The ‘Learning by doing’ philosophy first emerged back in the 1930s and is a valid paradigm. In photography, this probably means ‘Learning by mistaking.’ I see daily articles with titles like “four mistakes landscape photographers should avoid”, or “avoid these mistakes to become a better photographer“. As a teacher, I think that this approach is 100% wrong.
Actually, quite the opposite; I would advise photographers to make as many mistakes as they possibly can. And the graver, the better. Always go for the most annoying and bitter mistakes! This is the fastest way to learn. Of course, the idea is to learn from your mistakes and not keep making the same mistakes over and over again. Let’s have a look at some delicious mistakes that will take your photography to the next level.
One of my favorite mistakes is to ruin an amazing sunset. For example, blow out the highlights, or clip the colors. This is something you won’t easily forget. The other side of this mistake is to return home with no shadow detail. It is always great to discover that the shadow areas are a mess of noise and color casts.
What you learn: Using a graduated filter to darken the sky is not a bad idea. Nor is shooting bracketed. Both approaches may save the day.
Forget re-setting the ISO after a long night out. I promise that you will never forget how noisy and terrible your sunset images are when they are shot at iso 6,400. When this happens, it is always tempting to blame the camera. However, there is not much learning in such an attitude.
What you learn: Always double-check the iso settings when out with the camera.
The third mistake I advise you to commit is incredibly irritating, especially if you’ve made a strenuous drive to the location. The mistake hinges on one condition; that you always shoot manual focus. At the location, you remembered to dial in all the settings — save focus. The images look awesome in-camera, but not on the computer.
What you learn: It is not a bad idea to focus.
Advanced mistakes level 1
It is essential that you often and consistently post images prematurely on social media. The nice thing is that you will discover all your mistakes a month later: the colors are off, the contrast is too harsh, some very nice sensor-dust spots, and so on.
What you learn: Patience.
A critical mistake is to over-saturate images. Never underestimate the effect that will have on your audience.
What you learn: Color balance.
Embrace the effect of halos. This is paramount to developing a good eye. Halos do a great job in creating visual interest in all the wrong places. Always remember to push the clarity slider in Lightroom all the way to max if you prefer this mistake.
What you learn: Spotting and avoiding halos, but also how to swiftly create them.
Advanced mistakes level 2
When the forecast predicts very cold weather, never dry wet tripod legs. This will result in a lot of low-angle shots. You will further find that you are effectively expanding your vocabulary.
What you learn: A richer language.
The next step in the tripod learning pyramid is to forget it altogether at home.
What you learn: Self-control.
The next mistake may involve some planning. Ensure that to embark on a very long drive to an awesome location. The success factor in this mistake is to forget the memory card.
What you learn: How to plan a mistake.
Practicing your hand-held shooting skills is important. It is vital that you forget to turn off shake reduction when shooting long exposures. You will be surprised to see how well shake reduction works and how well it ruins your long exposures.
What you learn: Concentration and how to turn off shake reduction.
You must follow all the advice provided on various websites and social media. In particular, it is of great importance that you make an effort to stand out from the crowd, become more creative, and develop a style of your own.
What you learn: Stress management.
Which mistakes would you like to add to the list?