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Perspective / August 25, 2016

Learning from a Failed Photography Project

After pursuing photography for about 2 years, I had decided to start a small photography project of my own. Why a project? Well, largely because the photography blogs and YouTube channels tirelessly stressed on the importance of taking up a photography project. They persuaded me to think about the idea of having a project. Which, I did. I decided to start with a small project. The idea was to to take 5-6 photographs around the theme that I would conceive.

I picked a day, my gear, and walked to the streets to find the frames. Since I am a working professional, so I had to make best of my weekends to shoot. I was hoping to get my story covered in over 2 weekends. Because it was more about testing my skills than anything else. It served the purpose.

Then, one fine day, I sat down to review the frames. I was satisfied with the output. So, I decided to take an experienced photographer’s view on the work I had done. And boy, did I get a “constructive feedback”. I got pulled up (in a positive way). And I also got a rant about taking the whole thing casually.

To be honest, I experienced a cocktail of emotions. It was a mix of disappointment (30%); a little bit of heart break (10%); sadness (10%); and lots of pride that I failed at something I conceptualized, and I have learnings from it now(50%). I was also proud of myself to have decided to take an honest feedback from an experienced photographer.

Reflecting upon the feedback , I realized that taking up the failed project was good for me as a photographer. I am listing some of the key learning I had from that experience.

Improving the Craft

I had gained reasonable understanding about photography, the basics of Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed, Focal Length etc. But the finer area of Composition was where I lacked significantly. I understood that composition as a concept was too fluid to define. But, it made all the difference between a good (or great, hopefully) and an average photograph.

Gained Better Understanding of Tools

In the early years of photography, the biggest mistake people make is to suffer from ‘GAS’ (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I suffered from it too, but thankfully, not to an extreme level. I did acquire lots of gear initially, but was lucky to have more inclination towards DIY style of photography. So I did not spend a lot of money on expensive gear. GAS also makes photographers believe that all that additional gear will enable them to get better at photography. I learnt the importance of understanding my camera better over having a plethora of gear.

Pushed to ‘Think’!

Mostly, budding photographers tend to imitate works of professional photographers to improve their craft. Granted, it is a legitimate technique. Being influenced by their work and taking similar photographs appears to be a better way of growing as a photographer. Why? Because it forced me to think. Think about what I want to shoot, where I want to shoot, how to use ambient lighting, play with different perspectives, and so on. Even if the output was of bad quality, it challenged me to troubleshoot the issues, which in return motivated me to give it another try, and at the end brought a deeper sense of fulfillment. I learnt a valuable lesson – The very act of photography can be as gratifying as the photograph itself.

Learnt to Detach

Any kind of art form roots from a person’s deep-rooted emotions. Whatever one is going through as an individual at that point in time in life, it will reflect in the art work. While this emotional connection is what separates one’s work from others’ work, it also tends to act as a barrier for creatives. Barrier in terms of deciding which of their works is genuinely good. I have seen photographers so emotionally attached to their work that they were unable to take a constructive feedback, let alone pure play criticism. Pursuing a project makes you question your thought process, approach, and your work. This helps in detaching from one’s work and look at it objectively.

Seeking Unbiased, Honest, Expert Advice

This point links back to the previous one. When you learn to detach from your work, you enter a zone of ‘positive doubt’. It is a zone where you understand that your work may not be best-in-class, but it has some level of substance. It still is a work in progress. Here, taking opinion of experienced photographers, and people who have a creative bent of mind, can be very helpful. It is important to understand that photography is a mode of communication. A technically sound photograph will not make an impact if it doesn’t convey the message that you, as a photographer, want to communicate. Taking inputs from people with experience in the domain, really helps.

Refined the Creative Process

Once you identify the selective set of photographs that are can be shared / showcased, it helps to reflect on what all you learnt as a creative person. Walk through the whole process again a couple of times, list down what you did right, what went wrong, what you could have done better, and list down specific improvement areas for yourself. It is useful if you put these areas of improvement in buckets – technical (which settings worked in what sort of lighting?), aesthetics (which composition strategies worked?), gear (did you really need to carry all the gear you carried?), processing (go for colour or black & white?), selection (how many photographs did you overrate or underrate?), and expert/third party views (who gave most meaningful inputs? who gave more constructive feedback?)

I share my in-depth story on this project in subsequent blog posts. Read on.


Authored by Shivendra Lal

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