When Does Epic Failure Equal Success?

I've been mentally sitting on this blog post for a couple months. And yes, the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but it got your attention, right?

For Artists and Everyone Who Has Ever Screwed Up

Why am I bothering to put my thoughts into words about a negative experience? Because even though I don't think all our negative stuff in our lives needs to be broadcast, I do feel that others have experienced something similar — whether it be in photography, another art form, your job, or any aspect of your life. Life isn't perfect, no matter how many happy things we put on Facebook. And I think it's worthwhile for others (especially other photographers) to know that I struggle with some things, too.

You see, I was so disappointed with most of the film images I took during our vacation in New Zealand back in March. I mean — really — disappointed. And not just just because of my inexperience with shooting film (I expected that). I'm talking about newbie mistakes, things that I know better not to do — photographs that made me say "what the <bleep> was I thinking?" after I got the film developed. It was like I'd forgotten everything I've learned the last ten years.


We've all been disappointed in ourselves — job performance, artist ability, life. Failure, no matter how large or small, just plain sucks. For this little essay, it was artistic disappointment in myself that got me writing.

Here's what I think happened with me. And maybe me thinking about my epic failure (which, again, yes, is an exaggeration in the big picture of things), will help you and I do better in the future, no matter what category the disappointment falls under.

First -- Let's let ourselves off the hook! People who never make mistakes are, well, just plain weird. Be weird for other reasons, but mistakes are honest.

But ok, we (I) still want some nice photographs. Here's what I figured out about my recent artistic failure. (And see if you can think of your own lessons to be learned from your disappointments. Learn from the past to make fewer future mistakes.)

Three Things to Remember to Be Happier with your Photographs

I realized that I had put undue pressure on myself that I HAD to shoot. (I was in frikkin' New Zealand!) The bad result of this self imposed pressure was I took photos in places and lighting conditions that I never would have back home in Minnesota.

  1. If I wouldn't press the shutter at home, it's probably not worth it on vacation. (And just because you're' shooting digital, do you really think you'll ever look at that photo again?)
  2. If you're creating an image that is more than a quick snapshot (cause we all take those!), don't forget your basic rules of composition (or if breaking them, be intentional, not random about it). Take that extra minute or more to think about what you're doing.
  3. At some point, you most likely won't have the widest or longest zoom range you want, and real physical barriers might prevent you from "zooming with your feet" to get the view you want. You need to accept that you don't have the shot. A shitty shot is a shitty shot, and no amount of post processing will take the stink out. So enjoy the view with your eyes, take a mental snapshot, and move on with your day.

What I took away from my "epic failure"

(say that in a deep big booming voice and it's kinda humorous)

  • It's good to be reminded about the basics.
  • Failure is ok. It's how I learn. Find the "good nuggets" in your experience to take away for later.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

What About You?

Tell me about your "epic" failures in the comments below, and what you learned from them.