Looking back at old photos every once in a while is a great way to see where we’ve been and what we’ve done. It’s also a great way to see how our photography has improved over time.
I decided to take a look way back to 2012 at some of the images I produced then, which at the time I considered to be portfolio quality. Man, let me tell you, I really thought I was the next big thing. Now I wonder what on earth I was thinking.
It’s fascinating looking through the archive. For one thing, it’s obvious how my relationship with the land has changed over the last ten years. Back then, for one thing, I still didn’t really think of myself as a forest photographer at all. I shot in the woods from time to time, but it was all just landscapes to me. I didn’t see any distinction between one kind of dramatic landscape and another. I worked with the basic principle of ‘go place, see good light, take photo’ – which is still largely what I do today, but with far more nuance and understanding.
Looking through old files, it’s also clear how my ‘eye’ has improved with time. Inexperience speaks in the sheer volume of shots I used to produce in conditions that weren’t really very good for photography at all. But, being young and eager to build a portfolio, I evidently used to spend a lot of time trying to force poor photos into being good ones by overprocessing.
I decided it would fun to reprocess some of those old ones which, at the time, I considered to be portfolio quality. The results speak for themselves.
In these sets I’ll share the original RAW file, the processed version from 2012, and a new version processed with my latest skills and techniques.
1.Rannoch Moor and the Blackmount
Early in 2012 we made a brief visit to Glencoe, where I used to spend a great deal of time practising photography. In the pleasing low light of a winter afternoon I snapped this fairly classic view of the Blackmount from just off the A82.
In my edited version from 2012, I really went to town on the colour, cranking it up to make the image pop. I also went for quite an aggressive crop, clearly wanting to focus attention down toward the nicely lit rock in the foreground. I actually don’t hate this version, but I wouldn’t go putting it on my instagram page today as an authentic image.
The new version is a lot more restrained and, I reckon, tasteful. I went with a slightly taller 4×5 crop that allows the mountain more space to breathe, which changes the feel of the whole image and makes the foreground and background feel like they balance each other. The colourisation is much less intense and consequently, more authentic and beautiful.
I had the right idea with this shot in 2012, but just went a bit too far with it.
2. Buachaille Etive Mor
Before you scroll any further, let me apologise for what’s about to happen to your eyes.
I think this is a great example of a shot I simply wouldn’t bother taking these days. The light sucks and it’s totally unoriginal. But, you know, we had driven all that way, etc. Plus, let me point out that it’s a very technically flawed photo. It’s not really sharp, and there’s a hideous speck of dirt in the lower left. Both the result of failing to keep the lens scrupulously clean.
And, now, let me again say that I’m terribly, terribly sorry.
Yeeeeees….. so that’s my dirty linen out of the closet.
This was plainly an attempt to force a bad photo into becoming a good one, which inevitably ended up making it even worse.
At the time so called HDR processing (high dynamic range) was all the rage. And my inexperience shows, because I had no idea when HDR should come into play and when it shouldn’t. To my eyes at the time, any shot that featured a huge amount of detail and contrast looked good, failing to see that it’s the way those tones are distributed that makes all the difference.
I honestly can’t find anything to redeem it. Make it go away.
As I said, I don’t think I’d take this photo today. But if I did, then at least this is a version that I don’t actively despise. No gimmicks this time. Just a brightening up of the shadows and a slight vignette with some light added to the middle of the image to brighten it up a tad. A much more natural result, which doesn’t look too bad when seen full size.
Gimmicky processing does not make a good photo. If you like the middle one then seek psychiatric help. Not actually a terrible composition, but it would never have worked without better light at the time.
3. Waterfall Detail
I used to shoot a lot of images like this. I’ve always loved the camera’s ability to reveal things about water we can’t see with our eyes. Like using a long shutter to blur the water. The resulting contrast between the softness of the water and the solidness of the rocks makes for enjoyable and beautiful photography.
2012 David obviously liked colour a lot. Here we see the saturation has been increased again, and I must admit I actually still like the result in the top half of the image. But I don’t like the bottom half for some reason.
In my new version, it’s a very very light touch to the whole edit. A slight increase in contrast and brightness to help it pop, but that’s about all.
Once again the processing is just a bit too heavy handed. I was trying to drag something out of the photo that just wasn’t there, and in the process lost sight of what was. Not a bad photo per se – technically ok. It polishes up fine today. But I think with a bit more effort I could have found a superior composition. I probably had my mind on more dramatic shots at the time.
4. Snow Formation
That winter we climbed An Caisteal in the Falloch hills. I remember that day as one of the snowiest, sunniest and most tiring hill days I’ve ever done. The conditions were beautiful and spectacular, but I was getting to grips with a new camera and had it on the wrong settings. Of all the shots I got that day, this is the one that really stuck in my mind.
I actually don’t have much to complain about in the 2012 edit. But I can see some clumsy mistakes where I went in too hard dodging the highlights on the snow formation on the left. It’s all very dramatic, but again I just feel that maybe it’s trying a bit too hard.
This is how I would edit the shot today. I didn’t bother to edit out the contrail this time, though I would if I were doing it ‘for real’. Again I’ve used a vignette with a brightened centre, and overall a bit less contrast. The colour feels better in this version, but I think 2012 David might have been onto something with the selective brightening of the snow on the left.
The old one feels a little too contrasty to me now, but it had some good points. I’m generally too lazy these days to bother with dodging/burning, but in this case I think it would work, with care. I still think it’s a strong photo – one of the best from that year.
5. Water Abstract
I distinctly remember taking this photo during one of my first ever photography workshops. Setting a slow shutter, I followed the motion of some ripples in a sandy rockpool with the camera, creating this slightly strange and ethereal effect. Compared with a regular fast-shutter shot of the wavelets it looked really amazing.
2012 David went to town with the contrast on this shot. I no doubt felt I wanted to make those ripples really leap off the screen. But in so doing, I think I lost a lot of the gentle, magic feeling.
Once again, a much lighter hand was all it needed. Leaving it uncropped, the image has more room to breathe. Just enough contrast and light has been added to bring out the waves a little. That’s all it ever nedded.
I think this reflects the mistake of always treating every one of your images the same way. Just because some images look good with lots of colour and contrast doesn’t mean they all will. It’s also a really good argument against using presets for processing. I still really like this shot. I’ve never quite been able to replicate it.
7. Fife Coast
Just along the coast from where my parents live is this fabulous ruined castle. The light conditions were not exactly brilliant, but as the coast is so dynamic you can often still get good results there.
Okaaaaay. I’ve never done drugs, but looking at this makes me wonder if I actually have, and created this while under the control of a powerful hallucinogen. What on earth was I thinking? Clearly the work of either a lunatic, or someone who’s produced nothing good for a while and has come to the belief that more slider equals better photo. Make it go away.
The new version gives me physical relief after the abomination from the past. All it needed was a little brightening up and contrast boosting. Very standard stuff, very easy.
2012 David was a lunatic. It’s always tempting to do more, but you need to know when to stop. This one actually brushed up quite nicely with the right approach. It’s classic landscape photography kind of stuff, with a pleasing if somewhat ‘safe’ composition. With some better light, I daresay it could have even been pretty good.
8. Loch Maree
Hey now we’re talking! I had no idea at the time, but this shot is way closer to the style my photography would eventually mature into. Pine tree, Loch Maree – it’s all there! I can even see the start of a rudimentary understanding of the layered compositional style that would become my most trusted tool over the years that followed.
Interestingly, the colour obsessed 2012 David went with a classy black and white look for this shot, obviously inspired by the style of Ansel Adams. And I don’t hate it. Was this even made by the same guy as the previous shot?
I decided to stick with the black and white for the new version, and I think I like it just a teeny bit more. A bit less contrast than the original lets a bit more detail come through, and gives a little more nuance to the tonal range.
This is how I would probably actually process it today. I don’t use black and white much these days. Maybe I should consider it more often, but then if I’m being honest it’s just not a big part of my current style of photography.
I wouldn’t be embarassed to see the old version hanging on a wall, but with a slightly more experienced eye it still has a little more to give.
One thought on “Comparing my image processing skills from 2022 and 2012 (I used to be a lunatic).”
These interesting comparisons make me concentrate much more on the subtleties – rather than just going, “Oh what a lovely image!”, I’m looking for different nuances of light, so a good training exercise for the eye of the beholder as well. Mind you, it’s a tough choice between the two black-and-white versions of the Loch Maree tree.