Jason Bradley penned this and sent it out in one of his newsletters. I liked it so much that I asked for his permission to show it to you all here as a guest post. Thanks, Jason, and take it away
Here we are, well into the new year and with a good head start on all of our resolutions.
The underlying goals for photographers and creatives are usually the same, year after year: to be more productive, more focused, and to shed bad habits (of which I have more than a few), all in the pursuit of being better at our craft. Speaking of better craftsmanship, you may be wondering what the hell I was thinking in choosing the above image for this post. I admit that it’s not one of my best. But before you think I’ve lost the ability to make a decent picture, hear me out.
I took this image at Weston Beach in Point Lobos State Reserve during one of our recent local workshops. For those of you not familiar with Weston Beach, it’s named after famed photographer Edward Weston, and it’s a beautiful place. When the tide is low, it reveals breathtaking rock formations, intricate patterns, and an array of colors and tones—it’s eye candy for painters, poets and photographers.
I was there for a breathtaking sunset and came away with precisely nothing. Nada. Zilch. I failed.
This is far from my first visit or first failure at Weston Beach; I’ve been there many times and I have never come away with a landscape I like; I just haven’t figured that place out yet. And this failure at Weston Beach was not my only in 2018—not by a long shot. Last year was not my most photographically productive. While some of that non-productivity was intentional, one of my big resolutions for 2019, I suspect like many of you, is be more productive.
I want to be prouder of my work this year than last, to connect more with what I’m shooting and why I’m shooting it, and to be more focused.
Sounds like a great plan, right? But how to make it happen is always the question. My strategy: I intend to fail. I want to fail more, and fail big. And while that might seem counterproductive—an utterly stupid thing to have as a goal—I have a strategy!
Instead of shying away from failure, I’m setting my sights on it—as detrimental as that may seem.
The reason I’ve shared this “bad” image with you is because I want you to see my imperfections. If you think that professional photographers always take great images, you’d be wrong; we so-called pros make far more bad images than successful ones. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hobbyist or a well-seasoned pro, a painter, a writer, a dancer, a salesman, a chef, or whatever—there will always be a failure-to-success ratio in your life regarding your work. And that ratio will always vary.
The problem is that failure is painful and discouraging. And since our brains are wired to avoid pain and discomfort, fear of failure stops us and slows us down. But it’s normal and it should be expected—perhaps even embraced, considering it’s unavoidable. Whether we embrace failure or avoid it, we are absolutely, positively, required to experience it one way or another in the pursuit of evolving at what we do.
So there you have it: my strategy for 2019 is to take more bad, awful, terrible photos so I can increase the amount of successful photos I make. I want to work more, fail more, and thus succeed more.
What do you think? Am I on to something?
If you’re willing to share one of your crappy photos and talk about what you learned from making that image, I’d love to hear from you.
If you feel that all you make are crappy photos, that’s a bigger conversation—and I can help you with that. Get in touch (CONTACT ME) and let’s talk about how coaching might benefit you and your craft.
Stay outside, stay engaged, stay playful.
– Jason Bradley
Fail with intention! Try again in same general manner, if getting the shot is a matter of developing one’s own coordination (eg, developing smooth panning for birds in flight). If getting the shot is a matter of better composition, try a lot of compositional variations on the same subject, including “naah, won’t work” ones, then look at the lot later. Fail with humor – electrons are cheap! You don’t have to pay for umteen rolls of film or spend all night developing the rolls. Save some classic “fail” shots that have interest to you as failures, or as “record” shots (eg, “butt shot” showing bird tail plumage detail). If ever I want to get hexagonal bokeh effect, I now know how to do it (legacy lens with straight-sided 6 leaf diaphragm). If ever I want to do a cyclorama (360 rectangular) pano shot of big river confluences, don’t do it on a gray day, do consider using a high-value ND filter to smooth out water. (Or maybe don’t do it at all! Photographs don’t convey the experience of standing at the point of the confluence of Mississippi and Missouri or of Mississippi and Ohio rivers and having All That Water move past you).
My harddrives are stuffed with bad pictures I have taken. If I learned anything in the last couple of years it’s to take many many pictures from different angles and with different exposures and put some effort into the selection process afterwards.
That being said, I might agree that I have become too dependend on post-processing and don’t put enough effort into taking the picture right in the first place.
My only concern is, that I might be too goal-oriented and that in the long run this might hinder me learning the craft the right way.
There’s a difference in having 20 years of experience and having one year of experience 20 times. Are you letting your mistakes teach you?