Why Mistakes Are So Important to Your Photography Career

As a society, we have a rather odd predilection against the act of doing something wrong by accident. As photographers, we often feel like even the smallest mistake is reason for self-condemnation. Not only are mistakes inevitable, they are also one of the most powerful tools that you have at your disposal. 

"Mistake" Is Just a Negative Way of Saying "Discovery"

The only way that you can be sure to minimize mistakes is by doing the same thing over and over, never deviating. I couldn't possibly imagine anything more boring. Furthermore, it is only by deviating from our norms that we are able to expand our own abilities. The surest way to discover something new is by making a mistake and reacting to what we learned in the process.

Mistakes Reveal Your Devotion

It is no secret that in order to be the best at what you do, you must be always expanding your skill set. In order to do this, mistakes are not only expected, but are inevitable. It actually is extremely easy to deduce level of devotion by evaluation of how many mistakes are being made. Without pushing the envelope and risking mistakes, it becomes very easy to fall behind, which is much worse than a mistake ever will be.

Don’t be afraid to try new techniques during shoots; even if it doesn’t work out, you can always leverage that error to learn and adapt. Just make sure to create workable images using techniques you are already familiar with to ensure that you keep your client happy.

Mistakes Can Lead to Something Unexpected

Sometimes, a mistake can force you down a road that you would never have attempted otherwise. Many great images have been created because a photographer was forced to react in an unusual way to an unexpected situation. For example, in the image below, I had set up a large diffuser to block the sunlight and avoid any specular highlights. We shot several dozen images like that, which were ok, but just as we were about to move to the next look, a strong gust of wind slightly shifted the diffuser, letting a small ray of light through. Despite it being unintentional, I adored the dimension it added to the shot; so, we experimented with it to create the final image.

Mistakes Show How Good You Are

Clients know that you are human (despite sometimes acting otherwise). The mark of a creative professional isn't someone that lives a life free of error. A true professional is someone that knows when they have made a mistake and is not only able to admit it, but also able to quickly and efficiently find a resolution. Clients respect your ability to adapt to mistakes and are often impressed that you are pushing yourself by providing them with a level of quality that truly pushes your skills to the limit. Mistakes show that the service you are providing is actually extremely difficult and that you are bringing unique value to the table that your competitors do not. Photographers who master a simple technique and then refuse to adapt for the rest of their careers tend to fall from relevance.

Furthermore, expecting and mastering how you overcome your own mistakes helps prepare you for the many unexpected complications that are just a fact of life for any photographer.

Mistakes Can Be Funny

Well... not all of them. But a well-timed and handled mistake can not only lighten the mood, but also conjure a chuckle from those around. Throughout your career, you will make thousands of trivial mistakes that when redirected, evolve to become a great way to tickle a smile from everyone around. This can be a fantastic tool when leveraged to help nervous or guarded models break free of their stiffness and become more engaging during a shoot.

Mistakes Keep Your Fire Burning

Yet, despite the above revelations, making mistakes still makes you feel like crap! No one wants to make mistakes; I certainly don't, which is awesome! Mistakes are like throwing gasoline on your own internal fire. We are all secretly trying to be perfect, even though perfect is impossible.

Making mistakes reminds us that we aren't perfect, which naturally makes us want to work harder at trying to be perfect. So, keep making mistakes! Be the photographer who never stops making errors because that also makes you the photographer who never stops getting better!

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1 Comment

james johnson's picture

I'm not a very judgmental person, but the one thing I judge people on is how they handle "failure"— their own, but particularly someone else'. In order to grow in any creative endeavor, you have to feel safe both to succeed and to fail.