Do as I Say, Not as I Do
There are countless mistakes to be made and lessons to be learned as an outdoor photographer. Not everyone should need to make all those mistakes firsthand. There's plenty to go around.
Let me stipulate at the outset that I've made my fair share of mistakes over the years. Sometimes, everything seems to work out perfectly. Other times, not so much. And while I haven't made every possible mistake over the years, there have been times when it seemed as if I must be trying to. There had to have been some explanation.
Regular readers here may already be familiar with at least some of my goofs as I've written about them before. Suffice it to say, I've done things I wish I hadn't. The details are available for the interested, whether motivated out of sympathy or to have a chuckle at my misfortune. Or perhaps so you don't make the same mistakes I have.
Don't sit so close to the edge of a precipitous cliff that you aren't prepared to risk falling off. No, I never have fallen off, but I did come a bit too close for comfort many years ago when trying to finesse my tripod just a bit nearer. That was all it took to learn that lesson. Some shots are just not worth it. Falling a few hundred feet to a rocky shore below would more than just hurt. Definitely something I personally prefer to avoid, if you know what I mean.
On the other hand, if you find that you blew out the highlights in a shot, you hopefully will have time to notice the problem, make the necessary adjustments and reshoot. Cool. I mean, I don't want to give the impression that all mistakes are life threatening. Some may be embarrassing perhaps, or at least frustrating, but you can still be better off learning to avoid them.
Don't forget your tripod on the kitchen counter when leaving home for a weekend photo outing. Tripods are essential things for shooting at the edges of light when the landscape is bathed in the colors of sunset and twilight. Or when the stars come out. That sure did mess up my plans, I can tell you.
And don't let go of your tripod when shooting from a bridge over a deep gorge if there's any chance of sudden wind gusts. Chances can become realities, and cameras don't like doing a faceplant in the middle of a concrete roadway. Murphy's law doesn't play favorites, even for photographers working to get an amazing shot. Oh, and camera repairs can be expensive. There's another lesson learned. Tripods are cheaper to repair, but I'm better all of us can find things they'd rather spend money on.
No need to move on to my litany of non-tripod related mistakes. You probably get my general idea.
Now, you might think knowing these sorts of lessons should be common sense. Yes and no. Indeed, I already knew pretty well not to do all of these dumb things, and yet at some point over my involvement in photography, I've done them anyway. I had other things on my mind, it would seem. Lesson learned. Hopefully, I won't do the same thing again, or at least not again too soon.
You see, it's not possible to avoid all mistakes. And it's not even that we clearly aren't perfect. Mistakes happen. Score another one for Murphy's Law and all that. Seems to me all the more reason to pay attention and try to use your best judgement.
Most outdoor organizations stress remembering the "ten essentials" including first aid supplies, flashlight, adequate food and water, and so on. The exact list varies, and some have thirteen or other item counts. If you are shooting outdoors, consider yourself part of the target audience. Don't go out with your camera if you're not properly prepared to go out at all. There are some lessons you are better off not learning first hand.
But here's the thing. If mistakes never do happen to you, you're doing something wrong, or at least not making the most of your opportunities. As the old saying goes, if you're not making some mistakes, it probably means you're not trying hard enough. If you keep pushing yourself to do better, you are bound to make mistakes. When trying something new, it's important to understand that mistakes sometimes come with the territory. Once you've mastered that new skill, it is hoped that the chances of a mistake should naturally decrease. And you can move on to different mistakes.
But that's not a license to throw caution to the wind. If you find yourself unsure of how best to proceed, try this simple test: can some given choice be undone, and if so, at what cost? If you fall off a cliff, it probably can't be undone unless you expect to grow wings on the way down. If your camera falls on the ground, it can be repaired, but it's gonna cost you. If you leave your tripod behind, it depends on how far you have to go to retrieve it. Either that, or it will put a major crimp in what subjects you can shoot without it.
When you know you have a choice to make, this can give you a yardstick to judge alternatives and avoid ones that seem too dangerous or iffy. Put in another way I suppose; don't do something you might regret. This might not save you from absentmindedly leaving your tripod behind someday but could save you or your gear from a nasty fall if you keep it in mind.
So, don't do as I do (or at least did). Do as I say. You'll no doubt still make your own mistakes anyway of course. There's probably nothing I can do to stop you.
But do be careful out there.