Biggest Mistakes, Best Images

“Bellissimo!” (Beautiful!)

One of my absolute favorite places to visit and photograph is “Firenze” (Florence) Italy. I’ve been fortunate to travel there 6 times over the years, first as a backpacker, then on many photo assignments, and once with my bride. Can’t wait to bring our girls there someday.

It was there I made one of my most important photography mistakes, and I’m forever grateful. That “mistake” resulted in one of my favorite images. Like many in this business, I don’t have formal photography training. Rather I crashed courses at the school of hard knocks. My teachers have included working photographers who I’ve assisted, “trial and error”, colleagues, industry trade organizations, and workshops. I’ve been a DIY do-it-yourself kinda guy.

On one trip to Italy, after many long days on assignment, I learned of a fireworks display over the Arno River, so I set out to take some personal shots. I positioned myself so that the famed Ponte Vecchio bridge was central in my scene, and captured this view as the sun set. Then the evening’s entertainment commenced and it was an unreal experience! Afterwards, I saw an unusual sight. A gondola most associated with the city of “Venezia” (Venice) was emerging from under the Ponte Vecchio. There I was, in the dark, perched on a narrow ledge off the side of the bridge, with my gear all packed up! I quickly rallied a lens, camera and tripod, and loaded the film (remember that stuff?). I fired away 36 frames as the gondola glided in and out of my view. It disappeared into the darkness.

Psyched, I pulled the film canister to wrap up my big evening. Gulp. My heart sank. The Fuji Velvia film I’d loaded was daylight balanced, and was not the Tungsten film I had intended on using. OMG! I did begin shooting while it was still daylight, but hours had passed and night had fallen. I BLEW IT!!! The primary light source had become the streetlamps with their yellow/orange color cast. Photographically, I screwed up this amazing scene and moment. My adrenaline was pumping and I was crushed.

No amount of gelato could drown my sorrows…I tried.

Upon wrapping up the rest of my assignments, I returned to New York. I ran my clip tests at Baboo color lab. I was expecting the worst from this particular shoot. But when I opened the envelope, my jaw dropped. The exposures were illuminated by luxurious gold tones that TOTALLY captured the Tuscan mood and vibe. I was blown away! I had royally F—D it up, and was I ever glad I did! “Grazie Mille” (Thanks a thousand times!)

I tend to like order, and honor the benefit and intent of most rules. But now, thanks to this experience, I felt free to break rules photographically. This Florentine photo made creative freedom a reality I’d never known. With the advent of digital photography years ago, and with the ease of the iPhone I always have a camera with me to explore and experiment.

It’s true. All the clichés apply, and for good reason. “Rules ARE made to be broken”. “Draw OUTSIDE the lines”. “Think OUTSIDE the box.” Of course, I’m still the boy scout who likes to be prepared and follow-thru on my plan. But I’ve learned to listen and trust my gut. Over the years, mentors and valued clients have encouraged and challenged me to go with my instinct, take risks, get dirty and wrestle in the creative process and surprise myself. When I try new things, keep exploring and discovering, the creative muse is always accessible.

I always deliver on what’s expected (the assignment) and also offer the surprise of the unexpected. Recently a great client of mine commented that what made me most nervous about each new environment was exactly what got us some of our best imagery that day. There’s this “sixth sense” that seems to kick in to enable creative problem solving.

So … BRING IT ON! Here’s to making mistakes, and getting a little dirty in the creative process! Let’s keep stokin’ the flames of inspiration!


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