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So I'm looking at some old photographs and looking at the iso, shutter and aperture and wondering to myself why did the camera, or why did I pick those settings knowing what I know now.

Since I’m still new at photography before I would just take out my cell phone and snap photos. Now since I’m taking it seriously or looking deeper into the mechanics, looking at old photos I wonder why the exposure was like that and if there was a better way to get the exposure.

Does looking at the Exif info of a photo and keeping a mental note so that you don’t do it again help in future photos being right?

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Looking at old pictures helps, I think. If settings are a current difficulty, then looking at the settings helps somewhat.

But the relationship between the settings, subject, composition and light is what makes or breaks a picture. To me, there are probably better ways to learn settings: an external light meter and manual mode, for example, will provide a tactile path of experiencing the relationships.

To me, the big benefits of looking at my old pictures is to remember what I am capable of making and to understand what and how I see.

The important part is “Why did I make this picture and why did I make it like that?”

The problem with old pictures as a source of technical information is that I used to spend a lot of effort saving pictures with technical weaknesses. It is easy to crop a poorly framed picture. Easy to brighten for under exposure. Easy to sharpen away slightly off focus. Etc. Etc.

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Yes, but not that often because each picture is different. I do this for rather technical photos where I can't waste shots trying to find ideal settings, for instance trying to catch lightnings, fireworks, or planes in air shows. Reviewing the settings used in previous sessions avoids making the same mistakes again, or lets me reuse good settings from the beginning.

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I think looking at the EXIF can help, particularly if there's something technical you want to pursue/improve in terms of exposure or camera settings. It's also hecka handier than keeping a note, exposure-by-exposure of the settings used, like we had to do back in film days. :)

And reviewing older images in general can be helpful to boost your morale when you're thinking you've hit a plateau and you're never going to get any better, because you can actually see that you did improve with a bit more distance in time.

But to improve as a photographer, it's not necessarily the settings captured in the EXIF that are going to hold the key, so much as looking at your work with a good critical eye to see not just the technical flaws, but also the artistic ones. Were your framing, timing, or gear choices flawed? What shot did you miss? Why did you miss it? What did you NOT see? What were the missed opportunities between the frames you did grab? Is that subject worth a reshoot? Why does that image feel that way? What could you have changed to get closer to what you want? What did you want?

And it may be even more important to have someone else look at your images and give you their impressions, because looking at your photos from the outside as a viewer, rather than from inside as the photographer can really give you that view of what you might have missed. :D

For me, EXIF is a very useful tool to figuring things out, particularly at the beginning when you're still struggling for technical mastery. But remember, you're also an artist as well as a technician, and EXIF is only one tool in the box to improve.

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I think it's a great idea, even better if you have them post-processed and in a catalog in Lightroom, Darktable or one of the other packages. As well as reviewing the fundamentals of the photo - the composition, the exposure, the cropping, the exif data - you can see what changes you made to the raw file. When I first started photographing I tended to dial things like 'clarity' all the way up to eleven (!) and I always put a premium on razor sharpness and stark color contrasts. When I review this look now I understand why I did it but I also have learnt that a more subtle approach and, super-importantly, a case-by-case calibration exercise is required. These result is just better (I know, that's a vague term). Personally I've found it hugely valuable to do this comprehensive review of past images. A good thing to use as a guide is return to both your favourite images and also the 'near misses', those ones you think could have been really good but didn't quite make the grade. What would you do differently?

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