Why Failure Is Critical to Becoming a Better Landscape Photographer

We’re digitally surrounded by success stories in the field of landscape photography. A handful of these successful photographers keep my social media clogged with stunning work and wanderlust-inducing locations. So if you want to be a successful landscape photographer, you should imitate their successes, right?

You wouldn’t be alone in that mentality, but ironically this is exactly the wrong way to get better. This fallacy of trying to imitate prior successes is called the “survivorship bias.” Like most cognitive biases, they are hard to spot because they come naturally.

The statistician Abraham Wald famously identified survivorship bias in armoring for bombers during World War II. As a photographer, the consequences of survivorship bias are less dire, but by focusing on successful work and spending our time learning from work that “made the cut,” we overlook information that is ten times more useful: why some images didn’t make the cut.

Amidst the barrage of success stories, Nigel Danson’s vlog on failing often at landscape photography is refreshingly honest. He’s spot on: you can never learn as much from successful images as you will from the failed ones.

So stay inspired and stay subscribed to your favorite photographers, but focus on the lessons you can apply from the failures. If you spend your time imitating prior successes and aren’t investing time to analyze your failures, you are stunting your growth as a landscape photographer.

Jonathan Lee Martin's picture

Jonathan Lee Martin is a fine art landscape photographer, educator and globetrotting digital nomad. He’s traveling the world for a year to discover unique landscapes and help fellow landscape photographers lighten their load to go further.

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Failure is the key to becoming a better anything. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result isn't the definition of insanity, it's the definition of practice.

But if you think your 5 second snap is the greatest and gets 200 likes on FB how do you know it's failed?

I guess, for most YouTubers the obvious is not so obvious ....

Often the obvious things are the things we neglect the most 🙃 h/t cognitive biases.

Failure shall never be neglected.