The Benefits of Photographic Time Travel

Upload from July 25, 2011

Traveling back in time with your images can be far more beneficial than you ever imagined. Best of all? You don’t even need a DeLorean to do it. Story time…

The other night we decided to take a break from work and watch a movie. We had a great one picked out and ready to go. We were just about to turn off the computers and leave the office when I opened a folder of images from our trip to India in 2008…

BAM! Without warning we were hurtled three years into the past in a dizzying experience that will henceforth be known as “photographic time travel”. Memories came racing back, along with emotions, and—perhaps most importantly—ideas.

A couple hours passed and we completely forgot about the movie. We probably could have stayed up all night looking at the photos. It was honestly one of the most fun experiences we’ve had a long time.

Here’s the thing. We spend so much of our time working on images for clients that we barely work on images for ourselves. Taking a couple hours to enjoy looking through our own work was wonderful.

Benefit #1: It’s Fun!

Perusing your old work is truly enjoyable. Don’t go into it with any goals—just browse. See where you go. Look at things differently. Let the memories of that moment come back. Experience your photos as they were meant to be experienced—as something to be looked at, not just worked on.

Normally after shooting we bring all our keepers into a new folder, and hardly ever look at the others. On this time travel expedition we looked at all the photos, not just the keepers. Our conclusion? Boy, we were dumb back then!!

When we took this trip we had only been full-time photographers for a year. We were super green. We barely knew anything about photography and it showed. But here’s the trick. It didn’t necessarily show in the photos, but it really did in the edits.

Benefit #2: Get Perspective

You are constantly learning more and more about photography. You’ve probably learned so much you don’t even realize it. When you time travel you suddenly have a sense of just how far you’ve come since then. Those ideas and techniques that you take for granted right now become clear again. You get a sense of where you are, where you have been, and where you want to go.

Benefit #3: Find Hidden Gems

Armed with all this fresh knowledge, you’ll be able to see your old work in a new way. Images that, at the time, didn’t seem very interesting suddenly come alive. You see the potential that was hidden to you before.

You’re sure to find a few gems that you can’t believe you didn’t select before. For instance, the photo below never made it into our edits back then. Now we think it’s pretty darn cool.

After perusing some photos, we pulled a couple into Lightroom to start playing around with them. Editing is definitely an optional part of time travel, but you’ll probably find yourself compelled to take the image to a finished state, and see just how much you can bring out of it. And here’s another benefit for you…

Benefit #4: Put Your New Skills To Work

You can’t re-shoot the scene. Photographic time travel doesn’t work that way. But you can bring that image to the present, and edit it with your updated post-processing skills!

This is one of the really awesome things about shooting in RAW. Even though we took these photos over 3 years ago, we were easily able to go back to the clean, high-quality file and edit it again, as if we took it yesterday.

Since we first processed our photos from India we’ve learned buckets about editing. You’re surely the exact same way. You’ll look at your photos as say “Gosh, why did I make that black and white?? It clearly has to be colour!” or “Gee whiz, I added way too much contrast to my photos back then and mucked up the tones. I need to re-edit that!”.

We originally processed this photo in black and white, with muted tones that failed to show what was going on. It’s a rather different photo (shot with a tilt-shift lens) and leaving it in colour gives you a chance of seeing the details of the scene!

And hey, check this out!

Benefit #5: Take Advantage of the Software Of The Future

Since you took your past photos, software has improved a LOT! The sharpening and noise reduction tools in Lightroom have become crazy powerful, and you can do a lot more to edit the photo than when it was taken. Photos that might have been too soft 3 years ago can now be expertly sharpened with amazing results.

This next photo was very soft. The first time we edited it we didn’t know nearly as much about sharpening, nor did we have the power of Lightroom 3 helping us out. Now we were able to really do the image justice.

But perhaps the most valuable benefit of all is that time travelling with your work can wake up your creative brain.

Benefit #6: Get Ideas

A trip to the past of your work will surely remind you of what drew you to photography in the first place. Why did you first pick up your camera? What caught your eye so much that you had to take an image of it?

It doesn’t take long to get caught up in your current work or business and let that initial passion and interest fade. Time travel can bring that enthuasism back in a flash.

With that fire reignited you might find yourself filled with ideas. Old ideas that you had when you first shot those images might come back, but now, with more experience, you can interpret them in a new light, and use them in a new way.

Or you might see what you missed when you photographed that scene the first time, and have completely new ideas that fill in the gaps of your old understanding.

As a photographer you’re always trying to get more of a sense of who you are as an artist, and what it is you want to say. But often when we’re feeling stagnant, we look to the images of others to try to get inspiration.

Looking at your own images can be just as effective, and, I’d argue, more productive in the long run. When you look at your own photos, and try to find the frames that speak to you, you’ll be improving your vision while staying true to yourself. You need to find out what you think is interesting and worth photographing, and you’ll see that most purely in your own photos.

Our photographic time travel experience has us excited to get out and shoot, and our heads full of ideas for our current and future work. Just a couple hours gave us a huge blast of creative energy, and some more photos to add to our portfolio!

So take an hour or two, hop in your time machine, and travel back through your work. You might find something amazing on the adventure!

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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5 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Absolutely true. Most of my 3+ year old photos are even not on my desktop computer anymore, but are all back-upped, not being watched anymore, except for the real keepers. But if I only had the time to give the others a look again, it's already hard enough to get through all recent works right now. A shame of course!

  2. I looked at the first photos on my blog the other week and I reaaaaaally wanted to delete them. Multiple actions at 100%? It seemed like a good idea at the time– or rather, I didn't know what the heck I was doing. But it's a good place to see how far you've come along and how you can better yourself as a photographer. Just from watching your Super Photo Editing Skills videos, I'm already learning new things I can't wait to try!

  3. Great Post! I always go back and look at my older pictures. I also like to try more creative post processing on some of the decent ones. Most don't migrate to my fav's folder but a few have. Its a good excuse to stay indoors during the cold winter days ;)

  4. I did this with my travel photos from last year after I did your super photo editing skills series! It was only about two months after I'd edited them originally but WOW. I'd missed a lot! Completely blown away by the images you've included in this post. Now I have the travel bug again! Well, even worse than I had it before…

  5. *@Stijn:* Our old photos weren't on our computer either, so we transfered them all to an external drive to plug in. It took us three years to get back to them, so I hear you about the time!

    *@Faye:* You're totally right, it's so great to see how far you've come! We're super happy that you learned some new skills from Super Photo Editing and are excited to use them!! :)

    *@Charlie:* Thanks! I do the same thing: try out new processing techniques on old shots. It's a perfect past-time in the winter for sure!!

    *@Erin:* Right on!! Super glad you put the tutorial to good use! And thank you. Doing this gave us the travel bug REALLY bad. It's a dangerous dangerous thing ;)

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