Learning From Your Mistakes
Over the last four weeks, I’ve been taking a cursory glance at how my blog entries are viewed in forums. From what I can see, there has been some mention that the writing on the blog is verbose if not tedious to the eyes. Well in response to that, all I can say is blog mea, regulae meae. I hate to burst the bubble of all the haters, but this is a blog… you know… an online demonstration of personal expression. It’s not a business. I’m not hustling for supplemental income per page view. If anything, this blog requires considerable input from me..
Of course, you’re now wondering why I’ve been visiting these forums. I mean, I’m just inviting unpleasantness into my life. Thing is, I will be ending this blog by the end of the year. So naturally, I’m just curious to see how it has been received by a larger audience. For the most part, the reception has been positive. However, in being a half-empty kind of a person, I tend to focus my attention on criticism. I suppose my inclination to behave like this comes from an overdeveloped sense of modesty, in believing I shouldn’t overestimate my abilities.
In looking back at some of the blog entries over the last three years, I believe there’s much to be embarrassed about with regards to my demonstration of photography. To be perfectly clinical in self-critique, some of it just isn’t very good in terms of framing, subject direction, and execution of proper shooting fundamentals. Frankly, I find much of my earlier photographs on the blog to be an eyesore. If I had the time, I would replace the many offending photos with a do-over. But then, what benefit to myself would covering up my mistakes do?
We all want to believe we’re good photographers. However, even the best of us make mistakes. And as much as we don’t want to be reminded of it, remembering our mistakes is what prevents us from repeating it again. For that reason, I refrained from replacing those offending photos found on earlier blog entries with a do-over. Keeping my mistakes on the blog keeps me grounded with how I perceive my own abilities. More importantly, it also provides me a record of personal improvement over the last three years.
Case in point would be the countless mistakes I committed during my initial return back to film photography - especially with color reversal (slide) film. In retrospect, I was truly awful, as the photos on this blog entry would attest. My metering was off, my framing was off, and my demonstration of proper shooting fundamentals was also off. Plus, it didn’t help that I hadn’t figured out my default film digitization approach wasn’t the best way to optimize color reversal film in presentation - with every image noticeably faded in color.
It is truly disheartening to see the fruits of your labor turn out so poorly in every measurable way. You just want to bury away your disappointment in the sand to forget about it. However, casting off one’s mistake in that way does seem somewhat cowardly if not short term in thinking. Mistakes are an invaluable source of feedback on one’s ability - even if it’s upsetting. It’s facing our mistakes that makes us improve as photographers. So you’re only lying to yourself if you insist on sweeping all your blunders under the colloquial rug.
Oh, how I would like to take a large broom to these photos and clear them from memory. Unfortunately, I have reached the bottom of my rainy day archive barrel. I am somewhat limited with what I can share this week and am therefore forced to revisit my mistakes with renewed attention. I mean, let us get real. Airing out my dirty laundry to the world isn’t exactly my first choice of discussion topic. But with nothing else new to share on this dog and pony show, I might as well face the music and fess up to my share of goof-ups.
It was a bitter pill that I didn’t want to swallow. For months, I wanted to lie to myself, trying desperately in vain to make these photos more presentable with the subtlety of a digital belt sander. Through different methods of film digitization and through the magic of Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop, I tried to pass off my shortcoming in demonstrable skill as usable photos for my weekly discussion topics. But regardless of what I did in hopes of bringing these photos back to life, my efforts were futile.
Nothing I did worked. The outcome of digitizing with a Nikon Z6 or a Fujifilm S5 Pro wasn’t substantially better than digitizing with a Pakon F135 scanner. Tweaking the exposure, shadows, or highlights didn’t help ether. And even when I tried to improve the composition by editing-out instances of photobombing, the effort really didn’t help either. Nothing I did helped because the photos I took were all unsalvageable. Clearly, I was in a no win situation. But then in my moment of despair, I made a startling realization.
The mistakes I committed on this image set had alerted me on how far I truly deviated from the time honored practice of taking a proper photograph. The oversight in metering, framing, and practicing of proper shooting fundamentals were all a consequence of bad habits developed from a decade of casual digital imaging. Only in shooting color reversal film did I come to realize the extent of my overall decline. It was really a sobering a-ha moment to discover I wasn’t as good as I thought I was in taking photos.
In today’s world of digital imaging, there is a tendency to believe we are all good photographers. But in reality, most of us cannot take a good photograph, if not for the option of trial and error in documentation afforded by chimping and subsequent remedy to rework botched photographs in post on imaging software. I mean, if not for the flexibility offered by the increased dynamic range inherent to digital image files, how quick would most recreational enthusiast stake their reputation on their out-of-camera results?
It might seem that I am being unfair to recreational photo enthusiasts. After all, it’s not like we should have any real expectation of those who take photos for fun. But, that isn’t the point. If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it correctly. You shouldn’t rely on external aids to feign expertise. To do that, you’re only lying to yourself. However, I have good news. The route to becoming true to yourself isn’t very complicated. It’s just a matter of willingness to improve from past mistakes on each successive effort.
For that reason, one must ultimately accept one’s mistakes in order to meaningfully learn from them. In short, that is what I did with this photo set. So, I had to take a long hard look at the mess I got back from the lab. And after the initial disappointment, I realized where I went wrong. Because of that, I was able to take my first steps to remedy the root cause of my bad habits during the act of documentation, which freed me from the need to conceal its symptoms with time consuming digital slight-of-hand in post processing.
Basically, I had to slow down my process. I had to think before I took the shot. I had to meter the area I wanted exposed correctly at point blank range and with deliberateness, and not rely on the center weighted metering of the camera, especially when photographing a subject from afar in suboptimal light. Once the exposure was determined, I had to be more intentional with my framing in waiting for the optimal moment of documentation - when both the background and foreground wasn’t photobombed by distractions.
Most importantly, I had to be more mindful in practicing proper shooting fundamentals. I had to remember to hold my camera correctly to minimize camera shake at the lower shutter speeds inherent to film photography. In addition, I had to remind myself to press the shutter softly in order to avoid any last split-second misstep in camera movement. Last, I even had to remind myself to hold my breath before I took the shot. All this I had to retrain myself because of a decade long deterioration in fundamentals from digital imaging.
Admittedly, it may appear that my lapse in practicing proper shooting fundamentals, metering, and deliberate framing is no big deal and therefore easy to remedy. However, what is less-so apparent is the effort needed to internalize the changes necessary to address my mistakes in documentation. This process of internalizing the necessary changes has taken me over six months to reach. It was a constant deliberate reminder before each and every shot - until at last when taking a photo correctly became second nature to me again.
If I never decided to shoot in color reversal film, I would never have bore witness to the mistakes I committed on this photo set. Because of that, I would’ve never learned from my mistakes to make the necessary changes to remedy the root cause of my bad photos. But since I have, I no longer make the same mistakes. I’ve learned from it, and I’ve become more consistent in taking photos more precisely - even when shooting with a digital camera.
I know I’ve internalized these changes. Initially, I used to slow down my process by going through the motions of taking a proper photo. But now, it seems as if time slows down when I’m taking a photo. It is the confidence afforded by knowing what you’re doing. And that is why you shouldn’t sweep your mistakes under the rug.
PS - A note on next week. I will probably have no new post. After all, this is reaching the bottom of the barrel for me. I hope to be able to remedy the situation.
By the way, to all the haters. How do you like them apples! Verbose and tedious to the end!
All images have been digitized on a Pakon F135, cropped automatically from full positive during the scanning process. None of images have been tweaked in Adobe Lightroom. Four images have been edited in Adobe Photoshop to remove offending photobombs. All images shot at box speed.