That Dream Where You Forgot to Wear Pants to Work
OK, so I've never gone on a photography outing and to find that forgot to wear my pants, but I have made other dumb mistakes that put a crimp in my plans. I'm betting you have too. After all, to err is human.
Before I go on a trip with my camera gear, I try my best to be prepared. Likely you do as well. But despite the efforts at planning, sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes, mistakes happen, or things come up that we didn't plan for. Random, or unlikely things we might fairly be able to consider as outside of what we could have expected, and thus as things we can feel comfortable in not planning for. But the responsibility for some things that go wrong has to fall squarely on us. On you, or on me.
Perhaps the stupidest thing I've done in the past is something I've mentioned before on this site. The drive up to the end of Mt. Baker Highway and Artist Point overlooking both Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker takes just over three hours without traffic. On a busy weekend with Friday afternoon commuter traffic, it can take at least five. On one such weekend outing years ago now, I had been pleased to finally get there just as the sun was beginning to set. On my arrival, I quickly jumped out of my car and started to unpack my gear before the golden light faded. To my surprise, I found that I had forgotten to bring my tripod. It was nowhere to be found, and it only took me a few minutes to realize that it was still sitting on the counter at home. Bummer. In was obvious at that point that I wasn't going to be able to shoot at exposures long enough to photograph the landscape at sunset that evening. Unless I was going to declare the entire weekend a bust, I had no choice other than to belatedly turn around and drive back home to get the darned tripod. After a long round trip drive and a short night's sleep, I was back, tripod in hand for sunrise, trying not to laugh too hard at my own stupidity in having forgotten it. At least I had my pants.
That one was wholly on me. Some of my mistakes though have been all too easy to blame on bad luck or other factors beyond my control. When a sudden gust of wind whipped down the canyon, causing my tripod-mounted camera to come crashing down on the roadbed of the bridge over the Nisqually River on the way up to Paradise at Mt. Rainier, it was my fault for not holding on to it securely enough. It's easy to say I couldn't have predicted what happened, but I'd been there before. I knew that the canyon could funnel the wind in unpredictable, freaky ways. Picking things up from the road and assessing the damage, I felt pretty stupid, but at least I had my pants.
And when I hiked several miles on a trail, uphill both ways, only to realize I hadn't copied the prior day's images to my laptop so I could reformat my memory cards, I could blame that on being tired the night before, but the net result was that I was in a real bind for shooting at the end of that hike. If I was too tired that night, I could have taken care of things in the morning before heading out on the trail. A search of my pants pockets didn't turn up any more memory cards, so I had to pick and choose what I could delete to make some room. Even then, I had to waste precious time culling images to sacrifice. Boy, did I feel stupid.
I've made all sorts of mistakes over the years. Almost running out of gas, taking wrong turns on the road and on the trail. You get the idea. Some mistakes have been small, other not so small.
Here's another one that could have been disastrous. At Ecola State Park in Oregon, overlooking the famous Canon Beach area, there's a trail along the bluff edge. If you want to the really good views though, you climb under the railing and get even closer to the edge. It's a common thing to do, and I have indeed done it. But on one occasion when I was younger and apparently thought of myself as invincible, I crept a tad too close to the edge. It's not a sharp drop off. The inclination of the hillside just gradually increases until horizontal eventually becomes nearly vertical. That day, as I inched ever closer to the point of no return, I lost track of just how far beyond the trail and railing I had gone. It was easy to slide another inch forward, and thus downhill, but when it came time to inch my way back up the hill I found it to be much more difficult going backward than forward had been. With my but firmly planted I was plenty safe, but any attempt to slide my way back uphill, only caused me to lose traction and slide a bit further downhill instead. Clearly, everything turned out OK in the end since I'm writing about this now, but I can tell you it took a fair bit of attention to detail and concentration to return uphill to safety. I had let my zeal for the best vantage point stupidly get the better of me.
So, is there a moral to all these sordid tales? Gosh, I sure hope so.
We all make mistakes. Surprise. We're all human. And this is not a dream.
Some mistakes are relatively minor. Inadvertently shooting at the wrong shutter or forgetting to check for dust of fingerprints on your lens speed may ruin your image but it is unlikely to ruin your day. Running low on battery power when far from a charger may put a crimp in your day but won't risk damaging your gear or injuring yourself. Clearly, other mistakes can be far. But we need to learn from our mistakes. Without soiling our pants.
Some lessons we can hopefully learn from others. Hopefully not everyone needs to risk sliding over a precipice in the name of getting a better vantage point. But some lessons won't really sink in until you encounter them first hand. When your parents warned you years and years ago that the stove was hot, it didn't really have a meaning until you ignored them and burned your hand on it.
Don't obsess over the small stuff. But do your best to learn from your own mistakes as well as those of others. I've known photographers who continue to make the same mistakes over and over again and then puzzle over why their images don't improve over that time. And I've known photographers who make mistakes but duly consider what happened and what they can learn from it so as to lessen the chance of repeat and thereby improve.
There are no photographers that don't make any mistakes. Remember, we're all human. We all put our pants on one leg at a time.