You're Allowed to Take Bad Photos: It's Not the End of the World

You're Allowed to Take Bad Photos: It's Not the End of the World

I'm going to let you in on a little secret, one that lots of people know, but for some reason, not that many people talk about. You're allowed to take bad photos; it's alright, and your world won't come crashing down.

I write this piece as someone who genuinely knows the struggle of what it's like to be very (overly) self critical. Being someone who is constantly pushing themselves to do better, sometimes by beating myself up when images or a shoot don't quite turn out the way that I had expected or hoped. If you can relate, I'm here to tell that it's okay, that we're not so different, and that we're going to get through it. We are allowed to drop the ball, we are allowed to mess up, and we are allowed to take images that aren't very good (even downright bad images).

First, it's important to know that this happens to all of us, regardless of how long we've been shooting, we all miss the mark and botch a shoot. Whether it's a landscape shot that we really wanted to get right or a portrait that we had in our heads that we just couldn't get to materialize, we all make mistakes, and we all mess up. No matter the skill level or years of experience, we all mess up. Knowing this is an important first step towards cutting ourselves a little bit of slack. Know that [insert your favorite famous photographer's name here] also messes up on occasion; yes, even that person. Literally everyone takes bad photos sometimes, and this knowledge is power.

Step two is learning to learn from bad photos instead of beating yourself up over them. A bad photo is a learning experience, not a time to punish ourselves for the mistake (which quite possibly may not be entirely our fault). Take time to examine the bad shots and identify why they didn't quite work. Was it the lighting? Are the colors wrong? Is the wardrobe, posing, or expression wrong? Maybe it's the weather that just made for flat, dull photos. Believe me, I understand the frustration of getting home from a shoot, excited to load the memory card on the computer, only to realize that I just didn't end up with what I had been hoping for. It sucks; there is no way around it, but at the same time, it doesn't need to ruin your life. Keep trekking and keep learning; in the grand scheme of things, bad photos don't matter that much.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, it is important to note that there are times when it's really extra important to get it right. The most obvious example is any event that cannot be repeated (no do-overs), and the first thing that comes to mind is a wedding. If you're shooting a wedding, you really want to take the necessary steps to ensure that you don't drop the ball. This is one reason why second shooters are important, to double down on getting the important shots. Anytime that you're being paid to get it right or when the event is in theory once in a lifetime, you probably don't want to be getting too experimental; focus on getting it right.

I'd like to leave everyone (myself included) with the simple reminder to stay positive. Bad photos are an unavoidable part of the journey, they are part of the creative process, and they happen to every single one of us. They might make us sad, depressed, angry, or upset for a moment, but that moment passes. As with everything creative and artistic, wanting to get it right doesn't always make it so. We are going to screw up, and it might happen when we really, really want to get it right. The less time we spend tearing ourselves down over our crappy shots, the more time we have to learn from them, try again, and keep growing. If you're reading this, leave a positive quote or message in the comments that brings a smile to your face.

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8 Comments

Except wedding photos ;)

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

Oh good! All my stuff is kinda crap anyway......

Eric Robinson's picture

Every one takes bad photographs. .........But what makes a photographer a good photographer is that they cull all the bad ones so they never see the light of day.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Well, that and their ability to shake it off and keep trying. Staying motivated through slumps and rough patches is invaluable.

Rod Kestel's picture

I took a bad photo once, remember it well. 15 Dec, 2013, my 23 shot of the day was a little off focus. It was a tough lesson, but with help from my therapist, I've come to accept it, move on.

Rob Mitchell's picture

However, you're apparently not allowed to make slightly sarcastic comments, they get deleted.
What gives?

If not for all the bad photos, I would hardly have anything worth showing. I have to work hard on the best of the bad to make something mildly amusing, to me at least.

Eric Robinson's picture

You make a good point, though it just goes to prove how difficult it is to, take, make or create an outstanding image.