind our photographs. Revising our old work is a great way to figure this stuff out.

Continuing to move forward

After revisiting some older work simply ask yourself, what’s the purpose of this image? How about that image? You should have several images in front of you. 

This will help you understand your “why” in your photography. And when you understand your “why” you’re well on your way to even more successful image-making.

The process of distilling it

When you learn what’s important, your “why” and you see the common thread that is running between many of your images you’ll then be able to more effectively boil it down when you make your next photograph. To distill the scene to its essence so there’s nothing added, and nothing missing. That is the ultimate goal. 

Still struggling a bit?

Ask yourself “what is it that I like about this image?”

Do this over and over. Be distinct and clear. If you don’t know why you like an image that’s OK. Put it in a collection and come back to it later. I suspect you’ll figure it out when you least expect it. It’ll just hit you and when you get back to review the photo once again it’ll either make sense or it won’t. Keep at it until it makes sense. Until you’re clear as to why you like an image.

It's wonderful to "play" with editing images

We recommend that you process your images in many different ways. There’s many benefits to doing so:

  • Simply playing with the images can be a lot of fun.
  • Experimentation is a great way to see what the possibilities are. Without experimenting you just don’t know what could be a great edit.
  • Push your creative boundaries.
  • Sharpen your editing skills.
  • Do several iterations of the same image. I did four (see below) and Brie was challenged by a friend to do 10. 

Brent's lighthouse images

In 2019 I lead a workshop on the Oregon Coast. We visited this lighthouse and I got several compositions. When I got back home I decided I wanted to stretch myself a bit and I took a bit of inspiration from Andy Warhol. (Just a little bit 🙂 )

I process them four different times. Once in B&W, and then three other times with the same B&W foundations, but with distinctly different colorations applies. It was not only a lot of fun, but I was also able to learn more about Lightroom and its capabilities.

Brie's creative journey led to...

Spirits of the Sand. White Sands National Park. © Brie Stockwell

Going Further, the power of “What If…”

Brie was looking for a new way to showcase her images. She had a great collection of textures from Death Valley National Park and was wondering what could be done with a bunch of these textures.

She printed several of them but ended up using seven in a final piece that she created. But it wasn’t something that was just created instantly and suddenly. It took a bit of contemplation and time for the ideas to fully percolate. 

The Spark

She even carried these with her so she could revisit them and think about them frequently. Then it “just happened” as she said.

But does it really just happen? I had to dig further (I hope you do listen to the episode. The conversation is great!)

In a previous phase of life Brie was big into scrapbooking. So it was rather natural for her to think about tearing the prints and seeing what happens. It’s true, that all our experiences that we’ve had to this point does inform or affect our outlook on life and it informs how we react to situations. 

Textures on torn paper. © Brie Stockwell

The takeaway

Find your process. 

It may be very different than either of us. That’s simply wonderful. It should be your own. It should have meaning to you and be something that “fits” you!

Be inspired by others. 

Maybe you love the torn paper effect. Wonderful! Do it and find a solution that works for you. Maybe you have other creatives you’re inspired by. Excellent! However, I do encourage you to be inspired and not simply a copy cat. The world already has too many of those.

The Book Brent Mentioned

At the time of this writing I’ve read a few chapters. It’s a great book for a few reasons. However, I primarily appreciate their approach to creativity. In that WE ALL ARE CREATIVE and they recognize that from the get-go. 

I fully agree that everyone has oodles of creativity within them. It’s up to us to figure out how to tap into that. And our creativity is best expressed in different ways. We here that The Great Outdoors Photography Podcast express our creativity through the photographic medium. And we are constantly striving to become better practitioners of the craft. A book like this will help you understand a few things about yourself, and others that you gain inspiration from, and will help you channel that creativity in new ways. I definitely give it two enthusiastic thumbs up!

Click the book cover image to buy it on Amazon.

Today's Dose of Inspiration

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

—Hebrews 11:1, ESV

Reality found a way to mutate into an image.

—Jean Baudrillard

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