Failing Means You’re Playing

Derick Carss
Nov 1, 2015 · 3 min read

One year on the West Coast, Part 3

This morning I got out of bed while it was still dark and drove to the Marin Headlands. I found the trailhead and climbed half a mile uphill by the light of my phone. As the sun began to rise over San Francisco I set up my tripod and started to photograph the scene. I spent an hour experimenting with filters and compositions as the light changed and everything seemed right with the world.

“I was in the right place at the right time and it felt like I was taking my best photographs so far.”

Just as I was about to head home I noticed the fog inching in from the ocean. I knew if it crept all the way to the Golden Gate Bridge I had a chance to take an iconic Californian shot, so I decided to wait. It took well over an hour to reach the bridge but as the fog tickled the towers and slid over the hillside I was ready. My composition was framed and my setup balanced the light. I was in the right place at the right time and it felt like I was taking my best photographs so far. And then my memory card corrupted.

I swapped in a spare card and grabbed a couple more shots. They looked good but the light had changed and the moment was essentially gone. I tried everything to recover the images when I got home, but they were beyond repair. On the bright side I had those final images and even if I didn’t capture that moment, I got to experience it. A small consolation, but it was something.

Golden Gate Fog

This situation seemed to typify the last three months of the project. A few weeks previously I’d been at Baker Beach hoping to capture the sunset. I sidestepped the sunbathing nudists and climbed over multiple rocks to find the right angle and a bit of peace. Everything was going well until my tripod toppled in a moment of carelessness. Two filters shattered on the rocks and the shoot ran aground. Again, I tried to be positive; my camera and lens survived the fall, a minor miracle in itself, and the shot I captured before the accident seemed reasonably good.

Between those two incidents I’d dedicated myself to learning new skills. I undertook numerous SkillShare classes on landscape photography and processing skills. I read books about filter techniques and studied other photographers’ portfolios. The more I learned, however, the more I fell short of my own rising standards, but there is hope.

The two disastrous shoots I described produced two of my most popular photos online. One was featured in Flickr Explore and both reached ‘Popular’ on 500px. These are small victories in the face of defeat, but I’ve learned a painful lesson. You can have all the equipment, skill and education, but timing and luck are beyond your control. The best I can do is take some risks and try. As they say in Scotland, failing means you’re playing.

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