My current Website—which hasn’t been updated since the summer of 2011—presents my images via a gallery approach; it’s fairly comprehensive in nature…in fact, too comprehensive, in my estimation. There’s an excess of similar images, for one thing, and too many mediocre shots, for another. The goal has been to implement a kind of compromise between a gallery approach and a portfolio-style site. More on that decision another time, perhaps.
In any case, in preparation for a site re-design that’s been in the works for well over a year, I recently performed a complete review of my images, including those made in locations I haven’t visited in years. In the process of poring over much of this material, I arrived at a conclusion: there are a lot of images that I once thought were worthy of posting on my site that wouldn’t see the light of day if I was conducting a bottom-up review now.
With some of these batches of images, I hadn’t taken a thorough look in years and I found myself asking the question: what did I ever see in that shot? Honestly, in many instances I found myself shrugging my shoulders (or worse) over 90% of a given batch.
The lesson here is a brief one: your standards of evaluation can—and likely will—change over time. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. In all likelihood, if I take the time, I will probably experience something similar with this year’s imagery a decade from now.
On the other hand, the images from years ago that still pass the smell test today…those are undoubtedly keepers. So while evaluative impressions may change, at least at the margins, there does appear to be something indelible at work as well. The true favorites acquire that status for a reason (or reasons, plural); one that stands the test of time.
Part of what’s going on is surely a reflection of progressive capability; I like to think I’m a better photographer now than I was six or seven years ago, and as a result I’m holding myself to a “higher” standard. But part of it is also likely a simple function of being a more selective critic of imagery, including my own. It’s merely a product of experience; I’ve seen a lot of images over the years and have become, I think, more deliberative as a viewer and better able to articulate what I like or don’t like about a photograph. All I’m doing is applying that approach to my own work.
I think this entire process has, in some ways, pushed me forward as a photographer every bit as much as time spent in the field. Thinking about images I’ve made—what I like about them, what I don’t, and remembering the direct circumstances that surrounded their creation—provides practical information that I can internalize and then apply when I am in the field with my gear. As a result, it makes it easier, I think, to recognize a good image when peering through the viewfinder or gazing at the LCD screen, in real time.
Give it a shot. Turn a critical eye to your own work—and really be critical. Push yourself to identify the “why” or “why not” when looking at your images and see if that doesn’t help you better assess what works and what doesn’t before you press the shutter button the next time you’re working with your camera.
It may cause you to view your past work with a more jaundiced eye, but it will likely also push you to greater heights in the future.
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.