Learning From Failure


Years ago, my first ventures into portraiture were awkward and clumsy. As with most people just starting out they involved only daylight and some tin foil to bounce that light back onto my subject. I was lucky to have a lot of friends who were happy to step in front of the camera; this allowed me to make a lot of mistakes without having to worry about it too much. Film was still the prime foodstuff of cameras back then and I ran through a lot of it. My old Canon T70 (bought second hand) consumed roll after roll as I tried to figure the whole light and composition thing out. It was a process of trial and error often ending in disappointment. My pictures never looked like the ones I saw in the magazines. They were too dark or too light, they were out of focus or the composition was laughable. My early experimentation with artificial lighting involved actual lightbulbs, and it was some time before I could afford a proper flashgun. Even then, matters weren’t greatly improved at the beginning.

I read everything I could on the subject of photography, and I kept pressing the shutter button. Eventually I switched to the digital format and was able to see what I was doing as I went along. I also didn’t have to stop shooting after thirty-five pictures and spend another fiver. This to me was real progress and my photography came along in leaps and bounds. My first flirtations with studio lighting were with softboxes that I made from cardboard and tracing paper. I would stick them around my one flashgun and see what could be achieved. The results actually weren’t that bad, considering it was all homemade. From there I got the cheapest lighting set I could find from Jessops, and that really opened me up to studio photography. I shot countless pictures using those things and even began getting paid for shoots with them. They didn’t have a fraction of the control that I get from the Elinchroms I use today, but what they taught me was invaluable. I consider those times to be my real schooling in photography.


One step at a time determination put me in the right direction until I started taking pictures that did look like the ones in the magazines. Once I figured that out things started moving a lot faster. I was now able to concentrate on the elements within the picture and not on whether I was exposing it correctly. This gave me a voice from behind the lens, the very reason I picked up a camera in the first place.

What it all boils down to is patience, practice and learning from your mistakes. There is no secret formula here and no one way to get to where you’re going. Be honest with yourself, you’re going to take a lot of wrong turns along the way but eventually you will get there, as long as you keep moving forward and don’t give up.