Why You Must Fail (and learn from it) Before Becoming a Successful Photographer
“In order to succeed, you must first be willing to fail.”
As a photographer, this should be one of your ‘quotes to live by’. Failing must be one of the worst things to happen to you – or to anybody for that matter, but it is also one of the best experiences you’ll ever have.
The secret is in how you handle failure and what you do after to get back on your feet.
Confused? Don’t be. Some of the most successful, popular, and respected persons in the world had to go through several failures first before they achieved the recognition they now enjoy. For example, all the scientists and investors who are now the subject of many classroom discussions weren’t successful the first time they did their ventures. They had to strain several times – 1,000 times according to Thomas Edison – before eventually finding the perfect formula, prototype, or idea.
For some people, this can be a daunting task. But for Edison and other scientists and investors, it was a challenge they just could not let go. They knew that if they worked harder and learned from their mistakes, they would succeed.
This should also be the mindset of a photographer, especially one who wants to achieve professional success.
Why Failing is an Important Part of Success
While there are some photographers who quit after a failure, there are others who simply take a moment to think and breathe, and then get back on track again. This is particularly true for those who regard photography not just as a profession but also a passion – something that makes them happy and fulfilled.
One photographer, Casey Cosley, had to go through a series of realizations before appreciating that “stopping” and relegating photography to the backseat was not what he really wanted to do.
This is what happened: After failing to complete a portrait project back in 2015, Casey decided to quit. Although his reason for stopping were to take a step back as photography had taken so much of his time – his social life, his professional life, and his home life, he eventually discovered, slowly but surely, why he was a photographer.
One of his first realizations why the kind of joy he felt whenever he made a portrait for people he just met. Another realization was the fact that he did and was able to take over 300 beautiful portraits and in doing so, learned to improve his craft. And as a bonus, he met a lot of people – strangers – who gave him the opportunity to experience life in different ways.
The break, that failure (no matter how personal it was), did him a lot of good. It will for you, too. And here are the reasons:
Failure teaches you to be prepared at all times
Failures are unexpected. You don’t plan because you want to fail. So, when you fail even with all the planning and hard work you did, it makes you realize that things don’t always happen the way they should. But instead of sulking and complaining about this, you find strength to get back on your feet and start again. You go back to the drawing boards and begin planning again.
Failure teaches you to expect the unexpected – and be ready for it. Not completely ready, because nobody ever is, but at least you have a fair idea that the unexpected can happen.
Failure teaches you to learn from your mistakes
Mistakes are there for us to learn from. So, you should accept your mistakes – regardless of how big or small they are. But don’t just sit back and relax after that; do something to correct whatever needs to be corrected.
One photographer shares the story of how she once messed up a wedding. It happened before digital cameras came out, so she used a camera with an external flash. But she didn’t really check if the flash tube had enough power, so the photos she took were underexposed.
Initially, she just wanted to hide. Eventually, however, she turned that nightmare into a learning experience and she has now developed a style for flash lighting that has helped define her photography. In addition, she has also become more “vigilant” and checks (and rechecks) all her equipment several hours or days before a shoot. She also constantly checks the exposure while shooting.
This was just one incident, but the photographer used that failure as a jump off point to improve her craft – and even her general attitude towards photography. She has had several failures over the years, but she bounced back after drowning out her sorrows. She stated – “My spectacular failures and toughest moments have been my greatest teachers.”
Failure teaches you that “try and try again until you succeed” is 100% correct
“Never, never, never give up.” –Winston Churchill
If you give up after making just one mistake, where do you think your career – or your life – will go? The photographer who shared her wedding photography nightmare didn’t give up because she believed in herself. You should, too.
You are a photographer because you like telling stories through images. You are hired to do shoots because people believe in your capabilities. So if you make one mistake, you should not give up. Instead, you should try again – and again – until you succeed. Nobody mastered the art of photography in just days! It takes a lot of hard work, willpower, practice, and skills.
So what should you do if your first project turns out to be a failure? Get back on your feet, practice and improve your craft, and then try again! If you just sit down and echo the nightmarish events, nothing good will happen. Somebody just might step on that space you left and grab the spotlight from you!
Being a photographer does not only mean knowing how to take good photos and how to tell beautiful and meaningful stories. It is not just about visually entertaining the audience. It is not just about the subject of your photos. It is also about you and how you choose to handle the challenges that come your way; how you choose to turn mistakes into opportunities for learning. It is also about you and how you choose to grow as a photographer and as a person. And your biggest weapons should be your camera and your unique photographic skills.
If you fail the first, second, or third time (no matter how many times), think of the late Steve Jobs and how he turned a downfall into a spectacular success:
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”