The other evening, I was browsing through some of my wildlife photography, looking for shots to share with a friend. I have thousands of photos I’ve taken over the years, and for the first time, I recognized the amount of improvement I’ve made. Although I still end up with my fair share of crappy shots when I take my camera for a hike, the quality of the photos worth keeping has grown.
I started semi-serious photography when I was in high school. I sold my drum set to purchase a 35mm Minolta SLR. As far as camera brands go, Minolta didn’t have a great reputation, but I never had any issues with mine. It served me well through my remaining high school career and into college. It joined me on ECO Club and honors student trips as well as family vacations, and I still have several large albums full of photos from my time with that camera. I eventually found myself forced to switch over to a DSLR camera when I ran into trouble finding film developers. I’ve never had the space available or the opportunity to use a dark room.
When shopping for a DSLR camera, I decided to go for a Sony alpha. Sony had bought Minolta several years earlier, and the alpha series used the same lens mounts, making my new Sony camera compatible with my old lenses. My first Sony alpha lasted for seven or eight years, and I managed numerous shots that I felt worth sharing online. Friends and family asked for prints of various images, sometimes to use as gifts and other times to put up as part of raffles or charity auctions. I never tried selling any of my newer photographs, however, as I’ve never had enough time to devote to marketing. (I always seem to have a huge backlog of photos-to-be-edited, so marketing barely registers on my list of things to do in my spare time.)
Going back and looking at my early shots done with my previous Sony alpha, I can see how my focus and composition has changed for the better over the years. Many of those first photographs I haven’t looked at in several years, because they are old and known. But comparing them to more recent shots, I can see the improvements that I didn’t notice before.
Looking at past work, whether you’re a photographer, writer, artist, or performer, can give you an unexpected confidence boost. Those of us who are harsh critics of our own work can sometimes assume past projects turned out better or were less difficult than they truly were. Only through looking at them in actuality rather than in memory can we see the differences between the then and now. So I encourage you to dig out your old works whenever you need a spark of motivation. Seeing how embarrassing your work used to be can help silence the inner critic and push you forward with your current projects.