You heard me right… Don’t be afraid to SUCK!
Yes, it’s okay to fail in order to become a better photographer. In fact, you need to fail if you want to improve your skills!
Think about it- the lessons that tend to stand the test of time are generally the ones that come out of our biggest failures.
New photographers constantly send me questions asking for black and white definitive answers. What setting do I use for this? What lens should I use for this? Is this right?
Stop being afraid to try things! Experiment! The world won’t end if you screw up a picture. And the best part is that, if you’re shooting digital, you can make the necessary adjustments and take another shot.
I’ve found that this fear of making mistakes generally occurs for one of two reasons:
Number 1: We are taught in school that everything has a right or wrong answer, and if you follow the rules, you get a good grade. A good grade makes it right, and it’s good to be right…. Right? In the end, though, this right or wrong mentality just makes us lazy and poor learners. Because after all, why would we even bother to try it if it isn’t “right?”
Number 2: and hopefully this isn’t you – I meet a lot of young photographers that are just too damn lazy to actually practice photography– practice for the sake of learning, that is. Instead they only pick up the camera when the photographs they’re taking are very important or, worse yet, when somebody is paying them. Then they’re trying to figure it out on the fly and are afraid of messing up a job for a paying client.
Photography is a creative endeavor. There are no guarantees, there is no right or wrong, and the only rules are the rules of physics; not composition and lighting ratios and all that crap the more experienced photographers use to tell you that your pictures suck!
Rules stifle creativity. Laziness prevents creativity from happening.
Don’t take my word for it? Fine. But what about Einstein? Albert Einstein might have been best known for his theory of relativity and physics discoveries, but he also had a great appreciation for creativity, and understood its value in almost every life pursuit.
Below, I’ve listed 10 lessons that every photographer can learn from Einstein’s writings. These lessons apply not only in your pursuit of knowledge as a photographer but also in your development as a creative individual and a successful businessperson, should you go down that road. Now, without further ado, here are Einstein’s thoughts on….
- Curiosity: “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
- Mistakes: “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”
- Imagination: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions. Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
- Perseverance: “It’s not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”
- Focus: “Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.”
- Spontaneity: “I never think of the future – it comes soon enough.”
- Value: “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”
- Foolishness: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
- Knowledge: “Information is not knowledge. The only source of knowledge is experience.”
- Rules: “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.”
Pretty sage advice I would say.
Now, it’d be a little hypocritical of me to just present you with this advice and swear it works without actually having tried it out myself. So— storytime! —
When I was a teenager,– if you can imagine back that far–cameras didn’t have autofocus. There were no zoom lenses, and we had to shoot with film. I practiced with my camera every day so that I could master the skills needed to shoot sports and news photography.
These images below were shot when I was in my mid-twenties. I had just left the newspaper business, set up a small studio and I was shooting everything from Little League photos to portraits to weddings. I was contacted by a local advertising agency that asked if I had the ability to shoot large format transparencies. 4×5 Sheet FILM – yes, FILM. The client was a national food processor and the images would be used in magazines, in-store advertising and packaging.
The first problem was that I had never used a large format camera and second, I didn’t own one. Now this was before the Internet and B&H Photo. So I said yes to the job, got on a bus the next day, and traveled the 2 hours to New York from Philadelphia and purchased a 4×5 camera, lenses, cable release, tripod, film holders, polaroid back and LOTS of 4×5 sheet film. I also bought a book on 4×5 cameras.
I came home that night and read the book. The next day, I spent the entire day shooting polaroids with the camera and two days later, with the client, two representatives from the ad agency, and a food stylist from New York in my studio, I shot my first ever image with a 4×5 camera. That is the sandwich shot you see below:
A few weeks after shooting the food job, the agency got me another assignment shooting oxygen flow meters for dentist’s offices. I had never shot metal or glass in a studio setting. I practiced for three days with 35mm black and white film. When the day of the assignment came, it took me 6 hours to light this shot below so there was no glare or reflections and then shoot it on 4×5 sheet film.
My last example, below, is this photo of floating control panels. This picture was also taken on film, long before there was Photoshop and also the first time I had to shoot a product in a studio. This image hasn’t been retouched. Can you figure out how I made the panel float?
The moral to my story here is that I was young and dumb but, that aside, I believed in my ability to work things out. I never worried about failing. Failing is always a possibility. I took the opportunity, did the research, put in the time to practice and perfect the skill and just went for it.
So what are you waiting for? Stop asking so many questions. Stop being afraid of messing up a shot.
Just like anything else in life, you need to put in the hard work, make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and then find new and exciting mistakes to make. Your next shot could be a total disaster. Or, you know, your next shot could be your best shot. So keep learning, keep thinking and keep shooting. Adios!