No photographic experiment is a failure

Cutting the grass

While this is certainly not a great photograph, it is important in my development as a photographer. Because it was an experiment.

I had paused in my mowing, and the scene looked interesting. So I got my iPhone out of my pocket and opened the camera app. I’ve left it set on square format lately, so I went with it for this shot. I moved around the scene for several seconds looking for good framing. When I thought I’d found it I touched the shutter button.

It’s not everything I thought it could be. I hoped the uncut portion of the grass would stand out more. I hoped for a greater foreshortening effect on the mower’s handlebar. I wish I had turned the phone slightly so the top edge of the uncut grass was parallel to the frame’s top edge. And in the original image the mower body would have been better placed on a rule-of-thirds intersection. I cropped slightly to achieve it.

I’ve made a lot of photographs over the last ten years or so. Early on each photo I made was tinged with the fear of a bad frame.

Now I know I was overthinking each shot. Because when I got my first phone with a passable camera I soon realized I could take photos anytime, anywhere, essentially for free. Suddenly I didn’t have to worry anymore about a bad frame. And so I began photographing anything that seemed remotely interesting.

Snow-covered Caddy

This snow-covered Caddy was an early (2010!) experiment with my old Palm Pre’s camera. It’s not a truly great image, and it reveals some of that camera’s limitations. Yet I liked it. Still do. It encouraged me to keep experimenting.

By remaining devoted to such free experimentation I’ve been able to relax when the photography isn’t free, and when I really want it to count: when I drop film into one of my vintage cameras. There are two reasons.

First, through phone camera experimentation I’ve learned a lot of things that don’t work. So my success rate is higher.

And second, I’ve learned to relax. A bad image is no big deal, not really, even when I’m shooting something expensive like Impossible Project instant film and each photo costs me $3.

Every experiment moves me forward. I examine each photo as critically as I can. I try to emulate what I admire in others’ work. I try to take away something I’ll do differently next time.

How have you gotten better as a photographer?


14 responses to “No photographic experiment is a failure”

  1. Madison Beach Avatar

    Love this, all my best bodies of work have come from experimenting; this is when you can really have fun with your photography with no pressure!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Since I do this as a hobby, it’s all experimentation and low pressure for me!

      1. Madison Beach Avatar

        when people ask me how to become a photographer I always recommend keeping it as a hobby for as long as possible, this is when you can make mistakes and properly enjoy the whole process

  2. tomvancel Avatar

    I don’t have an elaborate phone to take pictures…I’ve started slipping my digital camera in my pocket…

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Whatever works!

  3. Mike Avatar

    Good advice to frequently look back at your own work and to learn from the experience of others. One of the things I like about Flickr is that it lets me easily assemble a group of photographers to follow on a regular basis. I try to pick people with similar interests to mine who I feel have something to teach me. I have a pretty good collection of photo books and am always on the lookout for good deals at the local used book stores. About a week ago I found a half dozen issues of Aperture with quite of variety of portfolios and styles that I likely would not have come across otherwise. While I think it important to achieve good familiarity with your equipment I also like to switch cameras and formats as a way to refresh my way of looking at the world. Part of that process always involves searching the web for examples of what others have done with the same cameras.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Unfortunately I have followed so many people on Flickr that I can’t keep up with them all. There’s plenty of good work there to study. I haven’t gotten is into photo books and magazines yet. I took a trial of one called Lenswork a couple years ago and really liked it, but found that I struggled to keep up with it. I now take exactly one magazine, one about antique automobiles, and even that sometimes goes two or three months and read before I get to it. I love being busy, but sometimes I’m so busy that I don’t have a minute to stop and enjoy something like a magazine. If I could make time for him more study of other good photography, first of all I enjoy it, and second of all I would learn a lot from it.

  4. AskDaralynn Avatar

    I loved the shot of the lawn mower! The colors were vibrant and the image was pretty close to sharp…great read!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      “Pretty close to sharp” – that cracks me up! Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Nora Avatar

    I love the car photo! I no longer use my iPhone(very rarely) for any of my work. IF I shoot with the iphone it’s just usually something i want to remember. If I want to make art I use my camera. I do have a great Fuji film digital that I love BUT film is always my first love and using it reminds me to SLOW DOWN! I am more purposeful in the moment where as with digital i find it’s more of a shoot, shoot and well I can just delete. Have I gotten better??? Gosh I have NO IDEA!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Are use my phone primarily for things I want to remember and quick snaps of things I want to send my wife in text. But if it’s the only camera I have on me when there’s something truly worth photographing before me, you’d better believe I get it out and use it.

      1. Nora Avatar

        True, I’d have to agree with that

  6. Guy M. Avatar

    My best shots are those when I do not think about the picture. This is the moment when you see, what you want to capture and it does not matter on which device.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I find that I have to hit a balance between not thinking and overthinking. If I don’t think or I overthink, I get crap.

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