Unlocking The Hidden Potential Of Old Photographs

If you’re passionate about photography like the rest of us there is a good chance that the number of photographs on your computer outnumber the dollars in your checking account (probably because you spend your hard-earned Pesos on the latest photography gear).  With thousands of photographs filling up your hard drive, hopefully more organized than mine, who’s to say you didn’t miss a truly great shot?

Obviously what constitutes a “great” photograph is subjective but below is an example of a shot I took months ago and passed over multiple time.  Turns out I really like the shot.  Granted, I had to polish it much like a diamond cutter turns a rough diamond into something presentable.

0114_untitled_041ISO 1600, 24mm, f/11, 1/50, hand shot

Because the shot was under-exposed (I didn’t want to push the ISO too high but needed the shutter speed to be quick enough to hand shoot) I was not aware of the interesting lighting that was there.  Only because I shot in RAW was I able to pull out the details in the image above.  The original image is below.



As you develop your mind for photography you’ll find that some photographs you passed over a year or two ago now have potential.  In order to realize their potential you’ll want to make sure you capture them in a way that you have enough data to recover the most data possible.  Here are a few tips to help you capture photographs that have enough data to allow you to pull every detail from them when you need or want to.

  • Shoot in RAW, JPEG compresses your data and limits your ability to adjust exposure, white balance, etc..
  • Expose to the right (ETTR) – this means over-exposing your shot (not so much that there is highlight clipping) to capture the most data.
  • Shoot in RAW – can’t stress this enough.


Visualizing the end result before you take a photograph is similar to how you should review your photo catalog.  As you scroll through the photographs you’ll want to take time to visualize what it would look like after you’ve adjusted the exposure, white balance, etc..  What tipped me off that the photo above may have potential is the bit of light that streaked down the left side of the path.  I visualized what it would look like if the sun were painting the path with it’s golden rays and then proceeded to develop it.


Experience is the teacher of all things.

– Julius Caesar

Developing photographs is an art in and of itself.  There are folks who can turn what would be a bland photograph into something that grabs attention and turns heads while others of us struggle to create the image we visualized in our minds.  As you gain experience developing your photographs you’ll find that you’ll see the potential of unprocessed images before you’ve had a chance to touch them.  Want to gain experience more quickly?  Of course you do, here is how:

  • Join Flickr and don’t be afraid to ask others how they achieved the results you like.
  • Google search tips and tricks for whichever processing software you use.
  • Learn how to use your development software by experimenting on your photos, there should not be a tool in the software that you don’t know how to use.  The more you learn the more your mind will see when you review your photographs.


I’d be willing to bet a small amount of money that there is a photograph with lots of potential buried in your catalog of photos right now.  Next time it’s a rainy day or you’ve got lots of free time grab your computer and take a closer look at the photographs you’ve passed over.

When you find your hidden gem head over to Submit an Article and shoot us both the original and your polished gem and we’ll feature it right here on PhotolisticLife.  Alternatively, feel free to post them to our Facebook page.  Enjoy!

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