5 reasons why you should regularly review your photo archive

First published:
February 17, 2023
January 31, 2024

5 reasons why you should regularly review your photo archive

First published:
February 17, 2023
January 31, 2024

All images by Philip Mowbray

Focus Editor Philip discusses why it’s a great idea to regularly go back into your photo collection from years past

As photographers, no matter how frequently we take images, we all end up amassing a significant archive of shots over the years.

And for many of us it's just part of the process. We shoot, load up the images, work on some of them in post-production, share and publish, and finally file the shoot away somewhere to move on to the next.

However, taking time to go back into your archive and look through your previous shoots occasionally can be hugely rewarding for your overall photography practice. Here are five reasons why:

1 You’ll no doubt discover some brilliant shots you previously overlooked

The best (and most satisfying) reason to delve back into your image archive, is that you’ll undoubtedly come across some images that you’d previously overlooked but actually really like.

The reason for this is that over time, we lose emotional attachments to images; those generally associated with the shoot or shortly after, where we capture and look at our pictures and decide whether we think they are good or not. These thoughts and feelings change over time, so going back, I guarantee you’ll see some images you had previously overlooked in a completely different light. And from personal experience, I find this an absolute joy; it’s a beautiful feeling to find a hidden treasure among the thousands of images you’ve stored away and forgotten about.

For this article, I’ve also gone through my archive and picked out several images I’ve discovered from previous shoots and trips. I went back years and years, but that was very much part of the fun too!

I took this portrait below on somewhat of a whim, actually borrowing my friend's camera to do so (I didn't have mine with me), and then largely forgot about it. However revisiting in my archive for this occasion, it's reminded me of how much I love this image - and I never do portraits!

Portrait of shopkeepers in Tbilisi, Georgia
Shop couple, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2009

2 You can try out your latest editing skills on old photos

This tip goes alongside finding those hidden treasures in your library. As we grow as photographers, so will our editing skills in post-production, too. It can be advantageous to give your older images a new, polished look with your improved skills and a new lease on life.

You may also find that with just a little tweaking and touching-up, using skills you didn’t have at the time of the shoot, you could find that some of your older images may be some of your best!

Below is a scan of a photo from Gdansk, Poland in 2008. I liked it at the time, but now upon review, there's a very signifiant red colour cast that I hadn't noticed before. Applying just some of my editing skills acquired since taking the image has made a much welcomed improvement to the shot!

Industrial ruins in Gdansk, Poland
For redevelopment, Gdansk, Poland, 2008 - original version
Industrial ruins in Gdansk, Poland, 2008
For redevelopment, Gdansk, Poland 2008 - edited version

3 You’ll feel good at the amount of progress you’ve made

An excellent exercise to reflect upon your photography journey, particularly when you feel like you aren’t good enough or want to give it all up (we all have those feelings occasionally!), is to go back through your images. You’ll see just how much you have improved over time.

You’ll no doubt look at some of your images from years past and have thoughts like, “Why on earth did I think that looked good?” or “Why did I use those settings? It’s completely wrong.” It’ll throw everything into perspective that you have gone a long way on your journey, and where you are right now is miles from when you first started in photography.

Trust me; it’s a great pick-me-up when you’re having doubts. Below is an image I took at Azerbaijan coast in 2009, which probably formed the start of my obsession with seascapes, which forms my current project Coastal North - and how different the images look!

Lone tree on the beach at Lankaran, Azerbaijan
The lone tree, Lankaran, Azerbaijan 2009

4 It’s a super relaxing way to while away the hours

As much as going through your image archive is a good exercise for your photography practice, it can also be a very calming, nostalgic and pleasant experience.

Dedicating time to looking at images from past shoots and travels will remind you of all those fantastic experiences you've had, and they'll bring up brought up memories you'd completely forgotten about. That in itself is worth a couple of hours delving into the archive, even if you don’t find many images you would like to work on in the end!

Mac screenshot looking at an image file of a contact sheet
Spending time sifting through your archive can be wholly relaxing and nostalgic experience. While going through my archive, I came across this old film contact sheet from a shoot in Batumi, Georgia, and it brought back so many wonderful memories.

5 You can keep active with photography, even when you’re not shooting

If you haven’t got the opportunity to go out shooting for some time, or don’t feel like you want to create any new images for a while (always good to have a break, in my opinion), but you still want to be photographically active, working in your archive is an ideal solution.

You’ll keep your mind on your photography, but in a different way. Going through your archive can help hone your critical thinking skills when you look over your past images, and as we’ve brushed upon above, you can also spend time practising your editing skills.

Looking through your past library may also inspire you to take on a larger project with your old images, like a photo book or exhibition of some kind. The image below is part of an older series I worked on, photographing landmarks at night from transport; revisiting it my archive, it's inspired me to rethink the project and explore it further.

Blurry image of a church in Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia, January 2011
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