This entire article stems from a moment a few days ago. I was looking back through my catalog on Lightroom and began to tweak some of my older images and came back across an image that has been very popular of mine. The problem with the image is that I don't actually like the edit. So I re-edited the image and after a year of working it, I finally got it right. After thinking about that moment I realized that I have set up a system that facilitates me being able to go back and visit an image. So this is what the article is about, 5 things you can do now to help your future self out.
Why do I target your future self? Because current self does not know what needs to be done to improve your photos now. Future self has many months and even years of experience under their belt and can look back on past self and figure out what went wrong. Hopefully, I can help you set up a system to help your future self out. Now that I have gone Looper on you, let's dive into this article.
For those who ever follow along with what I write, this article is targeted a bit towards beginning photographers, but there might be a few things in here for you seasoned photographers. This also focuses on landscape/architecture photographers. Portrait pro's I expect you to get a stream of new images and for you to not ever really look back on your past work.
I start with the most basic of all concepts to help your future self out. Many of you new photographers are still shooting in jpeg. There is nothing wrong with this, but at some point, as you progress along your journey you will want to switch to RAW file format saving. The reason for this is that RAW file format saves all the data that hits your sensor. This means that your camera is not deciding which part of the image to keep. In jpeg format, your camera is making decisions for you and throws away data to save space on your SD card. Future self will come back to these images one day and hate that.
To get into this habit of saving RAW files, look at your menu on your camera and find the setting that allows your camera to take both a jpeg+RAW and turn that on. Even if you don't plan on using those RAW images at all, get use to the space it absorbs so you can either buy a new SD card or figure out how to adjust how many images you take. This will be critical in your photographic career one day.
Save Your RAW Files
This one goes in tandem with the previous tip. Even if you only plan on using those jpeg images right now, hold onto those RAW files for a future time. This can be done in a few ways. The easiest way to do this is to just move your entire SD card onto your hard drive and leave it. The better way to do this is to move your entire SD card onto an external hard drive to free up space on your computer. One thing that is quickly noticeable about RAW files is that they are considerably larger than a jpeg format. The best way to save your RAW files is to go through and select the best images from your shoot and set those aside for a future date. This will reduce space consumed and will save on editing time in the future.
Organize Your Catalog
Back before I did photography seriously I began a hiking blog. For that blog I would use images to show off the areas, thus I came up with a way to organize those image. I would create a folder on my computer for the park or region the hike was found. After that, I would create a folder within that one specifically for the hike. I got into this habit and it has saved my butt. I now continue my organization of my images just like this.
Right Now! Begin a system like this right now. I cull my images even before they go into Lightroom and they get divided up into their respective folders before they are ever imported into Lightroom. This allows me to very easily go back to a location (not a date) and see what I have and what I need to do to an image. This is how I got onto this topic of this article. I was going file group by file group to see what I had and spent a few minutes tweaking older photos to see if I could get them better and lo and behold I did. Future self is very grateful for past self for establishing this system.
This is actually the one that I think is one of the most important things you can do now to help yourself out in the future. When I began photography, I did not care about blown out highlights (white areas in your image). It was not until I was going back and looking at some of my older images that were actually well composed, but they were ruined because I overexposed and ruin parts of the image. At the time I didn't know about bracketing a shot.
So what is Bracketing?
Bracketing an image is when you set up your image and you take different exposures to capture different levels of brightness of your scenery. A good example is if you set your exposure to be right in the center, then have an exposure for one above and one below that center exposure. This will capture a wider range of information for you to work with. Even if you don't know how to blend the images together, take those images and store them for a time when you might learn how to do so. I have half a dozen images easily where I wish I had done this, but I can't go back and re-do that moment, so they are ruined forever. Don't make this mistake as I did. That is why I have lots of bracketed shots now, so that I might go back to them when I am a better editor to work on them.
This is a fairly simple article. The concepts are not hard, but you will be surprised how many photographers do not do this. Do you even follow these principles? If you take these simple steps to shoot in RAW, save them in an organized fashion and then bracket your shots, you will make your life so much better, especially a year from now when you are a better photographer and look back on your older work. You might even be inspired to go back and re-do some of the older images you have done.
What advice do you have? Share below in the comments.