The Impact of Experience on Failed Photo Ratios


I saw an interesting thread yesterday in which one photographer asked a more experienced photographer about their failure rate – or more specifically the ratio of good photos to bad.  This is something that I come across more often than I should.  There is some belief among inexperienced photographers that at some point in ones photographic career, they magically reach some point where every photo is going to be perfect.  This is just not the case.

Before we can really discuss failure rates – the number of photos that don’t make the cut – it’s only fair to discuss film vs. digital and how each impacts this ratio.  With film, there is a natural tendency for a photographer to resist pressing the shutter.  Those shooting with digital cameras may shoot more often on the simple principal that the film is – for all intents and purpose – unlimited.  I don’t intend to get into the advantages or disadvantages of either scenario.  What’s important to note is that we can naturally expect that the failure rate of digital photographers would be higher than that of film photographers.  But lets not be unfair – this isn’t necessarily the fault of an inexperienced photographer – it’s very likely that a digital photographer may take more risks or be a little more experimental.  Remember, failed experiments will still end up in the trash.

As one grows in their experience and wisdom in photography, one can certainly expect to reduce the number of failed photos.  But no photographer, even the most experienced, can say that every photo is deserving of a spot in their portfolio.  As you grow, you will grow more critical of your work.  With higher standards, it may even be possible that your failure rate increases.  Is that a bad thing?  Not at all.  It just means that you’re growing better at scrutinizing your own work, and your portfolio will benefit.  On the other hand, you may grow stronger at catching failures before you click the shutter – and your failure rate will decrease.  But that’s not always a good thing.  What experiments are being missed and what risks aren’t being attempted?

I guess my point is overall that a failed photo ratio is absolutely worthless in determining your skill as a photographer.  In fact, I feel that you should ignore this ratio.  I also think that you should stop worrying about failed photo attempts.  You can learn just as much – if not more – from your failures as you can from your greatest shots.  And with that, I leave you with a quote:

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” — Ansel Adams


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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