So you want me to talk about my Failures?

Last month Robert and I were down in Washington DC for a presentation on my career. At the end we took questions from the audience and one in particular struck me. The question was “What are your biggest mistakes or worst choices you’ve made in your career thus far?”

I’ve done a handful of talks and interviews and this was the first time a question like this has ever come up. Originally we were going to focus on a few questions from the Q&A after the presentation, but this one deserves some focus.

Going back to the question itself and to my failures, I think one of the mis-steps along the way would be when, in 2007, I made a transition from working at Wonderful Machine to being independent photographer. Before this transition I was growing my work and expanding my skills. The pictures had seen big jumps every year from 2004 to 2005 and I think I was in a really great place in 2006 to transition out of assisting and studio managing and into being an independent photographer.

Consciously though, I don’t think I realized the weight of the responsibilities in managing all aspects of my business being an independent photographer and as a result creatively I was trying to do things that were a step back – almost analog to a point. I was trying to work more minimally and had stopped thinking about photography from a progressive point of view. I had stopped pushing myself and stopped growing my skill set and in that sense I was working backwards. It took a while for me, almost until mid 2008 before I started to realize I’ve been heading in the wrong direction and not really making the next steps for my work. That was one a big one. That’s why I tend to call 2007 my “lost year.”

Another choice I made that I think may have been a mistake relates to a photo I made of Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. Soon after it was released in Philadelphia Magazine, one of the major network channels was covering a football game in Philly the next week and contacted me wanting to use that photo and talk about it during the broadcast of the Eagles game. I asked for photo credit after they said they had no money to pay for the usage, but they explained that wasn’t part of their process. Ultimately the value of national exposure with that photo verses the monetary worth of five or ten seconds of broadcast would have balanced out – in retrospect I think that’s one I should have just given away.

One more mistake I think I’ve made in my career has to do with my landscape photography. Going back to day one of Photo 101 in college, it has always been something I’ve been drawn to and interested in. When I started shooting more portraiture, I think that I abandoned the landscape work.

Jumping ahead a few years to when I was actually making money through photography and was able to travel and take trips to great places like Madrid, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and all these beautiful places. When I would go on some of these trips – I think if I was on vacation I’d want to abandon my work. Now, I should say that it’s always nice to take a break, but this job is not always a job and if you’re in a wonderful place you need to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you, which is not what I did. On a few of those trips I didn’t even bring my camera and missed out on a few amazing opportunities. It wasn’t until 2010, coincidentally on my honeymoon, that I returned to making landscapes when I travel. I haven’t looked back since.

Speaking literally, there have been some falls in my career. In 2011 when working in Maui on the Travaasa Hana shoot, we were shooting on a pool at the base of a waterfall and I slipped and fell into the water, taking a 1Ds MK III and 24-70mm lens with me. That was certainly a mistake.

Last but not least – I don’t know if this qualifies as a mistake, but it certainly can feel like a failure in the short term. For some projects and larger advertising campaigns, we will often go to great lengths to prepare for the job. In the initial creative and bidding process we’ll go to great lengths to express our desire and drive to be part of the job. Sometimes we might spend a weeks worth of time trying to win a project – and when you know that you’re the right person for the shoot and you’re 100% engaged with the job, everything lines up and you know your numbers are fine then you don’t get the job, well it’s a big hit. Sometimes it takes a little while to shake it. When that happens though, you just have to persevere. You have to keep working and keep putting yourself out there and showing the world that next time, you’re the right guy for the job.

13 replies to “So you want me to talk about my Failures?”

  1. That was awesome to read. I’m encouraged by the last point. Not that you have lost some big jobs but that you put a lot of work into getting them. I can totally relate. sometimes, as a photographer from SA, it’s easy to look at US guys and think things are just way easier over there. Make sense?

  2. Very insightful. If these are your worst “failures” during your lengthy career, you are blessed:-) I doubt, from what I have seen, you will ever have a catastrophic failure. You are too much a professional for that.

  3. Great Post Chris. Thanks so much for sharing. I have one major mistake of a missed opp that comes to mind for my own career. So, this really hits home. Thanks again.

  4. Great post Chris. I feel like I’m coming out of my “lost year” I left my job at an ad agency a couple of years ago. I think I got so wrapped up in trying to figure out the whole marketing thing that I stopped progressing and making personal work. When your first starting out It’s easy to freak out and be consumed with finding work.

  5. This is one of the most useful and insightful blogposts I’ve read in a long time. And especially good to come across at this stage in my photography, as I feel I’m a bit lost at this time.

    Thanks very much. I’m very happy to have come across your blog and your work this morning.

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