Regardless of your craft or art form, the best way to know you’re improving over time is to look back at something you did a few years ago and feel a since of… Wow, I could do so much better than that!
I do this frequently, and it lets me know that I’m improving, or at least growing towards something I’m happier with in my skills (regardless of what anyone else thinks). I was recently cleaning up some old external hard drives and I came across some images from the 2011 Winter Star Party. This was the first year I had ever entered the astrophotography contest, and of course I lost. When I saw my old rendition of Omega Centauri, my present-day self with 8 more years of experience was horrified (this wasn’t actually even the worst). So GREEN!
I noticed however a file named “OmegaStacked.tif”, and I realized this was the original unstretched master. I had carefully calibrated, aligned, and stacked the data and here it was, ready for post processing all over again. My equipment was modest, at least by my current standards. An unmodified Canon Rebel DSLR, and a small Takahashi FC76 refractor I called “Vera” was riding atop a prototype of the Paramount MX. I had to focus by hand I recall, and my exposures weren’t very long. I don’t have the original information about how long my exposures were, or what my ISO was, but I had nice sharp stars when I did a quick screen stretch in PixInsight. I spent maybe 10 minutes on it, and the results were something my 2019 self was much happier with.
I then had an epiphany… my earliest mentors in astrophotography when looking at my images would say the strangest thing. “You have some nice data there”. Some would say “looks nice” in addition, and the best mentors would point out things I needed to work on. I know of one who I did not show this one too, that I’m sure he would have said something about the very strong green color cast.
Good data does not get stale. In 2011 I had the basics down well enough that I was getting good solid data to work with. This is an accomplishment on its own as getting good data is not trivial either. My mentors were complementing me on that, while not wanting to discourage me too much on my processing abilities.
It was some time after this that I stared more carefully archiving my image runs. I keep the raw data, and the calibration frames and occasionally I’ll combine old data with new, or just go back and revisit an object I recall I just wasn’t happy with. Perhaps a few years later, I can get something I’m happier with out of it. I recommend you do the same. We all start i the same place, and most of us continually improve!
Good data hunting,