The Most Important Rule to Improve Your Photography

Whether you are just starting your journey or are a seasoned veteran, allowing yourself to fail can be difficult as an artist. Yet, it continues to be the absolute best way to improve your work.

Many times, we never even start something because we are too worried we’ll fail. I struggle to start new hobbies because I worry about being terrible at them. It doesn’t make any logical sense considering all of the people we look up to had to start somewhere, and the only way to learn is to try. However, I still find myself resisting, simply because the thought of being bad at something weighs on me.

Not wanting to fail is even worse when you’re experienced and established at whatever hobby or profession you practice. Whether your audience expects a certain level of work or you just hold yourself to a certain standard, the thought of not being good enough can be mentally taxing. Add in the constant reminder via social media that everyone around you is always succeeding and capturing stunning images. Failing can feel like the worst thing you can do and fearing it can be suffocating. 

We Must Fail

Something I remind myself constantly is that we have to fail. Everyone does, and it’s the only way we can get better at photography or anything for that matter. I think this is a lesson that applies to all facets of life, not just photography. No matter how often we remind ourselves, it can still be scary to be vulnerable and allow ourselves to not be perfect. Making YouTube videos about photography has forced me to be more vulnerable and shed some barriers. I’m tunneled into making weekly content that shows both the good and bad work I create. That means if I want to try something different or break out of my comfort zone to promote inner growth, then I have to essentially let myself fail in front of an audience. In a recent video, I did exactly that by locking in a composition I wasn't entirely sure was going to work.

The brightest exposure from a bracketed shot, straight out of camera. 

This is the image straight out of the camera. I wanted to try something outside my comfort zone and this composition qualifies. I could have taken a simpler shot than this one, with no foreground rocks, and probably come away with something decent considering the conditions set me up for success. There’s a lot to like about this moment: the ethereal look of the clouds, the soft light in the middle ground spires, and the textures of the landscape. 

Yet, I still look at this as a bit of a failure. My intention with those foreground rocks was to help lead the viewer's eye to the center of the image and balance with the shape of the clouds. Sadly, that isn't the result I ended up with, and those cliffs look more like a second thought, as if they are blocking the view you want too see rather than being part of the scene. Two things that could potentially have helped were if I shot this with a higher aperture and tried to get the rocks to be out of focus. It would also help if they weren't the brightest object in the scene, but that wasn't what I was presented. 

Salvaged in edit? 

Here is the edit I walked away with. Maybe with a bit of a heavier hand, I could have salvaged the final image, but that isn’t the lesson here. This isn't about this particular image. I have the luxury to take images all the time, experience many sunrises and sunsets, and have opportunities to try again. What I don’t do often enough is try something new, break out of my routines and comfort zones to allow myself to fail. This time was different: I let myself explore and accepted the vulnerability in having to share my failure with an audience. 

I recommend everyone let themselves fail more often and not be scared to talk about it. We could all use a little more vulnerability in our lives. None of us are perfect, and the absolute best way to learn is to try something new without worrying about the results. At the end of it all, maybe I stumbled into successfully failing. So, was it a failure at all?

Alex Armitage's picture

Alex Armitage has traveled the world to photograph and film some of the most beautiful places it has to offer. No matter the location, perfecting it's presentation to those absent in the moment is always the goal; hopefully to transmute the feeling of being there into a visual medium.

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There's no such thing as failure, but there are multiple opportunities provided to us daily to examine what we do and to learn from missteps.

I would suggest that failure just is not learning from our missteps.

Failure exists when we we refuse to get up again.

Failure! Do you fail using film where you only get one image not a bracketed set. And not able to do editing except maybe in a real darkroom. You show the canyon ever look at the postcards that are sold where the canyon has a blue cast in the lower part and overdone red and yellow colors that were taken years ago with film - they still sell today!
To be honest any capture of the example Grand Canyon is in need of a bracketed 5 @ +/- 2ev because of the darkness in the lower part and subdued colors during sunrise/sunsets but with colorful lit clouds.

"Success is the ability to move from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Attributed to Winston Churchill (although the provenance is dubious)

I believe it’s worth noting that if failing is the goal, we will fail. However if we have a ‘finish line’ we would like to cross, even if we ‘fail’, it gives us the strength to keep pushing forward. Otherwise, how could we measure failure and success? We would be all over the place and our growth would stop just there.

When you count your failures, they outnumber your successes
When you weigh them the result may differ

Important advice
Take off the lens cap