A few months ago I had the good fortune of attending a photography seminar put on by a couple of pros from National Geographic. It was a whole day spent hearing general tips but also, and probably more importantly, hearing the stories behind their photos and the ways that they approach their shots. It wasn’t about technical photography skills as much as it was about figuring out how to portray what was in front of you in a way that made for a powerful photo. It was about how we see things and how we can help others see them.
It left me feeling both totally inspired and like I have never taken a good photo in my life. It made me want to be better.
One of the things that was discussed during the seminar was to never feel frustrated with all the shots that we take that don’t turn out well. We were told to look at all those “bad” pictures as notes. They are our notes on what worked and what didn’t and by moving through and learning from them, we get closer to the shots that are truly great. I like that idea. I like it a lot.
This all became very relevant to me as I’ve begun preparing for our upcoming trip to Kauai. When we first visited the island a couple years ago I was “very into” photography. I took a bunch of pictures, some of which I thought were kind of decent. Looking back at them now? I don’t love a single one. I see flaws and failures. Places where the composition was terrible or I didn’t make good use of the available light. I see lots of shots taken in the middle of the day when I should have been dragging my ass out of bed for sunrise. I see pictures that could have maybe been somewhat salvaged if I had only been shooting in RAW.
I see an awful lot of pictures but I don’t see many that I want to share with the world.
It’s disheartening, yes, but it’s also a good reminder of how far I’ve come. And it’s a good reminder of how far I have to go. I am hoping to come home from this trip to Kauai with a cache of pictures that I’m in love with. And I’m hoping that in a few years, I will think that these new pictures are complete and utter shit. Because I want to keep pushing and learning and improving. I want to feel like this is only the beginning. I don’t ever want to feel like I’ve “got it”.
The failures as notes idea applies to more than just photography. The days that you run out of water on a hike and end up crawling back to the car delirious and dehydrated? Those are your notes. The times that you go over the bars or slide out in gravel or forget to unclip at a damn stop sign and go down hard in front of an audience of amused drivers? More notes. When you forget to eat on a run and end up in a horrible bonk? Those feelings of shakiness and nausea and inability to move even one more foot? You’ve got it. Notes.
So here’s to embracing failure for what it is – and learning to see it in a different way.
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