Failure Is The Foundation to Success

Model Photography

One of our photography workshop models.

Failure in photography will happen to everyone that owns a camera at some point in his or her life. I have failed many times and I’m sure you’ve failed at least once in something if not photography. Others have failed too, but the key to overcome failure is to understand why it happened, learn from it, and then commit to your goals so you can move forward—determination along with a little bit of humility leads to success.

For example, the editor of the Kansas City Star fired a young fellow named Walt Disney because he felt Disney “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Then there was this young lady who was publicly fired from her first job as a television anchor in Baltimore because the station thought she was “too emotionally invested in her stories.” Well Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire now.

Want a little more motivation? Did you know the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts rejected Stephan Spielberg multiple times? Then there was the unemployed single mom living on welfare, J.K. Rowling, who went on to author Harry Potter and was rejected by the first 12 publishers before she became the first billionaire author.

Speaking of authors, Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, had his first book rejected by 27 publishers before he went on to sell over 600 million books. If you think that sucked for the publishers that said “no,” James Dyson went through 5,126 prototypes in 15 years before he finally got his first vacuum cleaner right, today his net worth is approximately $5 billion!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let’s get back to photography failures and how we can get back up after we fall. Here are some of the top reasons why photographers fail.

1. Failure in photography happens when we get caught up in the art, and forget about the business. While yes, those serious in photography are true artists they still need to allocate time and effort to business matters. This is probably the most difficult challenge for any photographer, especially for the most creative types. You know, the right brain, left brain dichotomy? Well, it’s considered real, but creative or not, we’ve got to tap into that left side of our brain too, and we’re not talking politics here, it’s business. If a photographer can find a “business mentor,” he or she will rise.

2. Failure in photography happens because of communication, normally the lack of it. You have to communicate with your subject, or client, as silence doesn’t help anyone. You also must communicate to the intended audience with your photos. For example, if you’re hired to photograph a wedding by the parent of the bride, who is the client? That answer is simple, the bride, no one else really matters, but get your money upfront, because ultimately it’s about pleasing the bride, not mom or dad. If she’s happy, so is mom, dad, and the future husband.

3. Failure in photography happens when you don’t edit your photos. There are two types of editing processes. The first is photo editing where you identify your best images, Adobe Lightroom is ideal for this—separate the best images from the mediocre ones. Professional photographers show their clients the best images, rarely the entire shoot as we all take bad photos to get the great ones.

The second editing process is called “editing photos,” or more commonly known today as postproduction, Adobe Photoshop is the best tool for postproduction. Do your best to get it right in the camera first, and then if necessary, take your time to properly edit your images, as the images you release are a direct reflection of your photographic abilities.

4. Failure in photography happens when you don’t prepare before your shoot. No photographer wants to look like an amateur because they forgot the required equipment. Check and make sure you have everything you need, including charged and spare batteries, the day before your shoot. Don’t wait until an hour before your photo shoot. Ensure you’re fully prepared for your shoot, especially if that includes access badges or additional location requirements—don’t just assume you’ll have what you need when you arrive on location. A “checklist” works great for this and this is why the FAA requires pilots to use checklists before takeoff, in flight, and upon landing, to prevent potential catastrophes.

5. Failure in photography happens when you don’t focus on your client’s needs. Clients, or subjects come to you for a reason, because of what you can provide that synergizes with their concept. Think of your clients as the one that provides you the building plans and you have to do the construction.

6. Failure in photography happens when you don’t pre-visualize. So the client provided you the building plans, but before you build it, you have to pre-visualize what it will look like—thus you make sure you have the tools, materials, and are familiar with the location, before you break ground.

7. Failure in photography happens because photographers don’t price their services properly. Your talent is worth something to someone, do your research and figure out what that worth is, don’t give away your talent. Use the The Picasso Principle—Pricing Photos as a guide. Time is money, and your time, along with your experience, talent, and the wear and tear on the equipment you use is worth money. Value yourself, don’t devalue your photography, it isn’t about being cheap, it’s about being valuable.

8. Failure in photography happens because photographers fail to promote themselves. Photographers can’t rely just on social media; while social media is part of your marketing plan, you must also do things like get involved in your community, distribute business cards along with promotional flyers, and set a monthly budget for both printed and virtual advertising. Target your audience, and research the demographics of the advertising vehicle to ensure it matches your target customer base. People must know you exist plus what you can provide with your skills and talent.

9. Failure in photography happens because many photographers worry about others and what others think about them, instead of thinking about themselves. Don’t compare yourself to others, be yourself and avoid that distraction. Nobody wants duplicates. Think about that for a second, what if every male actor looked, talked, and acted like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise? Movies would become mundane. Be original, focus on you, not them. People want originality, something that sets you apart from the ordinary.

In the movie, A Bronx Tale, Sonny tells Lorenzo, “Mickey Mantle don’t care about you, so why should you care about him?” People are about themselves, they want to know what you can do for them, not what they can do for you. Focus your finite source of energy on yourself; don’t drain your energy by keeping track on others and what they are doing—you aren’t wasting their time, you’re only wasting yours.

10. Failure in photography happens when photographers lack confidence. Confidence is an attractive quality and an entity like an advertising agency will not hire you if they feel you lack confidence as they have too much to lose, including their own client. If you need major surgery would you request a surgeon who lacked confidence in their abilities?

11. Failure in photography happens when photographers don’t recognize that what they have already works and what they want, might not work. If you’re hired by a client it’s based on what you’ve already accomplished with what tools and talent you already have, don’t fall into the trap of chasing things you want, but don’t need. We all want things in life, nice things, but what we need works, and usually what we need we already have and it works. What we want we desire, and that creates an insecurity that things just might not work.

12. Failure in photography happens because photographers don’t define their style or develop a photographic style. Style takes time to develop, but with consistency it comes quicker. Study other successful photographers’ styles, take a small bit from each one that perks your interests, and funnel those styles into your unique style. Fine-tune your style as you go, but don’t be afraid to experiment outside your style too. Think of your photographic style as part of your brand.

13. Failure in photography happens because photographers fail to own their own website. While it’s great to have photography portfolios to showcase your work on domains like Flickr, 500px, Facebook, Instagram and others, you also need a YourDomain.com website too. Websites are inexpensive today, and offer lots of easy customization. Your own website can allow you to showcase your talent, plus your services and provide easy contact with potential clients.

14. Failure in photography happens because photographers often fail to separate themselves from their colleagues. As an analogy, think about houses in a “cookie-cutter” subdivision vs. a custom-built home built to your specifications. Don’t mimic what everyone else is doing, specialize in what you do best. Don’t be everyone else, be someone else.

15. Failure in photography happens because photographers truly don’t understand their equipment. Take the time to learn your gear and what it can do for you and your photography. I’m not saying to utilize every bell and whistle your photography gear offers, but know its limitations as well as its possibilities.

For example, most high-end mirrorless camera systems offer higher shutter speed sync with flash vs. a typical DSLR. This ability is great when overpowering the sun with flash outdoors, giving you an improved technique your competitor might not offer.

16. Failure in photography happens because like most consumers, photographers get caught up in the marketing hype. Research what a product can or can’t deliver, focus on that and not the hype, so you can make an educated purchasing decision. For example, it only takes 5-megapixels for publication in any magazine, not 25, not 10, so don’t get caught up in my camera has more megapixels than yours.

17. Failure in photography happens when photographers try to do everything themselves. While you might be good in everything you do, ask yourself how valuable is your time? As an example, there is a reason successful businessmen will take their car to a 10-minute oil change facility. While it’s cheaper to do it yourself, by the time you put on work clothes, change the oil, discard it, etc., you’ve lost two hours. How much is your time worth hourly?

Another example, let’s take postproduction and let’s say you are not that great at it. While you should still hone your skills in it, save that for your downtime when things are slow to improve your skill, but when you’re busy, hire someone more experienced that can get it done for you quickly and inexpensively. Look at it as an investment to make your final photographs their best and allowing you time to focus on things that can increase your bottom line, like marketing to more clients and promoting your brand.

18. Failure in photography happens because photographers often trust the opinions about their art from non-credentialed people. Let’s face it, your friends and family will normally give you accolades but you must ask yourself, “How many of them are actual trained photo editors that know what makes a great photograph?” A great photo isn’t about how many “likes” or “comments” you receive. Sure, a record amount of likes will make you feel good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great photograph. Always take inconsideration who is critiquing or judging your art, the only person that matters is one that can make things matter in your profession.

19. Failure in photography happens when photographers don’t stay current in what is developing in their profession. Many big-time photographers got left behind because they didn’t accept digital photography until later in the game. In all professions you must stay up-to-date, especially in this more technological world we have today. Business 101 teaches “first-mover advantage” has an edge over the late adopters or the laggards.

20. Failure in photography happens if you don’t engage with your audience and your clients. You must establish dialogue with the people that believe in your brand. It’s not just “show and tell,” it’s also “get involved and give back.” Make time to interact with your platform of people on all your social media channels. Donate to your community. Provide feedback. Let people know you care about them too.

So hopefully at least one of those 20 subtopics will help you prosper in your photography, but don’t be afraid to fail. Many extremely successful people have failed, but when they went back and evaluated their mistakes, they came back stronger. Jerry Seinfeld was booed off stage on his first appearance at a comedy club, he then came back the next night and preformed exceptionally well.

Decca Records dropped the Beatles after recording 15 songs with them and stated, “…we don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out. They have no future in show business.” Now you can play their music on practically any Apple product, thanks to Steve Jobs, who Apple, a company he started, fired him at the age of 30, before bringing him back and he would develop the iPod, iPhone, and iPad.

“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,” Steve Jobs said during a commencement speech at Stanford University.

NBA icon Michael Jordan was cut from his high-school basketball team and on that day he went home and cried in the privacy of his bedroom. He went on and became one of the greatest players ever in the history of the NBA and once stated, “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Everyone fails in life at one point or another, and if we learn from that point, we all have the opportunity to improve upon ourselves, even in photography. Don’t be scared to fail, be scared not to fail. Failure is the foundation to success. With that I close and as always ask, please don’t forget the men and women who serve to protect our freedoms; God Bless them, their family and friends, Rolando.

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