Time for some self-evaluation

Without warning, 2016 sneaked up on me. I had quite a few planned posts for this blog, and I was hoping I could still post them during 2015. But other plans got in the way, and I had to postpone. Hopefully I can find the time and motivation to post more this year.
One of the things I like to do at the end of a year is going over my photo archive in order to see if something has changed in my style. I do not necessarily mean getting better at taking photos, even though some kind of progress is expected from year to year. What I am really after are changes in the way I use my equipment, compose my frames, and in my post-processing techniques. This is something I encourage every photographer to do. There is an unfortunate consequence of digital photography: we tend to shoot a lot, then we transfer the files to our collection for storage, we might look at the photos in the first weeks after the shoot, but then we forget about them for a while. This is in contrast to what it was like in the film age; developing film was pricy and you had a limited number of photos you could take, therefore much more planning went into each single photo. Plus the experience of going over the new prints or flipping pages in a photo album is pretty much lost nowadays. In addition, skipping the film lab stage and the ease of post-processing digital files allow for speed learning, and beginners can see major improvements in their photography skills within weeks.

Leaf-mimicking katydid (Typophyllum sp.). Chapare Province, Bolivia

Leaf-mimicking katydid (Typophyllum sp.). This photo is in fact a scanned film slide, originally taken in Bolivia in 2003.

This year I had a chance to go back and evaluate my entire collection straight from the beginning. When I went over photographs from my film era (mostly 90’s and early 2000’s), I could only find a handful of images that I considered pleasing and worth keeping. In other words, something has definitely changed throughout the years in the way I perceive photographic subjects. Even when I look at the results of my early years in digital photography, I cannot help but wonder what made me choose that composition and those particular camera settings. Surprisingly, the most substantial change in the way I photograph happened only recently. Overall, 2013 was not a good year for me, but I was fortunate to have the time and solitude to dig into what I already know about photography, and more important, what I do not know. I tried new gear configurations, different composition styles and stepped out of my comfort zone. The main result was making the transition from a “snapper”, who hastily clicks the shutter from fear the subject will be gone, to a “composer”, who plans the desired frame during the shot and sometimes even before encountering the subject. By the way, I just made those terms up. It is interesting to compare photos taken before and after this period. Not always you get a chance to compare a photo of the same subject taken in different years. Take this shield bug nymph for example. This photo was taken in Belize in 2013:

Shield bug nymph (Brachystethus rubromaculatus). This is the only photo of this species that I have from my visit in 2013. Why?

Shield bug nymph (Brachystethus rubromaculatus). This is the only photo of this species that I have from my visit in 2013. Why?

And this one was taken exactly a year later, in 2014:

Shield bug (Brachystethus rubromaculatus) nymph. Photographed at the same site, in 2014.

Shield bug (Brachystethus rubromaculatus) nymph. Photographed at the same site, in 2014.

Both photos show the same animal and environment, but have completely different visual styles. The 2013 photo is not particularly bad, I just prefer the one taken in 2014.

I cannot stress enough the importance of self-evaluation, and this goes far beyond photography. With so much content out there, anyone who creates something needs to learn how to view their work without bias, and be honest about it. Become your worst critic.

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