Archive Diving: Discovering the lost images

As photographers, in the digital age, we shoot as much as we want without worry of exposing all of our film and not having any film left for the next amazing scene.  I remember instances a few decades ago where I had to really feel an image before I exposed the film and not only because I did not want to waste film, but I was paying to have my film processed!

Recently, I was working to condense my numerous archive catalogs across four separate hard drives.  During the condensing process, the memories of the copious adventures came flooding back.  Along the journey, I came across a few images that I had not previously processed, but with the new(er) post-processing techniques I have learned and processes available, the idea of archive diving actually spurred some thought.

As “artists,” we all have a unique style to our work; artists, musicians, writers and photographers alike.  Looking back at previous work is, in my opinion, therapeutic in nature.  Seeing where my composition and visual story-telling was at point X versus where it was months or years later allows me to see a progression of my skill; skill in framing a subject, skill in using the composition to tell a story and capture a moment in time that reflects the mood of the day or scene before me.

Diving through your archive is healthy for your work, in that you relive adventures or photo shoots and perhaps as you review the archive you will see images that you might once have skipped because the image did not speak to you the way others from that shoot might have at the time.  You might also find images that spur ideas on ways you can return to that location and reshoot the composition with a different framing to really capture the essence of that scene, albeit at a later date with different light, etc.

The first of the four images that I will show here, came from Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada.  I had driven to Las Vegas for National Finals Rodeo, with the plan to use some of the daytime hours to hit Valley of Fire State Park and if time permitted, Red Rock Canyon State Park (did not make it there).

The weather was iffy the first four days I was in Vegas; on Friday, the outlook was better and offered potential.  I hopped in my truck and headed out of town towards Valley of Fire State Park.  Upon arrival at the parking area, I donned the backpack and started the trek.  The trek wasn’t long, but in my usual fashion, I was stopping here and there to take in the scenery and look for possible shots.

After arriving at Fire Wave, I spent some time just walking around, looking at the different angles and using The Photographers Ephemeris, to get an idea of where the sun would be (obviously sun sets in the west, blah blah…but I wanted to know where the reflected light would hit, etc.).  The closer it got to sunset, the more I was sure sunset was going to be a bust (clouds low & thick on the western horizon).

The clouds were pretty cool, though I did not have a 2-stop soft grad filter, which I thought might make the sky just a little more interesting.  The location is one that I did not quite capture the scene to my satisfaction, so I do think there will be a return trip at some point in the future.

The Fire Wave

The Fire Wave

The second of four images comes from another desert scene and one of my craziest adventures: Bisti Badlands in New Mexico.

I wrote about the cracked eggs at Golden Hour a few weeks ago, but I did run across another image that I missed when I was originally culling through those images.  The haboob really caused the sky to be character-filled!  Not only was the scene like something from an alien landscape, but the sky was angry, black, purple with hints of orange and yellow.

Alien Sunset at Bisti

Alien Sunset at Bisti

Image number three is one that you may not believe; I know it was in disbelief of what I saw when I arrived at the parking lot of Great Sand Dunes National Park in February of 2014.  The weather was not what was forecast for the San Luis Valley, but I will definitely take the adventure (and the images I created) anytime!!!!  Snowshoeing on the sand dunes is definitely one of the more unique adventures I have had along the way; but, I did learn something too: snowshoes actually work well on sand (for the few spots that were wind-blown)!

My destination was a bowl below High Dune, where the light might cast some good shadows to create depth within the image.  Because there was a blanket of powdery snow 12” to 15” in depth to slog my way through, the trek took me probably 30 minutes longer than I had planned, so I didn’t have as much time to scout, as I had planned.  Fortunately, my pre-planning work with TPE and Google Earth sufficed for my location choice.

Usually at the sand dunes, you would think that ’S’ stood for sand.  However, this instance ’S’ stood for snow (and lots of it, from what I saw).



The final image of this archive dive comes from a road trip in August of 2015, to Mount Rainier National Park, in Washington State.  Wildfires in the pacific northwest were causing mayhem throughout the pacific northwest, but I took my chances anyway.  I figured the wildfire haze ‘might’ bring some character to the sky.

The first few days were interesting, to say the least.  One morning, after driving from Cougar Rock Campground to Sunrise Ridge Trailhead, I had a great opportunity for sunrise, with low-hanging clouds along Mt. Rainier, some dew on the vegetation and a crisp morning.  As sunrise time came, a low-level layer of clouds closed off the eastern horizon, making sunrise pretty much a non-starter.

Watching the weather forecasts and checking smoke haze maps as often as cell signal would allow, I saw another sunrise opportunity, with a lower potential level of smoke haze and better sunrise conditions being forecast, so I got up at 3am, drove 1 hour and 45 minutes to Sunrise Visitor Center (again), parked and started hiking up Sourdough Ridge Trail to the sunrise shoot location.  As the Blue Hour came, I could tell that there was a bit more smoke haze than I would have liked, but I had hopes that the light would be good…but time would tell.

The light came and sunrise was not quite as good as I had hoped, but the clouds along with just a tiny bit of smoke haze brought about a fairly neat sunrise image.  This was my alternate shot, but gives you a good idea of what I was dealing with on that particular morning!

Looming Large!

Looming Large!

From these four images, you can see that an archive dive can net some unique and interesting finds.  I will say that a couple of the locations are ones that I really want to return to and create images when there isn’t smoke haze to complicate the light.  From a creative perspective, I will continue to do archive dives periodically just to make sure I don’t miss any images that may be worthy of post-processing.  Continuing to do the archive dives will also allow me to observe the direction my photography is going from a creative & compositional perspective!

If you are a photographer, do you perform archive dives from time to time?  Have you found images that were previously missed, but may now be worthy of editing?  How about re-processing images you edited in the past, using new techniques or tools available?