With many people stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, photography can offer us an escape from anxiety and boredom. However, you don’t necessarily have to capture new images. Occasionally, when landscape photo conditions aren’t particularly interesting to me, I’ll take the opportunity to revisit old images.

Images I originally didn’t want to edit may deserve a second look. An image I have already processed may have been shortchanged due to the technical limitations of old versions of editing software. My stylistic choices could be different today as well. Sometimes I want to completely redo an image file. Other times I just want to make minor adjustments that I didn’t consider previously.

One of the most wonderful aspects of digital photography is how flexible your files can be over the long term. While the current situation is very difficult for many, it may well be the case that revisiting your photo collection will not only take your mind off things for a little while, but you may end up with a stronger portfolio too.

Our artistic tastes can change over time

Personal preferences for how we want our images to look can evolve over time. When I first started with photography, I loved high contrast and saturated colors. Any time I learned what a new editing slider did, my first instinct was to push it all the way to 100. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach, as our images are our own to create and process how we please, I no longer prefer this look.

Over the years since, I have revisited my oldest images and tweaked them, sometimes multiple times. While some of the images weren’t worth salvaging, others were and I’m glad I was able to breathe new life into them with new post-processing approaches.

In some cases, I like my original processing approach but just want to go in a different direction. For example, I originally edited the image above to be a black and white conversion when I captured it in 2014. At the time, I really enjoyed black and white conversions and I never even considered presenting the image in color. However, when viewing the original RAW file again in 2020, I saw more potential for a color version. Had I not looked at my original RAW files again, I would never have considered a new version of the photo.

Photographic equipment and skills improve, so too can editing software and techniques

Just as your photographic skills can improve as you research new techniques and practice your craft, so too can editing skills. In addition to being able to acquire new skills, photo editing software is constantly improving with better performance and new features. For example, Skylum’s new Luminar 4 software allows you to not only change the sky completely, but also add objects to the sky with AI Augmented Sky. Luminar 3 had already added ways to enhance the sky in your image. Maybe you have an old image with a boring sky. Well, now there are easy ways to quickly and greatly improve the shot that weren’t available only a few years ago.

With the photograph below, it’s been through quite a bit over the years. I originally shot the image in October of 2015. After working with a single file for about a month before I decided to create an HDR image by duplicating the file and making minor exposure adjustments, shown below.

I wanted the final image to be close to how the scene appeared to my eyes at the time. However, even with the use of glass graduated neutral density filters at the time of capture, it wasn’t possible without tone mapping.

After creating the HDR image, I made some minor adjustments. As time passed, I decided that I wanted the image to be more dramatic. To achieve this, I heavily darkened the sky. I liked the image then and I still like it now.

However, I returned to the image this month and felt that I made the sky too dark and left the foreground and midground bland. I went back to my first edit, which I had saved as PSD file in 2015 and reworked it. I often save processed RAW files with full layers so I can adjust individual steps after the fact. In this case I wanted to start from “scratch,” so to speak.

Revision (2020)

In this case, I darkened the sky again, but to a much lesser extent. I also worked on reducing the brightness of the area of the sky to the right. To create a bit more depth in the scene, I added some structure and contrast to the fog between the mountain and the foreground trees. Considering the foreground, I increased the shadow detail and overall brightness in this area. The result is an image with fewer distracting areas of brightness and an overall more natural feel.

Maybe you missed the mark the first time around

In a similar vein, as your editing skills improve over time, you may find that an edit you did a few years back didn’t age very well. I captured the image below in 2014 and did my editing shortly after capture. I’ve had the original edit on my website for years and have never thought about doing things differently.

However, when going through old images recently, the image caught my eye. When I captured the image, I particularly liked the vibrant colors and the layers of the composition. However, I obscured some of this with my original edit.

When I look at my first edit now, I think that the image is dark and includes too much contrast. Further, I inadvertently created halo artifacts around the trees which I can see when printing the photograph. I also reduced the visibility of some of the nice colors and details in the foreground when adding contrast.

When revisiting the image, it seemed obvious that I should process the original RAW file with a lighter touch. I wanted to focus on enhancing what I liked about the scene in the first place. Primarily, I utilized less contrast and kept the sky more natural. I also focused on making subtle changes to the foreground and midground to better balance the brightness across the scene. These small changes took very little time, but now the image fits in better with my current portfolio.

Concluding remarks

Digital photography is constantly evolving. Not only do our cameras and lenses get better, but so too do our image editing solutions. As photographers, we are also constantly growing and experimenting with new skills and approaches to the craft. With digital files, our first (or second or third) edits are not set in stone.

Typically, I am spending much of my time capturing new images and trying to keep up with my editing backlog. However, lately, I have had more time to reconsider images and edits from prior years.

If you have extra time on your hands and want to use it for photography, consider the utility of going through your old photos and taking another crack at them. It’s a great way to apply new editing skills you have gained since you originally processed your images. You may also uncover a hidden gem or turn an image you already like into an image you love.