We all have good days and bad days in our photography — successes and failures.
By failures, I don’t mean commercial failures. In fact, when I was shooting a lot of assignment photography, I never lost a client because I delivered photos I didn’t like. Typically, what I thought was crap, the client loved.
We are often harder on ourselves than others are. Sometimes, we need to give ourselves a break. But we should also use our dissatisfaction as motivation to get better.
A Day at the Beach
A couple of weeks ago, I was in Hampton Beach, N.H., shooting one of my favorite subjects — beaches.
When I got back home and downloaded my images, I was disappointed. After looking through all of the photos, I found very little that interested me. There were plenty of scenic images, but nothing that stood out.
I confess that this is not the first time I have come up short. In fact, it’s happened enough that I’ve developed my own little system for dealing with it.
My Four-Part System
Here it is, in four parts:
- Be honest with yourself. This is often the hardest part. Don’t tell yourself that a photograph is a success simply because it is technically perfect. Is the picture actually interesting to you? Does it have a spark? After my Hampton Beach shoot, I had a lot of pretty shots — but that was all. It was hard for me to accept, but that’s photography sometimes.
- Study the near misses. Now it’s time to get to work. Look at the images that you almost like. What would it have taken to make them better? In assessing my Hampton Beach near misses, I realized that I did not stay in any one place long enough. I was always on the move that day, searching, but never showing up at quite the right time. There is nothing wrong with staying put; the image will eventually reveal itself.
- Identify bad decisions. When I was at the beach arcade, I focused my attention on the colors and blinking lights. I thought that this would add interest to my images, but I was wrong. It’s always the people in my photographs that add the interest. I got distracted.
- Use Photoshop to work out issues. There’s no substitute for getting the shot you want in camera, but Photoshop is a great tool for experimenting. Does changing the tone, switching to black and white, or (God forbid) cropping give your image more impact? Sometimes, I revisit photos in Photoshop weeks or months after the shoot. I recently tried this with some rejected images I shot in France last year — and was pleasantly surprised by the results.
Kenji Miyazawa said, “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” In the same way, we must embrace our failures and learn from them.
Photo © David Saxe