Embracing Failure & Shitty – I Mean Valuable – Lessons Learned

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I know we all look to the professional photogs we admire and say, “If only….”  I still do!  But, I guarantee you, they were you once.  I’m writing this to offer a little reassurance that even established pros leave a colourful history of epic fails behind them.  I’m betting they still have their moments….

For those of us committed to, and who love, photography and photographing people specifically, becoming good at it has come with its share of hard lessons to learn… not to mention a bit of humiliation and embarrassment.

Embracing failure, and all the cringe-inducing repercussions, has brought me some of the greatest gains in personal and professional growth.

For instance, taking for granted a new flash would simply work when attached to my old camera.  I’d never before experienced flash sync issues, so imagine my surprise that a millisecond of difference between my shutter closing and the flash firing could make THAT much difference!  Half of every exposure was black. And the wrong half at that.

Granted, that was pre-digital so I didn’t have the luxury of examining frame by frame… had to wait to open up my twelve packages of prints and negatives to see the disaster I’d created.  There was no fixing.  I just had to buck up, come clean and face the damn music.  The clients were lovely and gracious… and justifiably pissed!

What did I learn?   NEVER, EVER take anything for granted with regards to my equipment.  Check and double check.  I also know my gear as though it’s an extension of my physical being.

This flub also guided me towards the style that defines how I shoot today.  I have fun with off-camera lighting.  I use it when needed, and know enough to have fun playing for effect.  But, most often, I’m in my most confident and happy place when I work with ambient, or natural, light.  It’s, as they say, where I live.

But, just because I work in natural light situations doesn’t mean that’s been a road without some big f*cking boulders!  Growing as a photographer, not to mention a grown-ass professional adult, has meant balling up to tell clients “No, that won’t work.”  In the nicest way possible, of course.

I’m a little ashamed to say that there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve settled for shooting the way, or where, the client wanted, ignoring my more experienced judgement.  These errors – yes, that’s a plural! – stemmed from my eagerness to be accommodating and my fear of taking charge.  As a result, I’d spend hours more time at my desk struggling with editing and, therefore, making ZERO money.  Not to mention the immense stress of possibly presenting a poor product to the client.

Harsh mid-day light and gross shadows; shitty, washed out backdrops, and other frustrating issues made things discouraging.  This essentially self-imposed extra anxiety and work made for something of a reckoning.  After a dismal day editing images I was taking no satisfaction or pride in, because damnit, I KNEW BETTER, I had had enough.  I know where I produce the best results in any given condition and, as the professional, I will enact that.

I will still honour a client’s request.  But I ALWAYS shoot how and what I need first.  ALWAYS.

Nurturing, and then settling into, my own sense of self-confidence about what I do and how I do it has been HUGE. In allowing myself to be comfortable in my knowing I’ve become a better photographer and that confidence has spilled over into the other areas of my life.

I don’t know if we, as women, are more susceptible… I rarely hear male photographers struggling with this.  In fact, I’ve chatted with some pretty lame – sorry, true! – male photogs who are SO very confident in their greatness as photographers.  I leave the conversations a little exasperated, but with a definite, “I’ll have what he’s having!”

I think about those photographers with that sense of confidence and work hard to embody it too.  My mistakes, and I can list many, have been necessary in getting me to where I am today in my career.  I book clients that I love and I’m creating work, most of the time (they can’t all be winners!) that I’m proud of.

I’m also still progressing, learning and aspiring.  I’m also still making mistakes.  Different ones, and maybe not with the same throat punch effect, but opportunities to learn and improve all the same.

The beauty is, when someone is paying you, chances these are mistakes you’ll only make once (mostly!).

While we’re on the topic of embarrassing goofs, gaffs and blunders while on the job, why don’t you minimize some of the chances to screw up and get a handle on your posing!

Take advantage of this opportunity to add some proven posing ideas and make them your own.  Workshop In Your Pocket Posing Inspiration Swatches.  Keep ’em close and handy right in your pocket and refer to them quickly when you need some quick inspiration and ideas.



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