Red Bull Photography recently joined our community with a verified brand profile of their own. This partnership isn’t just about amazing photography — it’s also about amazing stories. Behind every shot on Red Bull Photography is a talented photographer, a wild story, and a few lessons learned. We’ll be telling those stories every week here on 500px ISO and the Red Bull Photography website. Read on to get some helpful advice for your photography—nobody wants to make a mess of things, but sometimes there is no better way to boost creativity than when everything goes beautifully wrong.
There is a stumbling block that every photographer eventually needs to overcome. It’s got nothing to do with technical skill, equipment, or business practices—it’s down to pure psychology.
The fear of failure is felt by most creatives at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, it amounts to no more than nervousness before an important commission, but at its worst, such anxiety can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, with a kind of creative paralysis causing the photographer to under-perform and fail in the eyes of their client. In some respects, it’s perfectly normal for a photographer to feel nervous about a shoot. It shows that they care about what they are doing. In fact, the key in dealing with this feeling is not to try to avoid it, but to learn how to channel it positively.
Fortunately, a great deal has been written on this subject, and the Internet is full of inspiring quotes, psychological analysis, and methods for self-improvement. But when you ask a successful photographer about how they tackle fear of failure, you will often hear how they set aside time to fail—sometimes, intentionally. By taking control of what they fear, the level of anxiety associated with failure can be controlled and put in perspective.
Writing in The Photographer’s Playbook, photographer Adam Bell says that failure is at the heart of art and that photographers should, “fail hard and fail often.”
In fact, Bell recommends that photographers complete the following assignment: “Take a picture you think, or know, won’t work. Try a genre or subject you dislike or that scares you. Take a picture you don’t recognize. After all, what you think might work might not for long. Maybe it never did.”
In other words, the fear of failure stops experimentation, which kills creativity. So conversely, setting out to deliberately fail should achieve the opposite—encourage investigation and promote originality.
Of course, there is a time and a place for this attitude. Photographers setting out to fail on a paid commission might find that their clients don’t share such adventurous sentiments. This is why it’s important for creative professionals to have personal projects too, so that they have the opportunity to fail in a safe, risk-free environment.
Look at the work of amateur photographers, and you’ll find evidence of this. You’ll see many examples of superb photography, but there are many more images that don’t work at all. But photographers who are shooting for the love of it (the word ‘amateur’ shares its origins with the French word ‘amour’) are not afraid to fail or to show their failures to the world. They ask for criticism and advice on how to improve. They see failure as just another milestone on the road to becoming a better photographer. And this is exactly the right attitude to have.
Once we change our view of failure, we’ll find that there is less to be afraid of. Photographers who give themselves the time and space to take creative risks without worrying about what will happen if their ideas don’t work will progress further than those who don’t. Remove the stigma from failure, and the fear will soon disappear too.
To see more epic photos, visit Red Bull Photography on 500px!