Why Failure Is Good for a Successful Photography Career

Why Failure Is Good for a Successful Photography Career

It’s easy to celebrate our successes in photography — the proud moments in-between creating and presenting a picture that we’re particularly fond of. But what about the times we fail? I think there’s a good argument for celebrating our photography failures, and here’s why.

Failure Makes Us Better

The quickest way to success is by failing at something. If you’re consistently successful in all of your ventures, and can’t recall many failures, it’s probably because you’re choosing to play it safe. Instead of reaching for what could be your full potential in photography, you may be accepting mediocrity to avoid the fear of failing.

Failure is indeed life’s greatest teacher. Without it, how would we learn from our mistakes? The key, though, is that when you fail, you embrace it. Discouragement may creep in when you fail at a photography project that you’ve worked long and hard on. The turning point comes when you decide to reassess what went wrong and caused you to fail. When you look back and consider why the failure happened, it will help you make a map to a better, successful, photography project or venture. Using failure positively means embracing failure head-on, and deciding not to let it discourage you.

Failure Removes Fear

Once you’ve decided to embrace failure, any fear that you may have had in the past to try to tackle something new or challenging will start to vanish. Society today does not embrace failure. You’ll hardly find any stories in history books praising the failures of those from the past. However, the few accounts of failure that do exist are ones where something was created in spite of a massive failure (I’m thinking of you Thomas Edison with your fancy light bulb).

Because of this societal tendency to shy away from failure, many of us fear failure, even if subconsciously. It stands to reason, then, that when we decide to embrace our past failures and our potential future failures, that’s when change starts to happen. Embracing failure means attempting projects that you’re unsure of what the outcome may be. Instead of trying a photography project that you know you can accomplish, try something you’ve always wanted to attempt but aren’t sure you can pull off. And, if you don’t succeed the first time, you know what they say, “try, try again.”

Failure Can Breed New Creativity

Because failure puts us outside of our comfort zone, it’s prime breeding ground for new creativity. When we fail and reassess what went wrong, we’re causing ourselves to improve, whether we recognize the improvement process or not. This is when our technical photography skills begin to grow. Knowing what we, as photographers, did wrong will help eliminate what not to do the next time. And what’s more, sometimes failing at some attempt leads to unexpected results, which is always a bonus.

If you ever find yourself questioning whether you should pursue a photo venture, do it. Let go of the fear, and charge forward knowing that if you fail, it’ll only help you with the success of your next project.

Lead Image by Gabriel Peter via Pexels, used under Creative Commons.

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Mark Holtze's picture

I have that same Asahi Pentax camera, plus a number of SMC Takumar lenses. THE best 35mm film camera I've shot with, those lenses....still use them on all my modern cameras lol.

As per the article, experience is the best classroom, be it a technical failure or even critique on your creative work, embrace it. The lessons are abundant and if you're listening it will help on your next project for sure.

Rifki Syahputra's picture

I must be the best, my whole life is a failure... jk :)
yes agreed.. embracing failure is one of the key

michaeljin's picture

Am I the only one that's tired of this constant mantra of embracing failure because it's somehow a path toward success?

No, you don't have to fail in order to be successful and no, failure is not the quickest path toward success. The quickest path toward success is education, preparation, practice, and developing a realistic understanding of your abilities and limits.

Biting off more than you can chew just for the sake of putting yourself out of your comfort zone and pushing your boundaries can lead to irreparable harm, whether it's permanently damaging relationships, putting yourself in a mountain of debt, or (God forbid) getting yourself killed depending on the nature of that failure. I've seen far too many people read or listen to advice like this in all walks of life and then go out and fearlessly do things that they are clearly not ready for because they think that some invisible force will save them in the end. You know who's most often getting hurt by them? It's often their family and friends that either lent them money or who have to give them a place to stay while they "get back on their feet".

Yes, you will fail as a part of your learning experience, but the important thing is not that you failed or that you got back up, but that you contain your failure in controlled environments where they can't do you much harm. So don't be afraid of failure when you practice, but you should fear the hell out of failure if you're deciding to start a new business and you happen to be the primary provider for your family.

In short, remember that failure has consequences. Approach your development in a rational fashion and remember that for every success story, there are plenty of stories of people who had to move back into their parents' home after failing.

16mm Camera's picture

I suspect the point of it is don't let it consume you. When you fail you will either sit there and let it consume you or try to adapt and learn from it. Perseverance all that crap, it's what I've been taught even as a young kid 45 years ago, when the tough get going, the going get tough and all that crap.

It's a bit of a trend topic right now I can understand that sentiment, but it's wisdom that CAN help some people try to get over that initial parlaying reaction.

Risk for the sake of risk is stupid, but sometimes you have to approach a problem a bunch of different ways before you can overcome it.

Jon Dize's picture

16mm Camera, I agree with your assessment more than the general premise that failure is a quicker way to success. That can be catastrophically costly and litigious. I remember when I was being trained in photography, by my mentor Walter Thurston... at the time in 1973 Baltimore, Maryland, a photographer shot a wedding on 220 roll film and his lab used a Kreonite roller feed processing system. Apparently the plastic leader tabs directing the film through the rollers were warped and two or three rolls of 220 equal to 4 or 6 rolls of 120 roll film got stuck and bunched up like an accordion causing the loss of all but a few photos. Of course if you remember the envelopes you placed your film in at labs back in the day, there was always an indemnity clause releasing the lab from any and all responsibility, should Satan eat your film. The family sued the photographer for $ Tens of Thousands putting the photographer out of business, causing him to lose his home. What did he learn from his FAILURE? REAL ESTATE! I say, learn your craft, practice your craft, plot and plan for what I call the "Zero Oh Shit Factor" and as I stated previously, the difference between pro shooters and amateur shooters... PROS HAVE A PLAN B. There is an old saying that is proven true in much of life if you live long enough. "You can do a thousand good deeds and nobody goes out of their way to tell anyone, but screw up one time and a thousand people will spread the word." a shorter version is, "It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it." Some never get to recover from a failure or two. HAVING SAID THAT... of course we all have our moments. And as YOU SAID 16mm, it is important not to dwell or become overwhelmed, disillusioned by those failures, errors or mistakes, but build upon them. But I do agree with some, invite failure or dismiss failure as just part of success is begging for a catastrophic event, a life altering loss. In 2019 Americana, "I'm sorry!" is no longer acceptable... lawsuits and judgments are.

michaeljin's picture

Having worked in a lab that used a leader card system for processing (as opposed to dip and dunk), I have been on the other end of that and I can tell you how horrible I felt every time such a thing happened and the look in the photographers' eyes when we had to give them the bad news. :(

michaeljin's picture

Well said. :)

Jon Dize's picture

Michael Jin, I agree with your assessment and offer you the same response I posted for 16mm Camera above. Wise advice and strategy.

michaeljin's picture

Thanks. It's nice to know that I'm not completely crazy. LOL!

Mr Hogwallop's picture

If you never fail, you aren't really trying hard enough...
All the education, planning, testing, prep is great until the game starts. Sometimes I play it safe because the fear of failure. But that often is not the best work, it's the safeway, it's predictable. It's good and accepted by the client, but often filler for the website, not a lead photo. That's why there is so much similar work out there.

Honda did a couple very nice films about dealing with failure.