Then and Now // Jin Lee
Hi there! I'm Jin (like the drink as I often tell people who ask how it's pronounced).
Considering this is the first blog post of many, I'll try to start things off right.
To introduce myself a bit, I currently serve as one of the partners for the Visual Ex Company specializing in commercial portrait photography alongside Chris Rey Basalo, our cinematographer/producer. I currently administrate the Ontario Models/Photographers/Designers Connect group (over 20,000 members and counting) as well as the McMaster University exclusive The Visual Experience | McMaster University Creatives group (with over 700 members and counting). I picked up my first camera two years ago.
Instead of talking about a specific question I get (ohh boy do I have a ton of those) I wanted to discuss something I see, not very often, but eyebrow-raising nonetheless.
It's about re-editing past photos and uploading them.
You see, for the longest time I've always been really excited about re-editing past photos into a new style when I've developed one, whether it be a new colour palette or a new technique. But every single FREAKING time, what occurred to me was the fact that the new editing style didn't suddenly make my old photo into a new one. Nope not even close. It didn't look good in the slightest. It was just wrong. It felt really wrong.
To explain this better we're gonna do a short case study of "Jin's favourite style" in regards to photography and cinema. My personal heroes for the longest time have always been photographers Annie Leibovitz, Chris Knight, and most importantly, Joey L (<3). They have this style that can only be described as painterly, neutral-toned and reminiscent of the 15th century dutch masters painters. Timeless if you will.
No photo nowadays has me coming back like the photo of Michael K. Williams by JoeyL; it's my favourite photo of all time, period.
Contrasting that to my personal style when I first started out, it used to be a bit more... vibrant? So as I stumbled through project after project and tutorial after tutorial in pursuit of this painterly JoeyL style, trying to apply this style and technique to where ever I could, I've learned that putting together a style isn't just in the colour and the way you edit a photo. Noooooooooo. Oh no.
It's quite literally taking everything into consideration.
We're currently in an age where most street shooters will come out with better photos just due to the sheer number of photos taken and luck but most of their styles will always follow the latest Instagram trend or the newest VSCO preset pack. No photo nowadays is timeless. No photo has me coming back like the photo of Michael K. Williams by JoeyL; it's my favourite photo of all time, period.
So what does putting together/developing a style mean? It means being able to pull off a consistent look in your photos every time no matter what the project. To the point where people will look at a photo and recognize it as yours, kind of like painters from the 15th century. I've personally found that the easiest way to start off is by trying to replicate elements from existing photographers that you personally like. You'll find that most of these elements can be done by exercising control over the details in a shoot and then adapting to the things you can't control using tools. This is talking portraiture specifically.
It's important to note photography should be an additive process. When planning shoots in studios and on sets/location, it's probably a good idea to step back and imagine what each piece of your vision looks like by itself. Each piece we add should help enhance what was already there, not distract or take away from the other. What does the subject look like? What does the environment look like? What kind of props are around? +Any other elements.
The first is wardrobe/makeup/hair. What your subject wears and how they appear on a plain white backdrop (as a visualization) I feel is a lot more important than we think. We often overlook it in favour of the how pretty(or interesting) the individual is, but knowing how your subject looks in certain makeup, hair, and wardrobe will really make or break your image.
The second is location. As creatives, we all know location scouting takes up a lot of time and effort, but trust me it's worth it. Putting your subject in an environment that compliments their wardrobe and hopefully enhances your image as a whole is priceless. Backdrops are an entirely different story and science but I find that rather than a plain black backdrop, a grey one with some texture can really help accentuate your subject. Here's the same backdrop in two photos shifted brown and blue in camera.
Last but not least is lighting. This is the tricky one because it's an entire discussion on its own. Lighting is the "adapting" part of this because you can't really control all of it unless you have a studio with no windows and the only lighting is artificial. If you're shooting outdoors, you'll need lighting that can over power the lighting of the outdoors (ie. the Sun) and you'll need modifiers to shape the light into what you're looking for. If you're not big on artificial lighting, you might need to actively seek out areas or times of day that match the lighting you're looking for... which goes back to location. To me, lighting is the most important thing that can help your image. Personally, harsh lighting that creates blindingly bright spots and deep dark shadows into the depths of the underworld will degrade the quality of your image and make the image unpleasant in general, while completely even lighting takes away the story and intrigue behind your subject. It's this balancing act that takes a ton of experimentation to get right and to be honest, a bunch of expensive lights and accessories.
So what does defining your style have to do with re-editing your past images?
Your work, then and now, is going to be different and that's a good thing.
In short, everything. When you try to apply your currently style to past work, it's kind of like clinging onto something that you should be comfortable with letting go. Your style will continue to mature and develop and everything, from how you control camera exposure, to subject wardrobe, lighting, and location will always matter when you sit down to post produce your images. Your new "preset" or "filter" isn't going to match what you were doing at that point in your career. Your work then and now, is going to be different, and that's a good thing.
Comparing my photography from then and now, the locations I choose, the wardrobe I now care about, and the lighting equipment I break my back over hauling to each location is all to ensure that my clients are getting the consistent work I strive to create. To overlook all that by saying my new editing style will magically enhance my old images into my current style is a very big no no.
So I'd refrain from re-editing past images and re-uploading them. You might think you can make it look like part of your current portfolio from now, but it won't. Past work is a good checkpoint for you to look back on and reflect. It's nice to know where you were and what kind of images you were creating at that point in time.
Let the images serve as a visual reminder of how far you've come since then and the lessons you've learned; then look forward and keep going.
--Side Note-- Just don't upload what isn't your style; if you want to keep doing certain shoots a certain way then just upload those