The Day After
For the life of me, I can’t remember the critter but I know it was a bird. I had been shooting all day with the 600mm on a tripod and getting some really cool stuff, biology that hadn’t been recorded before. I was really excited, too excited as it turned out. When the film came back (yeah, this was a while ago), all the images were soft. The pile of slides in the trash can got taller and taller and my spirits sank further and further. It was a disaster and there was nothing I could do about it. I felt like shit!
I’ve not had that experience since, it is amazing how such an event seared into my head to always press my eye against the eyecup for proper long lens technique. But the human psyche is a funny place. This past weekend another photographer had a once in a lifetime opportunity and, at least in his mind, toasted it by making a typical, what I call, pilot error. Did they know it at the time, this big mistake? Nope, they were so caught up in the amazing moment that they missed an important aspect to shooting so when later that night they looked at their images, they experienced the horrible sick feeling that inflicts photographers when they screwed up.
The next day is the worse, especially if you’ve gotta shoot again. You put that camera up to the eye and all that “failure” from the day before comes crashing back. You often put the camera right back down again, not even taking that shot. You question your worth, wonder why you’re up early again when you blew the opportunity the day before. You question the very reason you’re a photographer. It’s just a really bad day!
And if you haven’t made this mistake, in my opinion you need to! If you’ve not had a major screw up like this, then your photography suffers. You can’t go back and retake a photo (unless it’s in the studio, a subject that’s not living and the light bulbs didn’t blow), it’s over with and life has moved on. You’ve gotta grasp that thought and move on yourself. And if you don’t learn two important lessons from the incident, you are sure to live it again. The first thing you learn, never make that same mistake again (though there are plenty of new ones we can make). Second, that it’s only a photograph!
Now I’m speaking from experience here, don’t have to make this stuff up. We put one heck of a lot of pressure on ourselves when we go out shooting. It can manifest itself from being cranky to the sweats and everything in between. It is, to wrap it up in a big bow when we put this kind of pressure on ourselves, no fun! So then why do we do it, put all that pressure on that click? The fear of failure? I know that was my issue for a long time, especially when I was young and new to this thing. I had to prove myself to someone that I knew what I was doing. Of course, as you get older you realize there is no one to prove yourself to, except yourself!
To this day, I really hate missing a photograph. I really get the maddest when I have an amazing opportunity and I have some type of equipment failure. Those are preventable a lot of the time so the anger while it might be focused on that particular piece of gear, reality soon kicks in and it’s pointed inward. The one difference though for myself today when this happens is, I can blow it off much faster and often relish going back for the second time. A long time ago when I made my first Blog Poster Action, I toasted the action and lost it. I was so pissed at myself. I emailed by friend Peter Bower at the NAPP Help desk and asked if there was any way I could rescue the lost Action. His response is something I often think about, “You make it better the second time.”
If it’s meant to be, those golden photographic moments do return to us. We are older, wiser and often better equipped in every sense to do an even better job the second time. So don’t let the failures of photography get you down. Rather, embrace them and let them make you smile knowing that you are human, you’ll learn from it and that with time, the photo gods will put that opportunity in front of your lens again!