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The Art of Falling Down

Wow!  I really messed that shot up…….and that’s awesome!  What could possibly be so grand about screwing up a shot?  Well, that depends on WHY you messed up the shot to begin with.  If you messed up a shot that in all accounts you have taken a thousand times, then maybe it isn’t so wonderful.  However, if you took a chance on trying something new or creative, congratulations!  That is the mindset needed for growth.

There is an art to falling down.  If you made the conscious decision to try a new technique, or use a new tool then you are moving in the right direction.   And if you want to make significant improvements in your abilities you have to learn to fall down.  Let go of the fear of failure and expect to fail.  It’s actually quite liberating.  This small shift in mindset relieves all the stress and anxiety.  Once you allow yourself to stop caring about the immediate results and you start to focus on the task at hand, the learning begins.  Expect to fail, and then learn from your mistakes.  This isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, however it’s easier to accept in theory than in practice.  Let today be the day that changes.

As photographers, we take multiple shots in hopes of getting that one shot where all the stars align.  The lighting, composition, exposure and emotions are all in line with our vision.  We walk away with the results we were looking for.  But what if we could have tried something else?  What if, after achieving the results we originally desired we decided to push the envelope?  It is only through uncomfortable expansion that we become a better photographer than we were yesterday.  Isn’t that what we all want? 

I can remember being a “natural light photographer” for years.  In many ways that title was created out of my fear of strobist work.  Flash work terrified me.  Adding that extra element into the equation just felt like too much.  I didn’t feel like I had mastered the core basics of natural light photography, so why would I ever think about grabbing a flash and getting to work?  Well, after a few years of lying to myself thinking that I could get by on my limited skillset, I found myself in a situation where I needed those skills……and I didn’t have them.  It was an awful feeling. 

So the next day, I purchased a flash and got to work.  I wanted to learn it all……yesterday.  As we all know it doesn’t work that way.  It takes time, effort, failure and self-reflection to grow.  I took some of the least flattering images of my life (I’m being kind) that first day with my flash.  I didn’t understand directional light at all.  What is bounce?  Lighting ratios?  I was floored by the amount of new knowledge that I needed to acquire to become proficient, let alone mastering it.  I was overwhelmed and completely motivated to make it happen.  I was really excited about the opportunity to learn and grow.

This opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  I started looking at strobist websites and clicking on every studio image on Flickr.  All of a sudden, I was completely fascinated by the one thing that terrified me just a few days earlier. 

As we all know, it’s not what you read that helps you improve your work.  Now it was time to practice what I learned.  Luckily I have a house full of children and pets; two kids, three dogs, a wife and even a few Buddhist statues.   I think at one point I even pulled in a Jehovah Witness that showed up at my door one afternoon.  Nobody and nothing that resembled a body was off limits.  I spent the next few days bouncing light all over my house.  Again, I walked away with some of the worst images I’ve ever taken.  I also walked away with some really nice images and a greater understanding of flash photography that I didn’t have just a few days earlier. 

As it stands today, I have a much greater understanding of flash photography and it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities.  My creative juices are flowing again and it feels amazing.  This never would have been possible if I didn’t learn the art of falling.  It’s “ok” if you fail as long as you learn and keep moving.  Let today be the day. 

Pro Tip: If you have made the decision to try something new (technique/tool), start out taking a collection of “safe shots” first.  Utilize the experience you already have to get the types of shots you are already capable of capturing.  Once you have yielded a healthy amount of these images, move on to the creative process of learning.  And most importantly, have fun.