This Might Not Work: Overcoming Failure in Photography

Beomosa Main Gate

This past Saturday was an eventful day. I was pretty much shooting and editing from sun up to sundown. I had to get footage for a documentary that I am a part of in the morning and then I was running a workshop at Beomosa temple that evening. It was a great feeling to know that I have built a day around what I love to do. However, there was this thought in the back of my head that kept me from getting too excited. It was telling me that there was a possibility that this workshop could be a failure. I ignored it and pushed through. Little did I know that the gut-feeling was right.

I left Ulsan with more than an hour and a half to get to Beomosa which normally only takes about 50 minutes on an average day. Sadly, just as we got near Busan a fender-bender slowed traffic to a crawl. It took forever! As we finally made it to the toll gate, it was already time to start the workshop. I was expecting messages to start flooding in. Nothing came and I expected it was because people were also stuck in traffic too. Beomosa was flooded with people. It took another 30 minutes just to make it to the temple and get parked. I nervously checked my phone, but there was nothing. Not a single message from anyone about the workshop. I walked to the meeting point and there was no one waiting. I looked around to see any photographers with gear looking for me in theย crowds of people heading up to the ancient temple. There was not a single photographer around.

Path to Enlightenment

Keep Your Chin Up

I could have just given up there. I could have just turned around and drove home. However, I had brought out a good friend and I was not about to waste his time. The other thing is that it is not worth the hassle. I just kept thinking about what I could learn from this failure. There is no point in becoming depressed about it. Just learn from it and treat these failures as lessons. Obviously, I need to improve my marketing and a number of other elements in order to attract my target market.

The thing is that you can’t learn if you are pissed off or angry. People not liking your work or not coming out to your events is not something personal. Think about how many events that you see on facebook and how many you actually go to. It is the same here. For me, I know that I have to work on a lot with regards to my reputation in Korea and who I want to teach. Again, I can’t slow down and feel hurt because of this one night.


You Will Fail

I hear a lot of new photographers brag as they promote themselves about where they were published or who they are working with. However, the fact of the matter is that they will fail at some point in time. They will throw their hands up in the air and shout “is this worth it?” and what they do next is what will determine their future. If you choose to give up, sell your gear and go home, that is fine. However, if you choose to push on, know that people will not always love your work and that there are going to be some ups and downs. Just understand that not everything that you do will turn you into the next Chase Jarvis or Trey Ratcliff.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

The biggest mistake that I routinely make is that I compare myself to other photographers. I let self-doubt creep in and I look at photographers with 10K followers or my friends that have landed a big contract. I look at how long they’ve been taking pictures for and compare that to the years that I have seemingly spent honing my craft. What I fail to see is that they put in a lot of effort regardless of their talent and I have spent many years just sitting back and hoping someone sees my website that I rarely update. The fact of the matter is that you are your own photographer. You decide your own level of effort and that effort will determine what you get out of it. Sitting in the dark wondering why no one knows your name and “other photographers” seem to be doing better will not help you. Be your own photographer and get out there and take photos. If you want recognition, contact ย with people and pitch them ideas.

The Red Door

Keep Doing What You Love

At the end of 2015 I was in a bad place. I was working a job that I hated, my best friend died of cancer, and felt empty when it came to my photography. I felt like I was getting passed over despite the years that I’ve put into my photography. However, I couldn’t give up. It kept going and working different approaches.

Within a few months I was published in a number of magazines and did a few interviews. That got me a few clients and a number of new ideas. Sure, some of these may not pan out but a few might. To me that is all that matters.

Even with this more recent failure, I am still planning more workshops and video tutorials because I know things will get better. It is all about learning from your failures. I learned that I have to market smarter and choose better locations. For others it may just be improving different aspects of your skill set. All of which is left unknown if you take these little failures to heart.



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