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How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

This article is going to be a little different from some of the others I’ve written. It’s going to be more like a journal entry or a reflection. It’s very personal in some ways but the ideas within will have universal value for everyone.

The idea is to show a personal exploration of my editing skills, which will hopefully inspire you to explore your skills and progression as a photographer as well.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

How much can experience change your editing workflow?

I was recently cleaning up my catalogues and image storage when I ran across a bunch of my older work. I looked at the images and how I had processed each pic. Looking back, I can see how my tastes and skills have evolved.

Over time we become better photographers, but we also become more adept at using Lightroom, Photoshop, Luminar or any other editing programs we might love to use. So as our skills evolve so does the way in which we process each image.

It was at this moment that I decided to go back and edit some of my old images. The goal was to compare the ways my skills have changed as well as my personal aesthetic. You can do the same thing. The results may be surprising.

You might also learn something about the way in which your work has evolved over time. Perhaps you were totally into creating monochromatic images way back when. This might contrast with your recent images in which you’re into creating brilliant warms tones in your work. You may also have become more skilled at cloning, utilizing layers, or using plugins. It all depends on what you have learned over time.

So without any further rambling, let’s take a look at an older image of mine.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set - photo of a path and steps in a forest

Here’s the initial image with my original edits. This was framed and sold a number of times during my earlier years.

This shot was one of the first I processed and created for sale in a gallery. It sold quite well. I was very proud of the work but what if I went back now and edited the RAW file again. How would my more refined skills change the look and feel of the photograph?

This image was edited fairly simply. I used Lightroom, and at the time I didn’t have anything else in my arsenal to utilize. I’m pretty sure I adjusted the blacks and whites in this image and added a little bit more saturation to the greens.

At that time, however, I didn’t have much of skill set, and edits were pretty basic. This doesn’t mean that what I did was bad. It was just simple and created a pretty clean and attractive image.

So now it’s time to see the difference and how my workflow has changed.  Here are the steps I took to re-edit this image some six years after it was first shot.

Searching for ideas and inspiration

One of the first things that changed about my workflow is how I begin to create my final image. These days I tend to surf through a large amount of presets searching for some ideas.

Part of this is experience, and part of it is time-saving. Over the years I’ve collected a large amount of presets, some of which I’ve created others I’ve purchased. I’ve also acquired a few plugins and I also use the presets available in these as inspiration.

Most of the time, however, I have a pretty good idea of the type of image I want to create already stored in my brain. As time has gone by, there’s far less trial and error associated with my work. Instead, my work is now far more purposeful with specific goals.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set - inside NIK Analog Efex

I took the image into Nik Analog Efex just to see what kind of looks I could create. I didn’t use anything from the plugin but I did get the idea to use a radial filter to focus attention on the path.

In the case of this old image, I studied the previous look and decided I wanted to change it. I feel the first edit was flat and a little too dark with not enough warmth or contrast. I also searched through some presets and decided I wanted more emphasis on the pathway leading to the stairs.

The following edits were made to create the look and feel I wanted specifically.

The Workflow

Step #1 – Sharpening

I ran the image through a RAW sharpening plugin. I wanted to have nice sharp details on the pathway. The image was also shot long ago with a very basic kit lens which I felt was softer than my newer 50mm lens.

Step #2 – Histogram

The histogram was adjusted so that the image touched both ends of the spectrum for black and white tones.

Step #3 – Local Adjustments

Next, I applied the adjustment brush to several different parts of the image. I wanted the pathway to have a brighter light that leads the viewer’s eye back through the image. More clarity and sharpness were also added to certain parts of the image.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

I used the adjustment brush to add more highlights to the pathway.

Step #4 – Presets

I used a preset to quickly deepen shadows and also to warm the tones within the image.

Inspired by a film preset I added a small bokeh to the image by using a radial filter and pulling the clarity and sharpness down. The filter was inverted and applied to the outer edges of the image.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

Here’s a quick screenshot after I used a preset to deepen shadows in the image.

Step #5 – Vignette

Finally, to create a little bit of depth, I added a small vignette to the image.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

Here’s a side by side comparison of the initial jpeg image and my updated edit.

The editing of the image didn’t take an overly long time. These are all fairly simple steps to take, but they have changed to look and feel of the piece. I didn’t use Photoshop with this image, and as per usual it was edited solely in Lightroom.

When I first edited this image Lightroom was the only program I used, so it seemed appropriate to keep all edits within the same program for a fair comparison.

The look and feel of the new version are certainly bolder and brighter. It’s a subtle change from the first edit. There’s nothing hugely drastic but I think what it shows is how our skills evolve and we become more polished in our editing work.

When I first created this image all those years ago, I loved the look. Now I find it a little flat so the edits that were applied this time adjusted what I now find to be a fault in the work.

How to Edit Old Images with Your New Skill Set

Here’s the final image. This was edited fully in Lightroom with the exception of the RAW sharpening, for which I used a plugin.

It’s always good to reflect on things

Sometimes it’s interesting to dig through the past and see what you can find. It’s worth it to experiment and explore how your work has changed. Don’t be afraid to go back and rework some of your old photographs, who knows what you’ll discover.

If you’ve done some experimenting, then please share it with us. We want to see how your skills have evolved or maybe the ideas you’ve come up with as time has passed. I’m sure there’s someone out there with a really dramatic edit.

Let’s see what you can cook up to inspire the rest of us.

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Erin Fitzgibbon
Erin Fitzgibbon

is a freelance photographer, writer, and teacher, from Ontario, Canada. She specialises in portrait, sport, and fine art photography. In her free time, she escapes to the backcountry or the beach with her family.

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