Quite often a photographic image from our past screams out with all the terrors from a sleepless night. It is an image so lacking that it invokes an automatic feeling of despair and critical self-adulation inside our minds. Our creative side does not allow us to be associated with such a badly taken photograph even when often there is nothing wrong with the image.

A badly taken photograph can derive from so many different aspects such as poor lighting, incorrect positing and incorrect focusing. But is it really a bad photograph or something else entirely? It may not meet our current publishing standards but inside this image are often clues as to why it went all wrong on the day.

When we are able to identify these clues and have a plan to prevent them from happening again is when we start to evolve as photographers. Often our ability to do this does not happen overnight and this awareness unfortunately comes from experience. To be critical of our previous work is all part of the creative process and these tiny breadcrumbs of information are scattered all around our images. Deciphering these messages is just one of the many skills we have to learn as photographers.

If we take the image in this article that I shot in Surrey 2017 (The Chertsey Express) and for me, it is very flat and missing that special oomph. Cosmetically it is clean, but it does not cry out for attention as no aspect really stands out for me. My style of photography was also different during this time period as I only shot in Jpeg, did no process editing and mainly left the camera to decide for me. The concept of the rule of thirds and golden spiral was as alien to me in the same way as a shooting in raw file format. Most of what I now know as a photographer in 2022 was not around for me in 2017 as I did not have the experience or knowledge.

So how could I have made it a better photograph based on my current skillset as a photographer?

I could have used my 35mm prime instead of my telephoto, pulled in more depth of field to remove the flatness, and changed my focus positioning by shooting in the rule of thirds. I would have shot in raw format to allow post editing and engaged manual control of all my camera settings. It is not that the photo is bad it just does not meet my current expectations.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing to behold especially when it comes to being over critical of our previous work. By learning to decipher these messages will allow us to progress as photographers and allow us to view a badly taken photograph in a positive way. Critical progression can be achieved by embracing our mistakes as photographers.