Seeing Your Images Through a New Set of Eyes

When I’m writing a book on Photoshop, Lightroom, or photography, I would have to say that at least good chunk of the time, if not the largest chunk, is spent searching for images to use in the book (for everything from tutorials to examples to chapter openers).

Luckily, I have all my images in Lightroom, but for my last book I created a new separate catalog of images before I ever started the book, to make the upcoming few months of daily searching that much easier. But during all this gathering and sorting, something happened which had an unexpectedly fun and fulfilling effect, and I’m hoping to pass this on to you, so you can have it, too.

I’ll Bet You’re Way Better Now!
Have you ever gone back and looked at shots you took three or four years ago? If you’re like me, when you see them, you cringe. You cringe because you know you’re so much better today than you were back then, and shots you thought were awesome then, seem kinda awful now. Unfortunately, in most cases, we can’t go back and re-take them, so from one angle, we’re kinda stuck. However….

Now think about your Photoshop skills. I’ll bet you’re dramatically better at your post processing today than you were even just a year ago, and you’re probably light years ahead of where you were three or four years ago. But not only are you better—-Photoshop itself has come along way, too and there are features and things you can do today you just couldn’t do back then (and even if Photoshop could, Photoshop can probably do them better now—everything from stitching panos to creating HDRs to making selections are all vastly improved in the past few years).

I Wanna Go Back….and Do it All Over…..
So, the special thing that happened to me was; as I was looking at some of these images I had taken years ago, I would run across one here and there that I still liked, but the first thing I thought when I saw them was, “Man, I could sure edit that photo a lot better today than I did back then.”In fact, some of the techniques I used back then are so dated now, that I wouldn’t apply those moves, or those filters, to any image today. So, I went back; found the original Raw or JPEG files, and post processed them from scratch, knowing what I know now, and it completely transformed those images, and made them new. It’s like I was seeing those images through a new set of eyes.

Here’s a weekend project you might just love
Since I imagine you’re way better at Photoshop today than you were a few years ago, why not at least go back and look at some of the stuff you shot years ago, and see if a new crop, a new treatment, a new way of post-processing the image might bring an image you once loved back to life with a fresh new look after being edited with the new skills and new tools you have today? Of course, you might go back and hate all your old stuff, but my guess is you’ll have some great and unexpected surprises that will absolutely make the time and effort all worth it.

Go back and look at your vacation shots from four years ago. Go back and scan in some photos from a trip you took 10 years ago, and then apply your latest post processing techniques to them, and see if those images don’t take on a new meaning for you. Warning: if you’re really successful on the first images you re-edit, it’s kind of like playing “Angry Birds.” There goes your whole weekend.

Happy Hunting! :)

  1. Scott, I have been going back and processing old photos again! It seems like I am constantly learning new stuff on your sites and plus all the folks I have met that follow you too! I can’t wait to see what’s in the future for my photography.

    PS Congrats Mark, but technically this is the second post this evening, I was first on the first post. Better luck next time :) .

  2. Totally relate to you here Scott.
    It’s amazing how in what seems like a short space of time, an image that we once were really proud of moves into the ‘hmmmm, not so sure’ category, but then as you say, this is really a positive most likely meaning our skill levels have improved.

    Think I’ll save looking back for another day because once started, I may be there for some time :)

    Cheers and have a great weekend,

  3. I did this same thing awhille back. I shoot alot of sprint car racing and we lost a good friend and a great driver back in May of last year, and when going over my old images I came across some hidden gems of Jesse that I never knew I had. That kinda thing just made my day.

  4. I totally get that, I am same with anything I designed 3 or 4 for years ago, I think “man, I so should have masked that and not used the lasso tool” ;)
    The trouble with my photographs is that I still have images from 3,4,5 years ago that I haven’t even processed the first time round yet. I looked at my pre-PSW Vegas shots from my 2 days in Chicago and thought “damn, I wish I had taken that Brian Matiash HDR lesson before I hit C-town, i would have taken a whole different set of photos”

    Great article though, have a brilliant weekend good sir.

  5. Indeed, it would be interesting to see what you’ve come up with and changed on a sample photograph, Scott. You’re entirely right: with time, both our own capabilities and the capabilities of the tools we use evolve a lot. Thanks for the inspiration and have a good weekend!

  6. This is oh, so true! I look at the restoration I did that won the last Photoshop User Award (Photo Restoration cat.) and am mortified! Even restorations I’d done at the beginning of this year, cringe, yes. But that is a very good thing, I think, because if we were perfectly happy with our work 3, 2, even one year ago, it would mean we aren’t growing and learning every day! I hope I always keep cringing!

  7. I have a pile of images that are either unprocessed or in need of revisiting – the trouble is once I start there’s no going back, so not today. Thanks for the inspiration, now I must manage my time better and make the time to improve some shots and just process others!

    Have a great weekend. TTFN Ian

  8. What a timely and relevant post! I just finished doing that this past weekend and had a blast! It might have had something to do with just finishing a month long subscription to Kelby Training though :) It was definitely the best money I’ve ever spent on photo related training. Thanks!

  9. Another great post Scott. I’ve been doing that very thing on my own blog for a few months now. Because of the early darkness and lousy weather I haven’t been able to shoot as much so I’ve been posting older images trying new post processing I’ve learned from your courses at Kelby Training. :)

    Just another fan.

  10. An interesting point Scott on two levels: the continual improvements in the PP-ing skills of an individual and in the capabilities of the software used. Funnily enough just last weekend I was looking at my first HDR shot from about 2 1/2 years ago , thinking I should have another stab at it with CS5 and the tips I picked up from your Kelby training event in London last year. I’m sure I could create a better final image second time around. Noise reduction capabilities in software has come on a long way since I took that photo so I should certainly be a lot happier with the rendering of my HDR images from back then.
    And yeah, I often get that cringing feeling looking back at my old stuff :-)

  11. Hi Scott,
    Yes, my skills are much better now than two years ago. However, now I have a much better camera and lenses to use than I did two years ago too. I will go look at some of the first digital photos I made with a 6mp point & shoot Sanyo to see how I might process them now.
    Thanks for the heads up,

  12. I do that every 2 months or so to update my portfolio. I enjoy messing with my old pics and end with a dozen versions of the original. Computer storage companies thrive cuz of people like me.

  13. Really interesting post, Scott.

    Recently I had a friend ask me for some large prints (11×14) of photos of hummingbirds in the wild that I had taken a few years ago. But she wanted them in B & W, not the color shots that she saw in my portfolio book. It was fun to revisit these pics in a different light (I never thought to process them in B & W), and with the help of your CS5 book, I was very happy how they came out (as was my friend…my wallet’s a bit heavier now!)! Can I give a shout out to Mpix for the awesome job they did with the prints? :D

    This post does give me an incentive to go back and look at some of those old photos. I might wind up deleting them, but I know now that I may be able to do something different with them that I never considered.

    Have a great weekend!


  14. I’ll go back and re-edit old images on a semi-regular basis. The ones I always do it on are the travel images that I can’t reshoot. Anything local I would just shoot again, but I have tons of shots from overseas when I just had a point-and-shoot and knew nothing about photography – and I’ll never be able to visit all of those places again. As my software and knowledge is always improving, I’ve re-edited some of those shots probably 4 or 5 different times over the years.

  15. I enjoy going back and looking for stuff I never edited. Things I shot then for one reason or another decided not to edit the image. I did it with one image the other week that has since gotten a lot response from people. It turned out great and it was one I was about to trash.

    1. I was attempting to edit my way through some shoots from last year, and ended up just not able to trash nearly as many as I thought I could before I started. I keep thinking “I think I can do something with this”

  16. I was nodding while I read this. In fact, I’ve recently gone back and started to re-process some images using new skills I’ve learned. I guess looking back at old images and cringing is a sign of growth. If you don’t cringe, maybe you should start worrying. :)

  17. I know what you mean. I actually have been doing that recently on my (shameless plug) flickr page (

    I don’t know if anyone else out there thinks about things like this but I have several pictures over the years where I felt like something was there but I just couldn’t get it to work out right. Every once in a while I’ll go back and try to process them again. Each time I do I think I see something different. And some of my favorite pics I’ll revisit over and over and try different things.

    That’s one thing NAPP has really done to help me. I’ve learned a great deal since the first time 4 years ago that someone told me about this free video podcast on photoshop stuff. I’m almost embarrassed to say now that I remember using Photoshop 1. :)

  18. The only thing about that is that I have so many NEW pictures I have to edit… It is so time consuming : ) It is fun to look back and see how much I have learned though. And, it is good to come here and see how much I still have to learn every day!

  19. Lousy winter weather makes this project really inviting. Reading your new CS5 book adds to the educational/experimental aspect. Only down side, my favorite photo stays one captured on an old (and sold) D100.

  20. I’ve been mining my hard drive for the last few weeks. Amazing!
    One thing I think I’m learning is to slow down. Stop trying to shoot quantity, but do some more quality shooting.
    That’s a challenge with my apparently insatiable need to shoot, every single day.

  21. Great post Scott! And timely!

    Getting ready to relocate my business and in between boxing, packing, and stressing I’ve been sorting through my Lightroom Libraries. Since I’m cleaning out the physical accumulated junk of the past few years I thought I’d clean out the pixel junk too and free up some disk space.

    I have to say, I’m finding gems that I can work with better today than 2 years ago. Here I thought I was going to have a “delete fest” and I now find myself flagging things to work on…..Ugh!

    Well, back to boxing stuff up. I’ll play with Lightroom later when I can’t take another cardboard box!

  22. Hi Scott,

    I like the message of improvement and skill-honing. Thank you for sharing your insights.
    I’ve been using photoshop for only a couple months now, and still quite overwhelmed with all its capabilities. But, I do use it everyday, and your book and this webstite is so helpful.

  23. That’s a really good tip in fact over the last few weeks I’ve been doing exactly that and getting some amazing results no small part thanks to some of your very books so thank you very good way to spend a weekend people.

  24. I started a 365 project this year, and one of the rules I have made for my self is that if I can’t get out to shoot for some reason, then I can substitute buy taking a old photo and reprocessing it. So far I am only 27 shots in and have shot every day but this post makes me feel much better about the times when I will re-edit an old image instead.

  25. Yet again Scott…. You find something new for my ” to do” list… Coupled with being the most prolific and interesting blogger I have ever seen, you are a real live GENIUS!

  26. I always keep the best photos of the year in a folder and never delete them, I also keep an active account and occasionally go back from time to time to reevaluate and it never fails to amaze me how I would not include half the photos in the best folder now. As far as, I have to delete to keep anyone from seeing them. What’s great about the online medium, is not only have i been able to learn so much, but have been able to get critiques from others. There’s only a few photos of my early days that I claim now, and those are the ones hanging on my wall.

  27. Are you kidding me? I can’t find the time to process half the stuff I want to from what I’m shooting today! :-)

    It’s funny you should bring this up though because I was just looking at your portfolio the other day and it hit me that something seemed to really click for you about 6 months or so ago. I’ve always really admired your work but you found a new gear last year and just took off to a whole new level, especially on you sports imagery.

    That is really saying something because most photographers would be thrilled to shoot at the level you were at a year ago but you keep pushing yourself to improve and it shows. I hope that is as encouraging and challenging to others as it is to me.

    The only photographer who should be remotely ashamed of his work is the one who can no longer scoff contemptuously at what he was creating 12 months ago.

  28. I’ve been doing exactly that off and on for several months now. And finding that even the photos I re-edited a few months ago could be better with another re-edit.

    Some of the stuff even from 10 years ago (1.3Mpx Sony Mavica) is still worth looking at and fiddling with, which is sort of gratifying. But some of the stuff I thought was pretty good at the time … really isn’t.

    Still more satisfying for me than looking through boxes of old snapshots, though, if only because I can do something besides look.

  29. Absolutely agree! I make photo calendars every year as Christmas presents and I’m constantly scanning in old 35’s . It’s always amazing to see what even the smallest levels adjustment can do. Tons of fun!

  30. This is fun to do, but it totally screws up the plans I had for this weekend! ;)
    Fun to see that I hardly did any post processing five years ago and now I won’t publish any photo without it.

    I’d better get back to post processing the pictures I took this week..
    Thanks for the idea, Scott!

  31. Scott
    I found some old photographs I took in the 80’s and I’m sure with my new found skills I could improve them no end.
    Mind you I have hardly taken any photographs for 20 years.
    I started doing astrophotography a few years back. We were in a drought, perfect skies and then weather suddenly improved for the farmers and went horribly bad for me.
    I did manage to get some images that I thought were OK.
    I even started a web page
    Hey, I was quite proud of my photographs until I read some of Scott’s books.
    But I can re-shoot them.
    Four little books have re-kindled my love of photography, now no-one is safe for I have discovered I like taking portraits.
    I’m thinking of ways to sneak a camera into Woolworths and shoot the ‘happy shoppers’ you can find there. I know if I do my wife will literally kill me. Shopping brings out a devil in me.
    I see everything through a new set of eyes. Thanks for the books and motivation Scott.
    This is the first time I have blogged- I don’t quite know what it all means

  32. Hey Scott, thanks for this post. Pleasure to read as always.
    I stray around my old photos very often and sometimes I find one which is (in my mind) worth to take a closer look. Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear (and yes, I have tons of these ears and very, very few silk purses even nowadays ;), but with more advanced processing skills there is at least a possibility to experiment.
    Keep on, Uwe

  33. Great point Scott! I used to do it all the time, now…not so much. Kinda of the mindset that “That was then, this is now”.
    Plus, it makes me shudder to see how I mucked up some great shots!
    OK…I’ll take another spin through :).

  34. I find myself doing this pretty frequently. It’s funny how you look back at something you did even a couple of years ago and say to yourself, “What was I thinking???” Scott, any chance we could see one of your “Then & Now” photos? I’m sure they would generate a lot of interest…

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Fantastic Article on How to Photograph Football

Next Post

Lighting Fashion in New York City, Part 1