Failure in Your Photography is Actually Success

Failure is part of being a photographer, and sometimes looking at digital negatives feels like failure. We must remember that they’re actually successes.

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Failure is something that all of us face. Not every shot that we take will work out. Sometimes, we have ideas that we just can’t bring to fruition. No matter what angle we use to approach a scene or subject, no matter what techniques and tactics we employ, the end result strikes us as lackluster. It happens to the best of us. Even renowned photographers face failure each and every day.

Nowhere is that more prominent than in the data we collect over the years. Have you ever looked through your library of digital negatives and felt some sense of failure? That’s where we photographers have it hard because our libraries of negatives are absolutely enormous. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of digital negatives—hundreds of thousands, if you’ve been a photographer for years and years. The overwhelming majority of these photographs are misses. They’re things what weren’t good enough, and we’ll never use them for anything. They’ll simply sit on hard drives, gathering digital dust.

That can really be discouraging when you stop to think about it. All those unused, unusable photographs? Depending on how you see it, each one can represent an effort that didn’t work out. It’s a whole lot of work, and what did you gain from it?

You may be surprised to find that you gained quite a lot.

Those times when we look at negatives and think like this? That’s when we need to stop ourselves and ask what these mountains of unused images really mean. The thing is, it’s just not realistic to assume that magic will happen each and every time we press that shutter button. It’s a fact of life for photographers. The vast majority of the time, we’ll take dozens upon dozens of photographs so that we can get just one that we consider decent enough to use.

So all of these perceived failures. Are they really, truly failures? I don’t think so. Those hard drives full of digital negatives—each bit of data, to me, represents success. How can that be, if these images can’t be used for anything?

To my mind, negatives are a good measuring stick. They tell a very clear tale. Looking at it this way, terabytes of data represent effort. They’re also a reflection of experience. The more experience you have, the more time you’ve spent in the field taking photographs, the larger your library will be. In all that time, collecting all of these images, you’ve surely worked quite hard and learned a lot. So these negatives stand as a way to see how hard we’ve been working, how much effort we’ve been putting into our art. After all, the more you try, the more you will succeed. When you can boast a library of negatives numbering in the thousands, then you can rest assured that you are succeeding simply because you are trying.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will is a photographer and his love of the arts have always been a part of his life. Join Will as he shares his thoughts and adventures in the art of photography.