Finding Gold in Your Image Archives


No doubt like many other photographers, so many of my images have never seen the light of day. This is mostly for good reason; they are out of focus, poorly composed, badly timed, they just don’t make the cut. Often these images may be good, just not the BEST. I have learned though, that there can be gold hiding in your archives, just waiting to be rediscovered, taken into the develop module and shared with the world. I have found that spending some time digging through old shoots can yield some very positive results.

Make it part of your workflow to revisit your image archives

Maybe you have found that your photo editing workflow follows a predictable pattern, like mine. After importing, adding metadata, then backing up RAW images from a shoot, I like to take a first-pass look at the images, flagging the few that initially jump out, and rejecting those that are clearly unusable. It is easy to then go through again and pick out images that have potential, before filtering the flagged images and comparing them to find the sharpest or most accurately exposed selects. This gives me a small collection of images to edit.

Then comes the fun part! Using any combination of Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik Software, I edit my images to see what they can become! After editing the selects, I like to back them up both locally and online to my Photoshelter portfolio, which doubles as my image archive in the cloud. Finally, these images are shared on social network accounts. Done, right? On to the next project, assignment, location…

But maybe not. Of the images imported from CF cards, I might end up with between 1-5 images that I’m happy with. So if I come home from shooting an epic landscape with 50-100 images, what happens to the other 95% of my shots? If you’re anything like me, you probably have gigabytes worth of RAW images taking up space on your hard drive. Have you ever revisited a hard drive to find something you may have missed? I make this a regular part of my workflow and I would argue that doing so is well worth your time.

To give you an example, here is an image I made not long after moving to Mount Maunganui, New Zealand a couple of years ago. This is a shot of Tauranga Bridge Marina:

Tauranga bridge marina 1

Having driven past this location dozens of times, I already had an idea of the shot I wanted before I arrived. It was a cold night, and the sky hadn’t lit up in the way I was hoping, so I stayed past sunset and into twilight, my favourite time to shoot. Still nothing very inspiring, so I went home. I followed my usual workflow and ended up with the image above, which I wasn’t entirely happy with, so I moved on to the next thing.

Fast forward six months and I found myself revisiting that folder in Lightroom. I don’t remember what prompted it, but after finding this image, I edited it very differently and ended up with the image below. It was far better received by fans and clients online and became one of my top selling images last summer. Personally, I like this image a lot more than the first.

Tauranga bridge marina 2

Time is on your side

Of course it’s easy in hindsight to kick myself and wonder how I missed it, but this seems to happen on a regular basis. Something about the passage of time can help you to see images in a fresh light. Maybe it’s feeling differently about the image itself, or that particular place, or simply that my post processing workflow has evolved and I can see new potential in images. Whatever the reason, I rarely feel the same about an image a month, six months, or a year later.

Here’s another example from Castlepoint, in New Zealand’s lower North Island:

Castlepoint lighthouse 1

And here’s the image I found and edited more than two years later:

Castlepoint lighthouse 2

Make it a project

It’s natural for any artist or creative to be looking forward to the next project. I think it’s healthy for any artist or creative. It’s a necessary part of growing and developing your craft. I also think, however, that it’s healthy to reflect on previous work and see how far you have come. Searching image archives is a great way of doing this. Despite not having shot film since I was a child, I liken this process to rummaging through boxes of exposed negatives and taking them into the darkroom to find the gold that has never been printed.

I challenge you, if you don’t already, to spend some time rummaging through your archives. Go way back! To some of your earliest photographs! Or even something you shot last year; it doesn’t matter how old they are, just that you are looking at it with a fresh perspective. Make it your next project. You might be surprised what you come up with!

Have you found any hidden gems in your archives? Share with us in the comments below.

Read more from our Post Production category

Rowan Sims is a landscape and travel photographer from New Zealand. He loves to combine his passion for photography and travel while teaching people how to take awesome travel photos. Follow him on Instagram or over on his travel photography blog.

  • Teresa J

    An interesting and informative post. And well written as well.

  • Thank you Teresa! Hope you were inspired 🙂

  • Dennis

    Well I was going to say something cheeky like “you must have a great camera” but thought better of it with Bing next to me. Great article and amazing photography. Dennis

  • We developed LRDisplay as a screensaver for Lightroom for just this purpose. Point it at your archives and have it bring up a random selection of your work (captioned if you like) during those moments when you’re not clicking away. It’s amazing how it jogs your memory on a routine basis.

  • Kunal Chopra

    Hi Rowan! Impressed by your portfolio 🙂 I do want to ask though, and I’ve been meaning to ask someone without sounding offensive. This particular quality that makes your the content of your images “pop-out” (and the images that I’ve seen of several more talented photographers), is it the usage of luminosity masks? Or if I might ask, HDR? Or is it a combination of other techniques. For example, I’ve got a photograph of Wawel Castle, from Poland, that I made many exposures of, but I’m really wanting to process it in such a way that it looks at least close to eye popping 🙂 Also, I’d like to add that I’ve not yet gotten to shooting in RAW yet, even though I’ve been using my camera for the past three years. I usually used to stick to “vibrance, auto tone, auto colour etc.” settings in PS but now I’m expanding to using techniques like photomerge etc. As the list of countries i’ve travelled to increases, I want to also try new ways to show my pictures. Any advice please?

  • DENNIS! I can always trust you to have a cheeky comment 🙂 Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’re both well!

  • Very interesting. Looks like LRDisplay could be a valuable tool. I’ll have to look into it. Thanks for sharing!

  • Hi Kunal, thanks for your comment and questions. Yes, I use a variety of post-production techniques on my images. It’s rare that I process two images the same way. If you want to learn to create images that really “pop”, there is no silver bullet, but it can be done with lots of patience and practice. I definitely recommend shooting in RAW. There are many great resources out there, but I highly recommend Todd and Sarah Sisson’s ebooks on landscapes. You can read my review here: Thanks again, and good luck!

  • Kunal Chopra

    Thank you again Rowan! Seeing as I’m really hoping to do lots of landscape photography, I just bought the landscapes bundle!

  • In the past few days I discovered some wildlife photos I shot in a wildlife sanctuary 2 years ago – I’m not sure why I never did much to or with them, maybe I didn’t think they were as good as I’d hoped at the time… I’ve now ‘spruced’ them up ever so slightly in Lightroom and so pleased with the results. You are right, easy to ‘discount’ work of earlier years and definitely worth returning to find some ‘oldies but goodies’. Think I may just have to look at LRDisplay though – I like the sound of that – if anyone else has used this I’d been keen to hear your thoughts.

  • I’m sure you won’t regret it!

  • Thanks for your feedback Coreena. Please feel free to share a link, I would love to see your newly processed images!

  • Hi Rowan, I’ve just uploaded them here… it would be great to hear what you think. Cheers, Coreena

  • SabotImages

    Once a year at least I go back and look at what I have. What I learned this year is my post processing of portraits has come a long way.

  • Great to hear! That’s definitely one of the benefits of following this process. It’s always encouraging to see how far you’ve come as an artist!

  • Well done, Coreena. Thanks for sharing! Some pretty cute looking creatures there, even if I don’t know what half of them are 🙂

  • nice little Taz devil!

  • Thanks Darlene, very difficult to sight in the wild though… Thanks to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, near Hobart, it’s easy to get quite close for photos.

  • Thanks Rowan, you’ll just have to make a trip to Australia and Tasmania to see them all. 😉

  • StirlingR

    So much truth in what you write. About a year ago I was digging through boxes in my basement and came across some old B&W negatives. A bit of scanning and I realized I had stumbled across some old (as in from 1955 when I was a teenager) photos I had taken in Japan. That convinced me I was better then than I am now. Next I revisited some of them using Topaz Fusion 4 and rediscovered them as art prints. For instance:

  • I finally created a web-site to showcase my own shots, ( and went back through my archives just as you suggested. You’re absolutely right — my workflow has changed and I found several gems that I could breath life into with better post-processing. I was actually surprised how many “good” shots I had lurking on my drive.

  • franak

    Both the Canon 430 EX and the 430 EX ii have swivel heads, not just tilt. You have to push the button on the side in and they will swivel for bounce.
    ????? ??????? ??????????? ???????? ???? ??

  • Baldrick

    This was originally shot in 2008. My Lightroom skills were limited back then and have grown over the years. This year I went back through my catalog and came across this and knew I could salvage something from it using what I had learned over the past 7 years.

  • My archives have one massive problem – I was only converted to RAW 2-3 years ago. Going through my JPG archive is just frustrating when I see the lost potential.

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