Creativity, Failure & Groundhogs


The groundhog sat on the carpet with his front legs extended. A light green pillow lay on the floor about ten inches from him. An empty cup rolled on its side and stopped. He stared at the pillow, looking for its tongue, but it didn’t move. Slowly, he crawled across the floor and gave the pillow a cautious nudge. Nothing happened. Bob sat back in confusion and waited. He bumped the pillow again. A red tongue shot out and lapped him on the nose.

And thus the groundhog saw his shadow this past week, a sign that this mild winter is supposed to continue for another six weeks. Of course, none of this has anything to do with photography, but given that I have three other blog entries dealing with jobs that aren’t complete, I was left without anything to post this week. So I dug up a few images that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day.

Between test shots, alternates and faulty images, I think it’s safe to say that the majority of photographs are never seen. Nowadays they live on hard drives, on backup DVD’s, or wind up deleted because they don’t make the cut. The point in the end is to satisfy the client or to create something that is usable or sellable, but not every shot lives up to that. Every test and every failure though does serve a purpose if we’re willing to learn.

These three images, in my eyes, were failures in numerous ways. First up, the HDR of the waterfall is part of a panorama that when stitched shows off the full 360 degree scene, however it was the first time I’d ever tried anything of the sort. Conditions were perfect, the colors were amazing, and I wound up with something mediocre at best. The images wouldn’t stitch together due to viewpoint changes, I didn’t bracket enough shots to get detail in all of the sky, and the final product took me an unacceptable amount of time to make look presentable. I grabbed this single frame and polished it up, but as a standalone photograph, it’s badly composed and while the details in the rocks are great, it would have been better to shoot with something other than the fisheye. If I were to do it again, I’d get rid of the blue cast to the rock face of the waterfall, I’d add a flash to pop the subject out of the background, and he wouldn’t be sitting dead center in the frame. The hotspot where the sun is shining is simply atrocious.

The two images of the trees were again products of a panorama. The distortion at the edges of the fisheye lens caused problems when stitching the tops of the trees, and forgetting to shoot on manual exposure forced me to burn the trees in Photoshop to hide the obvious difference in tone. I nearly deleted the files altogether but let it sit for months which is when I came up with these two renderings of the scene. It strikes me now as too dark and should have been captured in brackets to pull the detail out of the scene. The tunnel is at least visually interesting.

Without those failures, I wouldn’t know how to capture similar images correctly. Failure is simply part of the creative process and an illusion. Maybe we get it half-right and work from there, maybe we learn something to apply later, or maybe we realize we’re barking up the wrong tree completely. With the other jobs I’ve been shooting lately, I’ve come to numerous dead ends, dealt with the frustration, and moved on. Another part of the process should be remembering that nothing beneficial is easy and that limitations can either assist or stifle creativity. Find what works and build on it. Sometimes it helps just to shoot everything you can think of, take a break, and then do it again. Rarely do we find what works on the first try, and not everything comes out the way we imagined it.

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