Exposed! :: Whoops! and Other Photography Mistakes ::

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Recently, I received a phone call enquiring about photography workshops. The woman had been inspired by some photography she had seen on a website. "It was all so good!" She seemed humbled by what she had seen adding "the pros never make mistakes!" I assured her that even the finest photographers make errors and that mistakes are an important part of creative development!

In this edition of Exposed! we explore the "whoops" of photography, how to make the most of them and why they can make you a better photographer!

Perfect, every time!

It's true - nobody likes to make a mistake. Without mistakes, though, there is little incentive to improve. Imagine if you bought your first camera and everybody (honestly) thought every single picture was perfect. With time you would likely get bored with photography.

Let's face it - you are going to make mistakes! The challenge is to manage the mistakes so that they:

  • do not occur when the consequences are significant
  • help you grow as a photographer

The luxury of mistakes

Having a major meltdown as an event photographer is bad news! It could cost you your reputation, money and clients. That is why assignment photographers need to be quick to recognize and fix any problems before they happen. There is no room for error and little room to experiment with new styles or techniques. Imagine being able to create mistakes without a consequence. It is a luxury! It is a necessity if you want to develop as a photographer.


Mistakes helped produce this photo!

Courting disaster!

To grow as an artist or photographer you need to take risks, experiment & have fun. You need to make mistakes! This is important! The key to making mistakes is to make them work for you:

  • allow yourself to experiment and make mistakes when the stakes are low
  • be kind to yourself - every mistake is an opportunity to grow
  • learn what went wrong and why - you will do it better next time

Pro Perspective

As a stock photographer I need to continually try new things. I have tried some unusual ideas that have produced fabulous mistakes! I know there will be disappointments but there will also be successes that can result in very creative photos. The canoe photo on the right was a result of many pre-dawn mistakes on Meech Lake. I wanted to produce a specific picture with a fresh perspective and a hint of motion. There was no room for a second person in the canoe so I worked as photographer and model at the same time. It was tough, but after many attempts, I got what I wanted. Since the canoe photo experiments I have applied what I learned to many successful stock images. The "mistakes" made me a stronger photographer.

As an assignment photographer my gears shift. My clients want results, not "opportunities to grow!" In this mode I rely on proven techniques that will get the job done and done well. The pressure of shooting an assignment forces me to produce consistently and reliably.

Deciding what the results need to be determines how I shoot a subject. Which leads us to this month's homework!


You have two scenario assignments - you must do both! To start you must find a willing subject - a friend, family member or pet will do.

    Assignment 1
    This is a great opportunity for you! A national magazine is in your "studio" and has decided to give you a chance. You must produce a portrait of your willing subject for the cover of their next edition. The art director and photo editor are sitting at the back of the studio waiting for results. They need three options and you have ten minutes. "Get to it!"

    Assignment 2
    The magazine editors leave and your phone rings. A big stock agency says they want some portraits of your willing subject. You must produce something fresh, new and inspiring. They need a selection of imagery. You have one month. "We need something different - make us smile!"

Do both of these scenario assignments following the instructions explicitly! Have a look at the results.

  • How are the photos from the two assignments different?
  • Did you make "mistakes?" Did the photos or scenario benefit from the mistakes?
  • Which set of photos do you prefer?

Final Frame

Embrace the situations you are shooting. Be kind to yourself. Recognize the potential of mistakes and learn to harness them. If you do, your photography will improve!

Take photos. Have fun!


Samples of our work