Hello darkness...Dealing with disappointment

“It’s the 28th December and I’m in The Hermitage in Dunkeld. It’s minus 4 and I’ve walked myself stupid searching for an interesting composition. I’ve slipped on rocks and nearly ended up in the river twice, I’ve got a wet arse and been smacked in the face with ice covered branches numerous times. My eyes are streaming, my hands are numb, I can’t feel my face and I’ve traversed a near full spectrum of emotions.”

“On the way here I was optimistic. I know The Hermitage well and have taken pictures here many times before so when I saw the weather report predicting snow and freezing temperatures I was pretty excited. In my head were visions of Narnia. However, pulling up in the car park my optimism has quickly soured to pessimism. There’s no snow to be seen and while there are some frozen areas they are very few and far between. Every where I want there to be ice there’s none. After an hour my pessimism is turning to realism, realism that this could be a solid waste of time. I’m not going to get the shots I came here for but I don’t want to go home empty handed. I’ve set up my tripod at the falls but upon opening up my bag I’ve realised that while cleaning my camera for the trip yesterday I forgot to refit my L bracket. I therefore have no way of attaching my camera to my tripod...f*****g perfect.”

“Sitting in the car with the light fading and warm blood slowly starting to return to my limbs I’m faced with the reality that I am going home empty handed.”

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There is always one day, every now and then like that one. Days where nothing goes right. Where the location is perfect but the light is wrong. Days where the light is perfect but the location is wrong. Days where there’s meant to be snow but it never arrives. Days where you stand for 2 hours waiting on sunset only for a cloud to move in in the last 5 minutes. Days where I’ve travelled 2 hours to a location only to realise I took my damn L bracket off while I was cleaning my camera and left it at home. Days where I find the perfect sand dune just as someone’s over excited spaniel jumps in it. Days where the conditions are perfect, the location is perfect and I have everything I need with me to take a great picture but for some unknown reason I’m just not on it. 

While it may appear so, this is not intended to be a negative post. On the contrary I think there is great value to be found in the difficult days. As unlikely as it may seem, they can be a positive, it has just taken time and experience for me to see and understand why. When I first started out in photography I would get bummed out heading home empty handed. I would shoot anything just to avoid that feeling but over the years I’ve learned that that inevitably leads to disappointment. Sitting at the computer staring at those pictures desperately trying to work out what I had in mind when I shot them lead me to understand something fundamental - there is much much more to photography than just taking pictures. I know, that sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but when I was first starting out in photography I just wanted to take pictures. I wanted to try and capture everything because it was exciting. Further down the line comes the realisation that to take good pictures requires a more measured approach. Do I regret those days of random splash and dash photography? Absolutely not. Coming home from a trip with 600 images, binning 599 of them and realising that the only keeper was the one image I actually thought out, set up properly and took my time to get right was a huge wake up call. I would go as far as to say it was the single most valuable lesson I have learned. The aim now is to come home with just that one perfect shot.

So why when I was first starting out did I feel such strong disappointment at coming home with nothing? I guess the simple act of taking up photography in the first place suggests being creative. There is a need for me to create and therefore it was perfectly justifiable for me to have felt disappointment when not given the opportunity to do that. But I also think I hadn’t yet worked out what I was looking for. I know now that I’m not looking to just create content. I don’t want to just turn up at the popular places, shoot an ok image, apply a preset in post, tick the box and move on to the next month’s hot locations. What I really want is to find myself in places that inspire me, that create a sense of awe, that speak to that creative part of me. If I can then point my camera at those scenes and perfectly capture the emotions I felt in that moment and convey them to others, then I have succeeded. That is why days like that Thursday in December, walking around freezing in The Hermitage have become such a positive. They remind me that it’s better to not shoot anything and go home with nothing than to shoot everything and end up with nothing of value. One day I will be back in The Hermitage, it will be frozen solid and will look like the Narnia of my imagination. So long as I have remembered my L bracket I will get my pictures.