A Guide to Making Mistakes

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Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
— Edmund Burke

Years ago, when I was first starting to shoot photos for money, I was hired to shoot product photos. This was a time where, I didn’t really concentrate in anything in particular, I just liked photography, so I said “Yeah, I do it all.” (Narrator: He did not, in fact, do it all.)

I didn’t really do much product photography at the time, but how hard could it be?

Not only that, but I sucked at editing.

Long story short, it was supposed to be a kind of Instagram-y lifestyle look (although this might have been pre-Instagram), and I just blew it. These photos were just straight up BAD.

The client then reinforced that by telling me: “These photos are bad.” (Not really, they were way more polite about it. They basically told me that the photos just weren’t what they were going for.)

That moment horrified me, and it was my first taste of failure in photography, something I cared about greatly. Since at the time I was very much a novice, I certainly suffered from the Dunning-Kruger effect and couldn’t conceive of the things I did not know, so I assumed I knew them all.

What I Learned

That was a HUGE lesson for me. Through that failure I learned more about editing, lighting, and composition than through almost any other time in my photography career. Not only that, it taught me some bigger philosophical concepts that I operate from to this day:

First, it made me value preparedness. Being prepared isn’t simply for being professional around a client, but also to give you peace of mind when going to a job. When you are prepared and do the best work you know you can do, suddenly criticism doesn’t sting as much anymore. If I talk the talk, I better walk the walk, and if I know I can walk the walk, then I have far less to worry about.

Second, it made me feel something I don’t want to feel again. By not being self-aware of my ability, I opened myself up to the comeuppance that come with not being totally honest with myself. I was more than happy to buy into my friends telling me I was good, and that was all I needed. Sure, sometimes you surprise yourself, but generally I learned that I should have a realistic gauge on my ability, lest I endure that horrible feeling in my stomach again.

Third, I learned that this failure really did more good for me than harm. I don’t beat myself up for this happening. Don’t get me wrong, I did for a while, but now, I realize that it instilled better habits and kicked me in the pants to work harder to be as good as I possibly can. Falling on my face in this way really just gave me a taste of what happens if I stop pushing forward. I’m also thankful I learned this lesson so early in my photography journey, because it really did a lot to shape Will Malone Photography as it is today.

I’m glad I screwed up like this, and we should all be. We should work hard to do our best work and not make huge mistakes, but when we do (which is inevitable), we gladly accept the lessons that mistake is handing us.

It royally sucks when we let anyone down, client or not, but the way we respond and try to fix a mistake sometimes can have a bigger impact for the good of the situation than the mistake itself.

*insert Michael Caine quote from Batman Begins about why we fall here*