I'm a failure

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

Photography, like life, is full of failures. And like life, our growth depends on our reaction to those failures. Failed shots often get thrown to the wayside to make way for the successful shots that were taken. The thing is, if you don’t try and understand why those shots failed, you’ll never figure out how to prevent those failures from happening in the first place.

People tend to dwell on the failures in life, no matter how small. The thing that surprises me with photography, is how easy it is to ignore the failed shots and go straight for the keepers. Files are deleted, negatives thrown away, never to be looked at, or learned from.

This issue seems more common place in 35mm film where there are an abundance of exposures to pick from. When shooting medium format, you only get 15 shots max, and the failures tend to hit a lot harder. About a month and a half ago, I spent two weekends going on lots of trips. In the span of those weekends, I shot 4 rolls of slide film, which are $10-12 each. Of those four rolls, I got 4 or 5 usable shots. It hurt, a lot.

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

Overexposed Velvia 50, Lanesboro

I spent the weekends in Lanesboro, the cities, and on the North Shore, and had nothing to show for it. After I was done feeling disappointed of myself, I sat back and asked what went wrong. Once I had my head on straight, I did some research, and found out just how little wiggle room you have with slide film. Half a stop overexposed and you get a shot like the one above. One whole stop and you lose any and all remnants of detail in the snow like the one below.

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, at least I got the focus right… Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Since I had shot so much negative film (Color and B&W) I was going off of the same rules, but to a lesser degree. Come to find out, I should have been doing the exact opposite with the slide film. Negative films have a greater latitude, meaning they have objectively more room for error, and deal very well with overexposure. Slide film on the other hand, typically requires a slight underexposure to prevent any brighter areas from losing detail.

I was doing what I was taught, and in the same vein, I taught myself even more about film. One $45 photography lesson later and, underexpose slide film, meter for the highlights, don’t do that again.

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

Overexposed Provia 100, Whitetail Woods Regional Park

I’ve spent a lot of the past two years, learning to take my failures in stride, look at them as objectively as possible, and take away what lessons I can. This mentality has helped me grow as a person, and as a photographer.

So, here’s to screwing up everything, and hopefully learning from it. Just make sure you keep pushing on.

Say cheese!

In the world of portrait photography, getting a genuine smile out of someone is the most sought after moment. Capturing that moment can be incredibly hard, because most of the time, it ends up being forced. Photographers who shoot lifestyle portraits tend to let the scene play out between subjects (families, individuals, etc.), aiming to capture the moments in between direction. On the contrary, fashion photographers that have had years of practice to know how to twist, turn, and tilt their models to look as flattering as possible. Ordinary people typically don’t know how to pose, but they know how to force a smile.

Most of us grew up hearing the phrase “Say cheese!” And most times, all this accomplishes is something between the look of a nut cracker’s painted face, and a child meeting their favorite character at Disney World. It also doesn’t help that most people, if any, don’t actually like having their picture taken. I can’t stand it, so I understand when other people don’t either. When I’m taking pictures, I try and fall in the middle somewhere between lifestyle and fashion photography, certainly leaning towards the more relaxed flow of lifestyle.

Posing is a topic I’ll discuss in length, but on another day. What I’m after, for the most part, is to capture the small details that come with everyone’s own personal smile. My favorite smile is the one that follows a big laugh. Why the laugh occurred in the first place doesn’t matter. Whether it’s from a cracked joke, a failed attempt to look serious, or some other goofy situation developing nearby; all that matters is that for one split second, something made my subject happy enough for their real smile to shine through.

One thing that I’ve found helps tremendously is having my client bringing friends. I’m not talking the entire class of 2019, but two or three close friends that can make the person being photographed smile with just a look. A one on one session is incredibly awkward, so what better to loosen someone up than having their best friends with them?

Something I hope my clientele will come to expect from me is a relaxed, organic session. Having your photo taken doesn’t need to be a stressful, awkward situation. Bring your friends, don’t be afraid to be yourself, and lastly, let’s make this as fun of an experience as possible.

Some Sort of Solace

Photography came into my life at a time of complete and utter turmoil. I was depressed, and lacking the purpose I so desperately craved. My last semester in Mankato, I only took three classes, one of them being black and white film photography. If it weren’t for that class, I’m not sure where I’d be today.

There’s a weird thing about hopelessness, everything feels pointless. The only tangible evidence of being productive came to me the first time I came out of the darkroom with an image I had taken. That slightly wet piece of paper, with a picture I created, brought me a sense of purpose, something I hadn’t felt in months. I became addicted to that feeling. I should have been sleeping, but in between classes and work, I would spend hours in the darkroom. Ten hours, standing in the dark staring at an 8 by 10 piece of paper, was the minimum each week. Occasionally racking up well over 30. Having a hand in creating something from start to finish brought me a kind of joy I wasn’t familiar with. After being numb to life for so long, it was a welcoming feeling.

When I wasn’t developing film and making prints, I was sitting at the coffee shop, binge watching photography classes like people binge watch shows on Netflix. Photography became my only solace in the darkest time of my life. It kept me alive. Nowadays, after being on medication for nearly three years, photography is still one of the few things that makes me feel truly alive, truly happy. If it weren’t for my photography teacher, I would have never gotten the help I so desperately needed, or found the brightest light in my life to this day.

I’ve learned these past few years that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to not do whatever you can to improve yourself and find the happiness that we all deserve. Photography illuminated the dark world I was living in, and helped me to find a way out.

Yesterday I took pictures of a friend’s wedding, for free. My friend Tyler, who was getting paid to photograph, told me, “I can’t believe you’re doing this for no money.” The thing is, if money wasn’t an issue, I’d do it for free all the time. Getting paid to photograph is wonderful, because it’s another for of affirmation for my work. But freezing a moment in history, especially on film, is payment enough sometimes. If you’re in a dark place, why not do whatever you can to chase that light?

How it all started

My love of photography began at a young age. I was always stealing my mom's camera for various purposes, trying to replicate what I saw in the world. When she got a new camera, I got her old one, though I still borrowed her new one quite often (sorry mom). The first time I borrowed her new one was to take pictures of the stars, and I had no idea what I was doing. I couldn't get the camera to focus on the stars like I thought it would, so I had to set the camera up in full manual mode. That moment sparked years of research into figuring out exactly how the cameras worked down to each and every setting. 

I kept photographing in the years to follow, not quite knowing what I was doing. Once I enrolled in a film photography course at college, I really started to get enamored with photography as a whole; even with such "old" technology. I learned to slow down, analyze what I was doing, and get the best picture possible. After switching to digital again once I moved back to Rochester, I began to miss the process of shooting film that I had fallen in love with.

I picked up my film camera for the first time in nearly two years, and started shooting again. There is no instant gratification from film like there is with digital, and there is a lot more pressure to get it right in that moment. Though I may not be developing and printing like I used to, film has forced me to slow down, be present in the moment, and really think about my settings, lighting, composition, before I press the shutter button. Film pushes me to know what I'm doing at all times. That challenge I'm faced with during every shot is why I have returned to film. More awareness. More risk. More pressure.