Failure and learning from it

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure” – Colin Powell

Failure is a bizarre thing, especially for an artist, and can be interpreted in many ways. For example, for me an image has failed if I don’t feel like it’s the best I can do, or if the concept behind it is weak, or if I am unable to edit it properly. I am constantly listening to the voice drumming in the back of my head, saying “I can do better. I can do better”. However, I find it’s often important to remember that often what we perceive as a failure is the result of our art not matching the clear picture we have in our heads, which is often why other people may still like our artwork even if we don’t ourselves; they aren’t comparing it to the picture in our heads, they are only judging it based on what they see in front of them.

But as photographers and artists and creators, we have to remember that failure isn’t permanent, nor is it final.

I did a photoshoot a few months back that I’d had planned for about a year. The concept was clear in my head, as was the shooting location and what the final result should be. However, when I came to shoot this, it seemed as though everything was working against me. I was very busy when it came to shooting and had managed to squeeze the shoot into the end of my day, which meant that when I finally left the house, the sun was beginning to set. Another problem I had was that I needed a load of golden apples as props, which I had painted earlier in the day and put in a box- which I left at home. So I had to drive back from the location to my house, get the apples, then drive all the way back to the location again. By this time, the sun was setting fast and my brain was frazzled. Despite this, I kept going and attempted to fight the moving, dying light until I was forced to stop shooting.

Sometimes when I’m editing an image, I am able to tell fairly early on that it simply isn’t going to work. This was one of those times.


I cannot tell you how much I was unhappy with this photo. This isn’t a completed edit, because I stopped as soon as I realised it that it was a lost cause. The lighting is patchy due to my battle with the setting sun; the light also kept moving after almost every shot so it was a nightmare to get it right. The arms that are reaching around the subject are too large and difficult to realistically edit. The framing is very out and just the least aesthetically pleasing thing I could’ve done. In other words: a complete omnishambles.

Now I was faced with two choices: Give up my idea as a bad job and move on; or adapt and try again. I’d had this concept in my head for over a year, so I wasn’t about to give up. I re-evaluated my plan and returned to the location the next day at about 1pm. The sky was overcast which produced a perfect, flat light for my shot. I change the position of my shot so that the background was more solid and less distracting and ditched the idea of painting the hands around the subject (along with the red ribbon blindfold).

I took my time, learning from the mistakes I had made the previous day and adapting my work to a new plan. This was the result:

In the Haunts of Goblin Men

In the Haunts of Goblin Men

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing” – John Powell.


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