Want To Turn Your Mistakes Into Mastery?

I'm going to say it now - because it isn't a secret. Learning photography can be frustrating. Truth be known learning anything new can be frustrating - as can most things worth doing in life. The thing is that breaking through these frustrations can be so rewarding - not just in photography but generally also.

Much "digital noise" is visible on this picture when zoomed in like this. This can easily happen if you are shooting on a high ISO.

​I'm going to share with you something else - I still get frustrated with photography. It's part of the natural process. Photography is an art. We learn by our mistakes. We learn by not keeping an eye on our camera's ISO or shutter speed, getting back home and looking at the pictures from the shoot. They're full of noise and unusable, or full of motion blur right where you didn't want it. You hit the delete button on the whole shoot with "that" feeling in the pit of your belly. You'll learn really quickly from those mistakes.

The Key To Learning Is Making Mistakes

It could have done with a faster shutter speed if we wanted to freeze action. Taking an "off" picture like this however allows you to see another potential technique - panning. Parts of the dog are almost sharp because the camera was moving with the dog. You can see motion blur on the grass in the background because the camera moved during the duration of the shot. Mistakes can actually bring revelations... if the camera had moved exactly in time with the dog this shot would have been stunning - the combined effects of sharpness and motion blur would really have worked.

Allowing yourself to make these mistakes and not beating yourself up over them will make you a better photographer - but only if you don't give up. Try to remember that these mistakes get made by all - it's a right of passage. You knew you needed a fast shutter speed, but you were concentrating on the aperture - you took your eye off the ball. Easily done, don't beat yourself up. Shoot it again having learned the lesson - you'll find the next shoot so much easier. That's how you will progress.

Making mistakes is normal, giving up is easy. Those of us that have succeeded in photography haven't done so with an absence of mistakes - we've made them all! The difference is we allowed ourselves the opportunity to learn from those mistakes, and didn't quit. Mistakes can be a better lesson sometimes even than being told how to do it right in the first place. You'll really remember the lesson from a mistake.

The last take home point I'm going to share is that when you make a mistake it doesn't feel like part of a nice shiny learning curve. You have to learn to take the mistake for what it is - see the big picture. It's not just you. It's all part of the process of becoming a better photographer - and the more mistakes you make the better you'll get at photography. Learn to see mistakes as your friends.

It's Not Just You Who Makes Mistakes

It is not easy to see when this image is small, but the camera is "front focusing" badly. The focus point is in front of the dog. Possible causes - wrong auto-focus mode, incorrect focus calibration fine tuning, using the wrong focus spot, the lens having too small a "wide open" aperture for all the camera's focus points to see through (the probable culprit), faulty equipment...

The day before writing this I went thorough exactly this process for the millionth time. I lost almost a whole shoot, when the light, colors and shot set up had been perfect. My autofocus went "off" (not literally - it was switched on and in the correct mode), for reasons better known to itself than me at the time. It was not detectable on the small screen of my camera, but when I got home the whole shoot was in very soft focus at best. I needed pin sharp focus, so most of the shoot is in the bin.

I looked at what may have caused the problem and have narrowed it down to two possible culprits. What looked like a kit malfunction probably wasn't anything of the sort. I was asking more of my lens than it could deliver - shooting beyond the capabilities of my kit.

The bottom line is that in theory I knew the limitations of my kit - but it is very different in practice when you are in the field. I made a mistake. For me that day may well mean I've outgrown the lens I was using - I was pushing it beyond what it's limits - but now I really know it's limits. That is a lesson I needed to learn - and there was only one way to really learn that - and that is by having it go wrong.

At every level of photography we are all still learning - it's a curve with no limits because it is an art form. If a professional tells you that they don't make mistakes - they're lying. They make mistakes - and learn valuable lessons.

By telling you this, I'm not going to pretend I'm holier than thou. When I got that shoot home I could have cried. It put a fire in the pit of my belly which hurt. That fire has now lighted a desire to get better shots than I would ever have got from that failed shoot. I'd missed some shots which could have been the best shots I'd ever taken in that genre I was shooting. Now I've worked out what went wrong all I can see is what I'm capable of doing when it goes right.

This Is How The Learning By Mistakes Process Goes...

Firstly, when you make a mistake, it's mortifying.

Next, when you've had a little time to think, you work out what went wrong - the learning curve part.

Next, you become inspired because you can see the possibilities if you get it right, and you start practicing to get it right with the benefit of what you learned in the previous step - the travelling up the learning curve part.

Then you create your best work ever, and you feel great - you've achieved something and got the results you deserve for your hard work.

​Please try to remember the rest of these stages next time you're mortified by an error.

​Enjoy the roller coaster!

Was this article helpful to you? How do you feel when things don't go quite right? Is there something doing wrong with your photography which you haven't quite worked out yet? As ever we'd love to hear from you so why not leave a comment - as ever you might inspire us to write a feature!

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