From Failure Comes Success

From Failure Comes Success


We all know who that man is, flying through the air, dunking a basketball. If you were to poll a bunch of people and ask them who the best basketball player of all-time is, I don’t think any of us could argue that the masses would most likely utter “Michael Jordan” more times than any other name. No, he’s not a photographer, but a prime example of someone who has failed over and over, yet he is the image of success. When you think of Mike, you think of thee best basketball player ever. Please watch the following video before continuing with the post.

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Mike’s message, “I fail therefore I succeed.” Motivationally speaking, does it get any better than that? What better spokesman to deliver this message, a guy that is at the top of his sport (back in 1997 when it first aired), yet he’s telling you about all of his failures. This is the topic of the day, as a photographer, how do you feel and view success and failure? How does it influence your past, present, and future shooting?

Basketball, photography, math, you name it… no one is born a professional at anything. Jordan didn’t pick up a basketball and swish his first three-pointer, in fact, he didn’t even make the high school varsity team his sophomore year. It took endless amounts of training, shooting, and hard work to make him the player you see dunking that ball.

I go on this non-photographic tangent to paint the picture of what I think success is. Success isn’t some perfect, relentless, machine of a human that can’t do wrong. Success is simply a byproduct of your efforts, failure being another (failure usually the dominant). You can’t go from A to Z without going through the rest of the alphabet, you can’t be “great” at something without passing through “ok” first. And even at great, you’ll never stop failing, you’ll just get more consistent in your work, like Mike.

This post is close on the heels of a recent post I wrote about inspiration. I know for some, reaching that point of great inspiration is easier than it is for others. Once we’ve all gotten to that point and we get out and use that inspiration to create things, well… sometimes it doesn’t turn out nearly as cool as we had envisioned it. In our minds, we may feel that we have failed ourselves. A lot of things around you will inspire you, inspire you to create things on the same or better level. I bet that for something to inspire you, it had to be something fairly special, maybe a movie for example. Realize that the typical movie has a TEAM of people working on that project for a year or two (many years when you consider story development, visual and concept teams working on it before the movie even goes into production). And the individuals on these teams have spent their entire lives refining their skills. Even most pro photographers have a team of people to perform pre, present, and post production, that total quite a few man hours and experience collaborating. Now how much time did you just spend on your inspired creation? How many years, dollars, and sacrifices have you made to make your creation come true? Keep in-check that you’ll only get out of that which you put into your work, and through all of your hard work will come great things. Also have faith that even though, in your mind, you may have failed, you have really succeeded. Maybe not in the end product of what you wanted, but the next time you set out to reach that same goal, you’ll be a lot closer to reaching it than you were before your last failed attempt. That’s experience. Experience, in a nutshell, is literally built upon failure.

As much as I like to succeed in life, I embrace failure with open arms. I lived a competitive childhood, heavily active in sports all the way through high school, and after that I continued recreational basketball, and at one point, got very serious in competitive billiards. I began to realize something, and that was that I never learned anything from my victories. You win, you feel successful, you go home, don’t think about it, wake up to compete another day, and all you gained another notch on the victory belt. If you lose… boy, you get something way more useful than a notch. A loss (failure) is the best way to improvement, in my mind. I’ll go over and over a failure in my head once it’s come and passed. I’ll think about what I did, what I could have done better, and how I’ll correct that in future situations. We do gain something from all experiences, but I think failures are where I find the potential for improvement much greater. So in that thought, I have no fear of failure. And with the loss of the fear in failure, my mind is much more free flowing and performs better. I’m much more creative without the feeling of boundaries. It allows me to step out of my comfort zone, which usually results in a product I’m very happy with.

The ‘failure to success’ process has many different levels and timelines. For a photographer, not even a pro steps into a shoot and nails the first shot dead-on. They spend a good few minutes getting the shot just right, aka failing for the first few minutes before they find success. A photographer may set out to compose a certain landscape shot that they want to be “perfect.” Well, maybe the light wasn’t right, it didn’t turnout the way they wanted, so they come back and try it another day. If determined enough, they will fail time and again until they succeed.

Success and failure is all relative, right? Depending on your goals and your experience levels, your success/failure balance will vary, so be reasonable with yourself when you set goals. For example, for Michael at the top of his career, it may be a failure in his eyes to miss a fade-away three-pointer with two defenders guarding him. While it may be a success for a beginning player to make it from one end of the court to the other without losing control of their dribble. As a photographer, starting out is hard. Unlike basketball (where you are dependent on your body), you are using a tool to capture photographs that needs to be fully understood before you can accomplish envisioned concepts. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of practicing and experimenting, lots and lots of it. It will take failing over and over again to get it right, until you become more consistent in a task, and even then you will fail in your efforts along the way, just not as much. If you are an experienced photographer and you are say… attempting to use off-camera lighting for the first time, it is extremely confusing, as you are having to learn the art of exposure all over again.

Like inspiration, use failures as fuel to push you work to new levels. Go home and look at your photos, really look at them, even the pics you consider a success. I bet you can find little things that could have been done at capture to improve your good photos just that much more. If you are out taking photos, you are gaining experience and growing your portfolio, and I don’t see how that could be a failure, no matter how you look at it. The truth is that all photographers take tons of terrible photos, and you only see a fraction of a fraction of their work, and that is the best of the best. So it’s easy to skew the reality that the photographers around you only take awesome photos, especially when you look at the last batch of 300 photos you just took and you only like a dozen. A dozen great photos out of 3oo attempts is great, and it’s a dozen photos you didn’t have before you just failed at 288 other photos. Now that we live in the digital world, a failed photograph doesn’t cost you a cent, pixels are free, so shoot away!

“You will fail over and over and over again, and that is why you succeed.”