Growth Mindset: What to do when you fail


What do you do when you fail? Your short story got rejected? The photos you spent hours taking came out looking like shit?
Do you despair? Do you say, ‘ah, sod it. I’ll do something else’? These are signs of a fixed mindset, as opposed to a growth mindset. I just had one of those failure moments, and this is what I’ll do to pick me up.

Psychologists differentiate the way people react to failure or criticism into two categories. Those with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. In a nutshell, those with a fixed mindset think that they are good at something (or not good at something) and leave it there. Criticism or failure either destroys their worldview or cements the previously held belief. People with a growth mindset see criticism and failure as opportunities to grow, to improve, to get better. Photographer and blogger Anthony Northcutt recently wrote a piece on how this relates to his photography and in an instance of serendipity I came across his blog a day or two before I needed a lesson in cultivating my growth mindset.

My own photography has been lying dormant for a year or so. I went from shooting daily to just a few photos now and then. I haven’t developed a roll of black and white in over a year. I haven’t used my scanner to scan any negative strips for about the same amount of time. Recently, I started using my cameras more and more again. In early 2014 I got a Zenza Bronica  ETRSi. It was a very good deal on what used to be a real pro camera. The reviews on the internet about the lenses are all very positive and I expected a lot. Medium format awesomeness from a great camera with great glass. That’s what I wanted. What I got was a lot of disappointment. Some photos had light leaks, some looked very “flat”, had no “punch” whatsoever. I couldn’t get a proper scan from any of them.

My first reaction was disappointment with the camera. Which is, quite frankly, bloody stupid. It’s not the sodding camera that takes the picture. It’s me.

I needed to stop and think about it, dissect the reasons for the failed photos.

Light leaks? Well, just a stupid mistake of opening the magazine. I had hoped that I could salvage more pictures from that roll. I can’t, so just write it off. In another case I remember that the sun was burning down when I changed rolls. I tried to shield it with my body and it was only negative film, not slide film. But hey, that’s not excuse to be even more careful. I should’ve gone under the shade of that big, massive tree that was there!

Flat pictures? Well, I shouldn’t have been such a penny pincher. Coughing up 500 EUR for camera and lenses and then not willing to invest a bit more in proper lens shades? Doh!

I also realised that this camera requires me to get better with my light metering. I used a handheld meter, but did I really know what I was doing? Did I keep proper notes, did I adjust my development according to what I did on the scene? I am now looking into doing a course in proper metering. I will read up on the subject. I need to get better at what I’m doing.

Leaving that film lying for too long in the fridge? My fault.

Not satisfied with the results from scanning? Well, Silverfast is considered a pro scanning software, so maybe I just need to invest the time to use it properly!

I was being impatient. That’s it. Expecting that I would get away with sloppiness, with a lack of care. With not investing too much time and hoping for the best. It doesn’t work like that in analogue photography. There is a time for carelessly snapping a few pics with a fun back-to-the-basics camera, and there is a time when you just have to take your time to get it right. If you really want to get the most out of film, you have to be patient and learn, learn, learn. Nothing like the humbling experience of looking at a bunch of sub par images from a pro camera to teach you that.

2 thoughts on “Growth Mindset: What to do when you fail

  1. I think I nailed most of the issues I encountered. The main problem seems to have been the film backs for the Bronica. Similar to cameras they have light seals which after decades of use crumble to bits. One of my magazines definitely needs new light seals. Here’s another lesson: spend those few minutes on checking your gear to save you from the frustration of spending hours and hours on pictures that will be ruined by a stupid light leak in the end!

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