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In today's world of large-capacity memory cards, we tend to snap the shutter button more liberally than in generations previous. Our archives fill up quickly, and we forget about the images that we've shot. Upon registering for 500px.com, I read about their emphasis on including only your best work. Since it was a whole new start for me after having been on Flickr for a while, I booted up the external hard drives in a quest to find hidden gems.
I believe that it's important, for our growth, to every now and then look back at the photos we've taken. Because so much time passes between shooting and looking into the archive, we can look at our images more critically and objectively, and figure out how they could have been better. We may find that sometimes:
- a bit of fill flash could have helped
- the exposure wasn't at the right spot to recover details in the shadows or highlights
- the focusing was slightly off
- a bit of camera shake occurred
- or it needed to be recomposed.
But it's more than just the technicalities of it all—it's also about the ideas.
Sometimes I look at the photos and say something like, "Wow, these are better than I had initially thought."
But quite often I find myself saying, "Whoa, that was terrible. What was I thinking?" Then I try to remember what my vision was for the image. Finally, I compare that vision to the way I think now. This is how I observe my progression.
Only by going through your archive can you see your progression in its own story line. You can measure this by noting the angles you shoot at, the framing, and the overall evolution of your ideas. Think about it as the report card you used to get back in school—except that this time you're not dreading seeing it in the mail.
But besides seeing how you've progressed, it's nice to find those random surprises. There are certain photos that I don't remember capturing. Those photos are eye-openers, because I can look at them and try to figure out what attracted me to that scene. And sometimes, these photos are salvageable in post-production.
500px.com is different than Flickr because if you peruse the site (especially the Editor's Choice items) you'll see some very-high-quality work. Going through your archive to find your best work is certainly very difficult to do, but it's a great exercise in being your own harshest critic.
When looking through the Editor's Choice area, I was amazed at how much of the work made me say "wow!"
And when I went into my archive, I decided to choose only the photos that would make me say "wow!", and that all photos that didn't would just get tossed out of the running.
I've heard before that one out of every thousand photos that we shoot will be amazing, and I can agree with it. Photographing an amazing moment can be difficult. As human beings, photos move us—and as photographers, it's often important for us to keep in mind that most of those photos may just get buried under the others in the archives.
How often do you hunt through your archives and find precious gems? Let us know in the comments below.