It's OK to Fail Unless You're Going Skydiving

Lunar Eclipse Over Te Mata PeakJuly 28, 2018

Creativity, drive and craft, they are the foundations stones on which create. So much so that one or two without the others will struggle. But for me creativity, the flame which sometimes flickers, threatening to go out, yet other times burns white hot, is the most challenging. It's the most fickle. It cannot be forced or coerced. The Greeks characterised it as the muse, goddesses that blessed people with inspiration, in an effort to explain it's fleetingness and mystery.

Creativity, like any flame, needs certain conditions to thrive. Fuel is one important aspect, the subjects and events which fill our viewfinders, the thoughts that wander through our minds. They start the ball rolling, or at least that is what we hope. The second key factor we can liken to air, the gift of the muse, I think it is no coincidence that one of the meanings of inspiration from the dictionary is " the act of drawing in; specifically: the drawing of air into the lungs". This is a beautiful analogy for the "breathing in", the taking in of other ideas and ways of seeing, combining this air with the fuel, feeding the flame. So what is this "air", it's different for all of us. What is important is that you spend time finding what inspires you, then make time for it in your daily routines.

Inspiration - This is a beautiful analogy for the "breathing in", the taking in of other ideas and ways of seeing, combining this air with the fuel, feeding the flame.

But there are two other aspects which I have found just as vital, and these two seem like they could never work together, but they do and both are just as important. These aspects are constraints and freedom. Constraints help us focus, free our minds from some of choices we would otherwise have to navigate. Freedom gives us the chance to interpret, to say something new. Depending on your mood and personality, the right mixture of constraints and freedom will vary. Some constraints are forced upon us ( things like our physical ability or time constraints), some we can ease over time (for example our skill level, gear or appreciation), some are hidden from us (our viewpoints for example) but with effort can be revealed. Like fuel to air ratios in an engine, finding the right mix for you is an ever changing mystery, but one that should be enjoyed.

However there is one restraint that seems to get worse the more you advance. Of course I am not talking about me or you, no, we have mastered it of course. The restraint I am referring to is the fear of failure. As we get better at our craft, we will inevitably get more praise for some images and subjects, less for others. We develop our favorite subjects and we find our strengths. But with this praise comes a subtle danger, the underlying thought that we should only share our best work. But who defines "the best", of course the safer less risky images are easy. Everyone loves a pretty sunset. But what about those closer to home emotionally. What about the difficult and challenging ones, do you even try? 

In artistic endeavors like photography what are we risking. What if we come back from a trip with nothing but a load of failed attempts?

The truth of the matter is that in every creative thing you do, there are no guarantees. Risk is a huge word in modern society. Business in general tries to avoid as much of it as it can, only taking it where financial gains lie in wait. When it comes to survival, physical or financial health, this makes sense. But in artistic endeavors like photography what are we risking. What if we come back from a trip with nothing but a load of failed attempts? Do we go for the safer shots or maybe a mix of the two and limit the time we give the riskier ones? Maybe we just don't go on the trip at all and save the money or time for other things? Maybe we just go all in, trust that we can find a way? Maybe all we learn is our reputations will survive, and what won't work next time. 

The freedom to fail is not for the egotistical nor for the faint hearted. But for those who want to grow, avoid them and stagnation awaits, the photography version of writers block.

Isn't that the key, by taking that risk, giving ourselves the freedom to struggle and fail. New possibilities, new growth will come, maybe not today, but soon. The freedom to fail is not for the egotistical nor for the faint hearted. But for those who want to grow, avoid them and stagnation awaits, the photography version of writers block. Sometimes you just have to trust the process, and stay in the moment. This year has been a little different for us, which means I haven't been shooting as much. Don't get me wrong this year has been full of some pretty big accomplishments, and those will bear fruit way into the future. The passion hasn't changed but the patience aspect has been tested. 

On Saturday we had the start of the longest lunar eclipse grace our morning skies. The wind was strong in some areas and the clouds hugged the horizon threatening to eat the setting moon. For our first location we headed to the banks of the Tukituki river, with the towering cliffs of Te Mata Peak on the other side. Andrew could already see a number of people up on the peak, but for the moment it was just Andrew Liz and myself on the deserted road. In the darkness I could just make out the crop of trees in the foreground. Our eyes are amazing creations, but the dynamic range of the scene pushed them to their limits. I calculated the difference between the brightest part of the eclipsing moon and the foreground to be around 18 or 19 stops, a challenge in anyone's language. But the scene had caught my eye. Trust the process I thought, and work out the rest later. Photographing this eclipse, which started so low in the sky and would set before totality, was always doubtful because the true colourful part would never be easy to see in the coming twilight. But that doesn't mean it isn't beautiful or worth missing. Sometimes things can just be enjoyed. 

By trusting the process and not focusing on the thoughts of success or failure...I guess that this is the lesson I have been learning this year. If you enjoy the journey, the images will come. 

The image in the end was everything I wanted, but by trusting the process and not focusing to heavily on the thoughts of success or failure, I think the image is stronger. I guess that this is the lesson I have been learning this year. There are so many other benefits, the experience, the friendships, I think if all you walked away with was the image, and didn't enjoy the journey, you would be missing something vital. Not every trip will lead you to a salon busting image but it will. As Andrew said on the way up to the peak, for every really good image I have from up there, I have probably been up there forty times with nothing to show. The work, the journey, it's the secret, there are no shortcuts.

When we made it up to the peak, we joined up with Simon. The place was crowded and the car park full. It was great to see people enjoying the spectacle, although those people trying to do selfies with the eclipse or flying drones over the crowd proved how self absorbed some people have become. Or maybe its a sign that they feel so small, unless they note their own existence, no one will know or care who they are. The clouds had the last laugh as they swallowed the moon, reddening as the sun began to exert it's influence. Oh the sunrise, but that will be another post, when I finish the image that is.

Eclipsing MoonMount Erin, Kohinurakau Range, Hawkes Bay