Do you have the photography curse where nothing ever goes right? Cos I sure do.
I’ve been eyeing off a particular location for about two years. It’s a tunnel of trees that turns golden for a couple of weeks each autumn, which may not sound all that exciting to you but where I live in Brisbane, Australia, it’s too warm for deciduous autumn trees so it’s a bit of a spectacle. The location is a two hour drive inland from my home up a mountain into rural farmland so if you’re going to make that kind of effort you want to make sure you get the timing right. I’d already tried to visit this location once before but failed to find it due to bad directions so this time I was ready.
For several weeks I’d been obsessively searching Facebook and Flickr for images of the location trying to pinpoint the exact right time to go. It was getting later and later in the season and my circumstances meant there was only one weekend within this ideal time period that I’d be able to make the trip. So I booked myself a night of accommodation at a nearby town because I wanted to be there either early in the morning or late in the afternoon for ideal light, just in case my plans for an overcast day didn’t plan out, because, based on previous experience, they rarely do. The bonus of the accommodation I booked is that it was on a hill with 360 degree views that see right out to the ocean on one side and rolling pastures on the other. I’d decided to make the trip out to the tree location on a Sunday afternoon thinking the weekend visitors would have headed home by then. And I’d thrown a couple of costumes in the car with the aim of taking some self-portraits, had planned out a bunch of ideas on how, what and where to shoot and had a folder on my phone full of images for inspiration.
We’ve had some pretty insane weather in these parts in 2022 with once in a lifetime flooding, happening twice already so as I’m driving there the condition of the roads are getting worse and worse, but the true nightmare began as we started driving down a steep winding road. The rain had obviously been so bad here that all the bitumen had washed away so it’s now a gravel road full of deep potholes that you couldn’t really see until you hit them, with a sheer cliff on one side and my mother who I’d brought on the trip with me literally screaming from terror beside me for the 15 minute journey. And I’m trying to pretend I’m completely calm and in control so she doesn’t freak out any further. Then as we FINALLY reach the bottom my tyres lost traction and the car spun out. But it was fine. Nothing bad happened except more screaming. And so we kept on driving.
But the drive was longer than I anticipated – about 50 minutes from the accommodation - and the sun is going down really quickly, so at this point I’m speeding while my mother’s rocking herself in the passenger seat until we finally find the location. And, oh no, the trees are still completely green, not a spot of yellow or red leaves in sight. And to make matters worse another car pulled up right before us, which is bright red, and has parked dead centre in the row of trees. So we sit in my car and we wait and we wait and we wait as the photographer from the other car takes all the time in the world to photograph the location. And he’s photographing his partner so he spends ages lying in the middle of the road looking up at her. A shot that could have been taken under any old tree. And I was so stressed and annoyed that I couldn’t even think of a single way to salvage this situation. They were in the way, the perspective wasn’t good and the trees just weren’t that exciting anyway and with the sun nearly down we decided to leave because we certainly didn’t want to navigate those scary roads in the dark. I was heartbroken. And considering how harrowing the whole thing was, I’ll probably never go there again.
Then as we’re driving back it’s a beautiful sunset but there’s nowhere safe to pull over and appreciate it and all the while I’m thinking, we could have just sat on our deck and enjoyed this without all the drama. And of course, by the time we got back the sunset was over.
Never mind I thought. The sky’s clear, the moon’s not out, there’s little light pollution, I’ve got the most incredible view of the sky and I check PhotoPills and confirm the Milky Way is primed to be right above us at a reasonable time in a few hours. So we head out to dinner and when we return, guess what? There’s 100% cloud cover that doesn’t dissipate for the rest of the night.
Trying to stay relentlessly positive my sky prediction app is showing that sunrise will be worth getting up for. It wasn’t. And not a single photo was taken the entire weekend.
Now you might think this is a bit of sad tale but this is not, by any means a one off. My mum, who often comes with me on outdoor adventures recently pointed out that whenever I pick up a camera I start saying ‘why is this my life?’ because something always inevitably goes wrong. And I didn’t realise I’d been saying it so often that it’d become my unofficial catchphrase.
I’d even spent this weekend away repeating the affirmation of ‘my photoshoots work out perfectly’ because I KNOW they never do.
The weather NEVER does what I want it to, even if it’s predicted to. If I need an overcast day you can bet your bottom dollar there will be sun, and on the rare occasion I need a sunny day it’ll be overcast for weeks.
If there’s no one else around and I take out my camera, suddenly a crowd will arrive in shot and adamantly refuse to move no matter how obvious I make it that I’m trying to take a photo. And I’m persistent, I will stand there for 30 minutes in the hopes of taking just one photo that would only take a second. You’d laugh if I showed you my travel photos because there’s always someone in the damn way.
Or a certain event might happen every day of the week EXCEPT for the day I visit. Or it’s the one day a venue is closed. Or a piece of equipment mysteriously stops working. Or I’ve organised a shoot so perfectly but the model can’t make it last minute. Or the photographer before me overheats the lights. Or it’s the windiest day on record every time I decide to take my backdrop outside. Or I can’t find a popular location, to later discover it was only a street away. Or other photographers around me nail a rare moment I somehow miss. Or I always get the hotel room on the bottom floor with no views. Or my props blow away in the wind before I’ve even shot them. Or someone appears out of nowhere to watch the minute I start taking self-portraits in costume. Or it’s the one day it rains. While travelling, I’ve been told ‘wow, we haven’t seen weather like this in years’ more than once.
Minutes after my prop blew away my wig blew off and got caught in my dress
Seconds before the backdrop fell on me
If something can go wrong, don’t invite me along because my presence assures that it will.
Or there’s the time I’d set up my camera gear to photograph a particular jetty at sunrise in Queenstown, New Zealand. Now there were 6 other jetties at this lake and suddenly, just as I’m ready to shoot, this couple appears and decides this is the very jetty they need to take photos on, walking around my equipment, nearly smashing a filter, and I couldn’t shoot there anymore.
Or the time I joined a group of photographers for an outdoor portrait shoot. I was reluctant to use my flash outdoors but seeing the results everyone else was getting made me decide to give it a go. And before I’d even taken a single photo with it, I ran to help a model walk down a hill in boots and the stand fell over and the flash fell onto the one patch of concrete among a sea of grass and smashed into smithereens. There goes that idea, and another $600. And always always always in these group situations, the one model I really want to work with is the same one that another photographer latches onto and decides not to share.
Some days it’s so very hard not to believe I’m cursed. Especially now, putting all this in writing and realising how much defeat and disappointment I’ve endured. But I have to remind myself that the world is not there to bend to my will and maybe this is actually a normal experience for most photographers. Although that’s hard to believe because I’m pretty sure most people would have given up if this was their reality. Does this happen to you too? It’s why I laugh at photographers who are committed to getting photos right in camera because GOOD LUCK.
Yet still I persist because I love photography and there’s important lessons here in learning to adapt, handling disappointment and in trying not to control everything, which is a particular problem of mine. And without the photographer’s curse I might not have found the need to become a Photoshop expert to salvage all my failed photoshoots. Or a self-portraitist who shoots mainly at home so I don’t have to rely on anyone else. Or how to confidently operate my equipment in any situation so at least one thing goes right.
And there are silver linings. No one’s ever been hurt. I’ve never damaged a camera despite dropping one in the ocean, twice and falling down a waterfall with it.
I’m telling you all this because it’s so very easy to give up when things are hard, especially when you don’t realise that it might actually be normal. While it’s hard not to lament the shots that could have been, there will always be something else to try.
And sometimes when we see people succeed we assume it’s because things are easier for them. When actually, the reason they’ve succeeded might be because they’ve failed so many times that they can now troubleshoot any situation with ease.
The only way to reach success in the face of failure is to try again. Or in my case, again and again and again and again.
So photography gods, if you’re listening, could you please just be a bit kinder to me from now on. Thanks a bunch.
And please reach out and share your photography fails with me so we can laugh and cry together!