The Importance of Failure

by Sean Setters
We all want to succeed in whatever we do. If we didn't, we wouldn't put the effort in doing whatever it is we're attempting in the first place. However, to gain the experience necessary to master any skill, you must first fail time and time again. Photography is no different.
While portraiture has always been my first love, I've tried my hand at several types of photography over the past few years – sports, macro, landscape, architecture, infrared and panoramic (just to name a few). And I have failed miserably at all of them. At least, at first.
Every time I pick up my camera, my goal is to capture an image that I'm proud of – an image worthy of sharing on social media or simply with friends. But I'm not always successful at accomplishing my goal. But here's the most important part – I have learned infinitely more from failure than I ever have from success.
Each time I return home from a photo venture, and realize I have nothing that I'm ultimately proud of, I analyze the images to figure out why. This period of reflection (which usually includes research and brainstorming) has led to many of the best "light bulb" moments I've had throughout my photographic journey. And those moments of inspiration add up to a mountain of experience that I call upon when faced with future challenges. And it all comes from failure!
The moon image above is a prime example of this process. I had tried numerous times to capture the moon but was never very happy with the end result. But here are the things I learned from the failed attempts:

  1. On a clear night, the moon can be very bright. Therefore, you can use a relatively fast shutter speed, low ISO and moderately wide aperture to capture it. The fast shutter speed reduces motion blur caused by the moon's movement across the sky.
  2. Shooting a full moon is not ideal. When the sun rakes across the moon (as in the shot above), the features of the moon become much more clearly defined because of the shadows cast by those features.
  3. A 300mm focal length (when used on a current, high resolution full-frame camera) is enough to get a reasonably good picture of the moon (with some very heavy cropping, that is). Even more focal length is preferable, though.
  4. Manual focus using 10x Live View, manual mode, a 2-second timer and a solid support system are ideal.
  5. Fun Tip: Using a tripod mounted camera and 10x Live View, you can actually watch the moon travel across the sky in your LCD. The magnification makes the movement much more obvious (it's really cool!).

The fear of failure can be a paralyzing force. It can cause you to put your camera down and not pick it up again for ages. Instead, I urge you to perceive failure as an opportunity to gain valuable experience that will enable you to succeed spectacularly in the not-so-distant future. So keep shooting!
I challenge you to grab your camera, try something new and fail. But use the experience to hone your skills so that you are even better prepared to conquer the challenge the next time around. ;-)

Posted: 1/14/2014 7:08:22 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
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