Shortly before I left on my latest trip, I was reading an article by David Duchemin about taking risks and facing your fears. He was encouraging us photographers to take risks, to risk failure in order to take the photographs you really want to take. Don’t play it safe, but take the chance. Yes you might fail. Yes it might not work out. But if you don’t do it, you will never know and your work will be boring and “safe”! So, he says,
…there’s only one thing to do: listen to the fear as it points us in exactly the direction we ought to be going, and choose to walk in that direction despite the fear.
(Taking Risks, Photograph, Issue 3…go to Craft & Vision for more information)
And so, I began to think about this. At first I was really confused and thought, “I don’t have any fears! I don’t know what I’m afraid of. I don’t know what risks to take!” It was frustrating to not be able to think how I could do what he was advocating, because I want to be the best I can be.
And then it hit me. I knew what it was.
This is what I really want to do.
What I really want to be good at.
And what really scares me.
How scary is it to walk up to a stranger and ask if you can take their photo?! Anyone who has had someone angrily refuse knows what I’m talking about! It’s not easy.
And yet, there are the many times people respond with laughter and happiness, eager to help you, to interact with you…to honour you with the gift of their image. It is worth it. But it is not easy.
So, now, with the knowledge of my fear, I was ready to take the risk. And so that became my goal on this trip. To risk taking portraits. To work on improving my skills of asking people, and improve my portrait taking skills in general.
Was it a resounding success?
Well, like DuChemin says, when you take risks, you risk failure. And I did fail. Some of my portraits were very disappointing. My exposure was wrong, or my backgrounds were cluttered. My camera’s ISO didn’t go high enough in low light and so my images were blurry at times. I was devastated. I wanted perfection!
So was it a failure? No. I learned from my mistakes. After looking at my mistakes the first night, I was able to concentrate more on my exposure and simplifying my backgrounds the next day. And I continued on in this pattern throughout my time away.
Failure is never really failure if you learn from your mistakes and use them to improve.
And improve I did.
My portraits taken on this trip are some of my best to date. Despite my “failures” (or maybe because of them??) I shot some beautiful images of people that I’m really happy with.
Have I “arrived”? No. I still feel like I have such a long ways to go and I often get frustrated with where I’m at in comparison to where I want to be, but I know that if I keep working at it, I will continue to improve. I don’t think I will ever forget the quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson that “your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”! (That may not be a direct quote, but that’s the idea anyways). So, I will keep “slugging” away (it’s not really slugging…I love what I do!) through my first 10,000 photographs, working towards better and better images.
Here are some of my portraits from my recent trip…