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Every year when the snow flies and the weather is just too cold for me I spend the time reviewing my images from the past year. I am looking at two things. The best. The worst.
Identifying the best makes you feel good. You have accomplished something worthwhile. It is a great confidence booster. You can pick any number of images you like, but try to refine the selections to those which really show your best work. The more refined you make the selection process, the more special each image becomes.
Identifying the worst is important. Finding the junk, and paying attention to it helps you refine your thinking. Are the worst images those where you were simply copying someone else’s style, or you just were off your game that day? Digital capture pretty much lets us shoot indiscriminately rather than investing the time needed to make truly better images. Training yourself to slow down and examine things can help you shoot better. What do you see in an image now that you missed completely at the time you shot it? Details are important.
One of the best self-teachers is finding technical problems. Where did you fail to accomplish what you intended when you pulled the trigger? What aspect of your photography can you use these images to inspire you to learn something new, or clarify your understanding of how to capture a particular subject. Perhaps it is a technical challenge like a bad lighting circumstance, or perhaps you just failed to notice a bad exposure decision. Your worst images can be your best teachers if you are willing to learn from your mistakes.
Every photography teacher says the same thing – minimize the gear and learn how everything works before you move on to something new. Most photographers are gear heads to one degree or another. But just owning something cool doesn’t mean you know how to use it to your advantage. I could probably finance a nice vacation with the money spent unwisely on a piece of gear purchased for emotional rather than logical reasons.
So, look at your images from this past year and find something that you think you could do to improve your photography. Maybe it is learning to use the histogram to refine your exposures, or understanding Lightroom or your raw processor better. Maybe it is spending time looking at the work of great photographers, and painters to discover what it is that makes their images so great.
The next step is printing your work. Get good quality prints of a few of your best images. This allows you to look at your images differently than the on-screen experience. The printed image always lives in a world of its own. Being able to experience that, and share it with someone else, is better than any image in an email. And what you can see in a printed image is always more than what is one your monitor, or your phone.