“Success is a poor teacher. We learn the most about ourselves when we fail, so don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is part of the process of success. You cannot have success without failure.” – Rich Dad, Robert Kiyosaki
I was at a high-pressure shoot recently, and one of my clients was watching me make adjustments to my camera and lighting. They commented, “How do you remember all that stuff? You make it all look so effortless.”. The truth is that after thousands of photo shoots it has become second nature, but this wasn’t always the case.
Why am I always checking and rechecking exposure? Because I broke someone’s wedding. Yep, broke it.
The wedding was ten years BD (before digital) and very early in my career. I was so inexperienced that I didn’t realize the flash tube on my external flash was only emitting about 1/4 of its power and, as a result, I underexposed all the images by three to four stops. They could not be salvaged. I only managed to get one useable frame.
At the time, I just wanted to crawl into a hole and stay there, but this nightmare scenario defined the style of fill flash lighting I still use today.
I also developed a pre-shoot protocol that ensured I would never have this kind of disaster again. I always test all my equipment before a shoot and check and recheck exposure as I’m shooting.
“Fears are nothing more than a state of mind. Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure.” – Napoleon Hill
If I had not experienced this crushing blow early in my career, I might have become more slap dash as a photographer and prone to more failures, steering my career to go in another direction.
Why do I always use a light meter? Because I ruined the shot of my life by looking at my camera screen for the exposure and my hair light ended up being three stops over exposed. That shot should have stopped traffic. Instead, I lost a client.
Why do I back up twice while I’m shooting? Because an assistant (accidentally) dumped an entire shoot into the trash. I’m still in need of therapy over that one.
I’m proud to admit that I have failed spectacularly on countless occasions.
The aftermath was always the same. I’d have a complete meltdown and become a bit tired and emotional. I’d then spend a week at home curled up in the fetal position watching entire seasons of One Tree Hill and consuming my body weight in Nutella.
As painful as each failure is, I learned something new each time, and I never made those mistakes again. They became burned into my brain.
“Failing is one of the greatest arts in the world. One fails toward success.” – Charles Kettering
You need to go out and fail, time and time again. Get up, cry for a bit, learn, grow, and move on.
At the time, these failures were devastating but I now know that my spectacular failures and toughest moments have been my greatest teachers and have molded me into the photographer that I am today.
I’m also proud to be part of a massive club of spectacular failures who have all gone on to achieve remarkable success.
Here are a few of my favorites:
- Comedian Jerry Seinfeld completely froze during his first stand up gig and was booed off stage. He went back the next night was a huge success and went on to become one of the most successful American comedians in history.
- Elvis Presley got fired from one of his first gigs and was told, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.” Elvis Presley is one of the greatest recording artists of all time.
- Oprah Winfrey (my hero) was fired from her television reporting job because TV executives thought she wasn’t fit to be on screen.
She went on to create and star in “The Oprah Winfrey Show” the most watched talk show in the world, turning Oprah into a billionaire.
- Winston Churchill failed grade six and lost every government position he ran for. He went on to become British prime minister at the age of 62.
And one of my all time stories of how failure led to success is Apple founder, Steve Jobs. He was devastated after being removed from the company he started. Years later in a commencement speech at Stanford University he reflected:
“I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”
When he returned to Apple, he created some of the most iconic products in the world, including the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and he went on to become one of the richest men in the world.
“Never, never, never give up.” – Winston Churchill
Have you experienced any spectacular failures, and what have you learned from them? What are your strategies for coping with failure? I’d love to hear from you.
Gina is the author of four dPS eBooks including:
- Portraits: Making the Shot
- Portraits: Striking the Pose
- Portraits: Lighting the Shot
- Portraits: After the Shot
You can buy one for $19.99 or grab the whole bundle for only $49.99 (save 38%) from any of the links above.