Take chances, make mistakes, get messy

On occasion I’ll run across an article that’s titled something like “mistakes that every beginning photographer should avoid.” I’m a firm believer of learning through doing and it seems to me that if you avoid a mistake, then you’re missing an opportunity to learn something.

It’s not that you shouldn’t be aware of the pitfalls you may encounter but learning through “aversion therapy” can be very effective. For example, I shoot several assignments a day, each can have very different lighting conditions. There have been times in the past where I’ve forgotten to change my ISO settings (light sensitivity) from one assignment to another resulting in grossly over-or underexposed photos. Now, I make sure to set the ISO on my camera to what I might expect on the next assignment.

When I was a photo student while on a field trip to Yosemite. I climbed up the trail from Lower Yosemite falls to the upper falls, a distance of about 3.5 miles and a rise in elevation of about 2,5600 feet. I would stop every so often to take a picture and then move on. About 3/4ths of the way up, dusty and tired, I looked down at the film counter on the camera (yes, this was back in the stone age of film). It read 34 exposures but I thought I put in a 24-exposure roll. I fired off another frame and turned the advance lever. The rewind knob didn’t move as it should have if there was film in the camera. I spun the know and it turned freely. I opened up the camera and, sure enough, I had forgotten to load the camera with film. After that I developed nervous tic of tugging on the knob to make sure that there was always tension on it signifying that there was film in the camera.

A 300mm f/2.8 lens is a big, heavy piece of equipment. So much so, that it has it’s own tripod mount and carrying strap. Years ago, I was carrying one by the strap over my shoulder and the strap came undone. The expensive lens plummeted straight to the floor. It was only by the luck of the photo gods that is was able to catch it by the end of the 1/2-inch wide strap just inches before it hit the floor. After that I made sure that all the big lenses I used and their straps tightly secured.

There have been many times where I didn’t have the right equipment for the job like not having a long/short enough lens for a certain situation. I’ve left my flash in the car or back in the office for the sake of lightening my load only to find that I needed it after I got to my assignment.

These are just a few of the mistakes I’ve made over the years. You’re going to make mistakes, a lot of them. Sometimes you make the same ones more than once. But it’s all a part of the learning process. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them. If your pictures from an event are too dark or too light. Try to think about what you did and correct your mistake the next time similar situation happens.

If you find that your subject is too small in the picture, next time get in closer. If your access is blocked by someone stating in front of you, try to figure out how to get around them without being obtrusive. If the background in your photos are cluttered and distracting, next time look for a different, cleaner background or new angle to take the picture from.

As Miss Frizzle from the children’s educational tv show The Magic School Bus would say: “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy.”

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  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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