Failure is an indication that you’re not good at something, but it’s not a sign that you should give up.

Many people let failure stop them from moving forward. But you should use it as a guide to growth. If the taste of failure has convinced you to give up in the past, let me show you how to use it for your benefit.

Failure in photography can be defined in a number of ways, so let’s look at how failure can help you improve your photography.

You tried photography but you totally sucked at it

Maybe you wish you were a ‘natural’ and capable of taking amazing photos without lots of practice and disappointment. But I think it’s better that you have to struggle to get good.

Yes, some people seem to have a knack for picking up a camera for the first time and taking gorgeous photos without even knowing what they’re doing. But because people who are naturals don’t really know what they’re doing, they’re going to hit their limits pretty quick. Their photos may all look the same and they won’t know how to improve. But because you had to struggle to get good, learning tough new things will be comfortable and normal for you.

I started out as a kid with a film camera and almost all of my photos were terrible. I made very little progress over the years until I found people to teach me.

If you’re terrible at photography then you need a teacher. You can find teachers online or in person. Usually, a combination of online and in person learning works well.

Failure should lead you to learn more.

This was my first attempt at a formal portrait of my son. I had no idea how to work my camera or how light effects a photo.

With the help of Lightroom, I was able to salvage the photo to some degree. It’s not quite the emotion I was going for, but that’s what he and I were feeling in the moment. At that point, I never wanted to take another formal portrait again. Little did I know, I just needed to learn.

You fail to accomplish something simple

It can be so humiliating to fail at something simple! You might feel dumb or completely incompetent, but don’t give up.

When you fail at something you thought would be simple, you probably just underestimated how difficult it would be. You found out it would be tougher than you thought and you have a little more to learn.

As long as you understand what made you fail at something simple, you can learn how to improve.

Thinking that a quick head and shoulder portrait of my son would be easy to accomplish, this was the best shot I could get! I tried for half an hour but failed to get that simple photo. What I learned was that toddlers have no intention of sitting still for a photo. So I learned to work with toddlers and to embrace unexpected candid moments like the one in this photo.

You fail to achieve your vision

Maybe you have good photography skills, but you always seem to fall short of your vision.

That is perfectly normal. Nobody who aims high achieves their goals or vision easily. Most of your journey will be learning failure, but it will be so sweet when you do achieve it.

Having learned about light and the nature of toddlers, I decided to create a portrait that I envisioned based on a Charlie Brown Christmas movie. Working with a toddler, I knew that I would only have a minute or two to capture the image.

Even though I failed to work well with toddlers at first, learning how to do it helped me to hone my vision under pressure.

Follow failure until it leads you to success.

You lose competitions

Perhaps you pour your heart and soul into your photography only to lose competition after competition.

I actually recommend that at first, don’t enter competitions to win, but enter for the valuable feedback from the judges. Put your photos up against photographers who are better than you and listen to the feedback you receive. Learn to express your unique vision in a way that pleases viewers with high standards. In this way failure will be your guide, telling you exactly how to improve.

I had a “second runner up” photo that might have won first place, but one of the judges brought my score down a lot. He said the light was bad in my photo. At first, I was hurt by his comments. But to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about light when I took the photo. Light was the very next thing I learned about.

Invite failure to be part of your journey and you won’t mind it so much.

There are technical imperfections in your photos

If you find it difficult to live with technical imperfections then there are two things you should do.

The first is to relax your attitude toward standards a bit. At the very least don’t expect every photo to be perfect. Most photographers are thrilled if 10% of their photos turn out. But perhaps only 1% will be worth keeping. If you keep having the same technical problem then you should learn how to fix it.

The second is to occasionally embrace imperfections as part of your photo. Perhaps extreme conditions (light, weather, etc.) will inevitably lead to imperfect photos. Is that so bad?

Change your attitude toward technical failure.

I love walking into a chaotic scene and making a portrait from it. This picture has some technical errors though. It is quite grainy and a little misfocused. To me, that expresses the chaos of the moment all the more.

“Don’t like the high-ISO noise? Make a photograph that’s so good, so captivating, that no one notices it! If noise is what people notice, noise is not your biggest problem.” – David DuChemin

Your photos fail to move you

I’ve gone through long periods of boredom with photography and my photos. At times it has become a mechanical process. In those times I’ve plunged deeper into why I even take photos to begin with. I’ve come to realize that for me photography is an exploration of human nature – explaining man to man and each to himself, as Edward Steichen puts it.

Wrestling with why your photography fails to move you may actually take you deeper into your pursuit of photography. It may help you to understand what excites you about photography and get you back on track.

Inspired by a friend’s struggle with anxiety, I envisioned a candid portrait session on the theme “A Glorious Mess.” I didn’t allow any posing. I could only capture candid moments that happened naturally. This is one of the photos that I felt best expressed the theme.

Your photos fail to move others

My wife paid a lot of money to surprise me with a mentoring session with a famous Canadian photographer. He told me that my photos are technically fine but they don’t move him. He referred to them as saccharine (super sweet fake sugar).

Imagine putting it all there and paying big money to have a person tell you how terrible they think your photos are! He didn’t say it to be mean, he was just being honest.

This is a good example of photos I take that fail to move other photographers. It’s the same old golden light and cute toddler smile that they see everywhere. Though this photo may fail to move fellow photographers, It does move the families that hire me. That’s worth it for me.

If other photographers aren’t interested in your photos or editors reject them for publication, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a photographer. Your photos just didn’t interest them or weren’t useful to them. But listening to their critique or advice might help you to take photos that are more universally pleasing.

When others think you have failed, try to learn something from their perspective.

Failure should lead to refinement.

If you never grow – this is true failure

Perhaps you’re stuck because you need a teacher, or you’re stuck because you’re afraid to fail, or haven’t bounced back from failure.

Each type of failure has the potential to make you throw up your hands and quit. You’re more likely to quit when you believe that failure is a sign that you lack natural talent.

But failure also has the potential to help you grow, perhaps in ways you wouldn’t have grown without the failure.

Failure isn’t a reason to give up but a reason to go deeper.


Feature image: pixabay

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