The importance ( and frustration ) of making mistakes.

I have a confession to make. Last year, especially late in the summer, I  became frustrated with my photography. Since I started using digital cameras, somewhere around 2004, I had made steady progress towards improving my compositions, refining my technique, and recognizing when the light is good, as opposed to just okay. As the capabilities of the cameras increased exponentially , my role in the act of creating a photograph seemed to diminish at the same rate. I spent many early years studying the Zone system, developing film and printing in a darkroom, which maybe gives me a different perspective than someone starting out today, someone who has never seen an image slowly emerge in a tray of developer. I was actually quite good at the process, which makes the fact that I wasn't a great photographer a bit ironic. While I was feeling melancholic about photography in the digital age, I happened to see a video by a photographer, Thomas Heaton, who had the audacity to start using a film camera on his channel. What made it really hit home was his explanation, for his puzzled digital camera-using viewers, about why he was trying out film photography when digital, by all rights, is in most ways technically superior. Like me, he missed the craft of photography. Yes, it's nice to know what you have in the can, so to speak, the second you press the shutter, and to know you need to adjust your exposure, your focus, your composition,  but something gets lost when you take all those potential mistakes away. Right away, I made the decision to jump back into film, and accept that it would be a ( very ) bumpy ride, made all the worse by my dependence on digital cameras and their built-in error correction. What you see here is one of my many mistakes.

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Taken with my 4x5 camera, with a 210mm lens. I used a square, glass polarizer in a filter holder, and my guess is that the light section in the foreground grass is a reflection off of the polarizer. It's very hard to eliminate something like this, I know I've tried and failed to make any such corrections look "normal". But worse, somehow the focus on the building itself is off. I had stretched my dark cloth over the bellows, and that seems to have shifted something, and there is certainly no correcting that. I did take one photo without a polarizer, and that one came out much better, with no glare from the filter, but the focus issue remains. Would I have gotten the shot with digital? Yes, I'm confident I would have. Would I have felt the frustration of burning through expensive ( $5 a pop ) sheet film? Nope! But would I have felt the satisfaction of getting it eventually, as I did by coming back again? No. The photo below shows persistence pays off ( the focus on the old house still has some issues. I blame both my inexperience, and poor technique. Both will improve ).

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You might notice that the format of the picture has changed; I'm finding the ability to create a 2:1 panorama from a 4x5 photo is hard to resist. But the principle is the same, I made mistakes, I revised my technique ( no filter, this time ), and I will only get better because of it. This does require a different attitude, and learning that lesson has meant far more to me than better photographs. It's something I've been trying to incorporate in my life for a good while now, where each day, you try to make a small step towards improvement, in whatever it is you do. Even with my digital photography ( still a big part of what I do ), I try to learn something new each time I go out in the field, and that pays dividends later, when you may have very little time to set up for a shot. Mistakes, in the end, are really something we should welcome. I'll finish with a quote that sums it up far better than me:

"I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're doing something."

Neil Gaiman