The Greater Mistake

In Film, Inspiration

Over a year ago I took down these words from the journal, JGS Witness Number One, guest edited by Stephen Shore, “And as an artist one doesn’t want to limit oneself and only take pictures you know will be good. There would be no growth.”

I take a lot of notes when I read. I have quotes scattered in half a dozen notebooks, and those words all mean something vital to me when I turn them about in my head and decide I need to copy them down and hang onto them for future reference, but it’s unusual for me to wholesale recall an entire quote. I believe this one has remained firmly top of mind because, as a film shooter with a perfectionist bent, I have a strong impulse to always do my able best to get the shot right – to play it safe with each of those 16 or 38 frames vs. trying something that might well fail. To yield to that impulse; however, would be the greater mistake.

I’ve shared a few of my multiple exposures here in the recent past – a selection of those that I’ve considered to be successes, but trust me, when you introduce that much chance and unfamiliar into your frame, they’re not all going to be winners. So in the spirit of the Stephen Shore’s quote and one of our Viewfinders Manifestos, Learn – We believe that making mistakes is essential on the road to making great images, I thought I’d share some of the misses and what I learned from them here today.

#1 Too Organic
The images that seem to work best for this technique have some recognizable manmade hard edges. Between the foliage, the grass, the disappearing path, and the water it’s really hard to get a reading on the boundaries between the exposures. Those boundaries, or clear delineations of frames within frame, are what I think deliver the dynamism of these images. For me, all of this organic softness is too murky, and a straightforward photo captures the scene more effectively.
#2 Too complicated
Here I’ve gone to the opposite extreme. There’s so much visual information in this image and it’s a rather unusual scene, that it’s hard to see this image as anything but a variation on the theme of triangles, but that total abstraction wasn’t my objective. The takeaway here is that if I want my viewer to be able to read the scene, I have to provide a bit more clarity in the initial frame. In case you are wondering, it’s a bank of Brutalist cement planters along a boardwalk beside a manmade lake with patio umbrellas from the restaurants in the distance. I chose a kind of low, off-kilter point of view, and with everything in the frame on repeat, it shouldn’t have surprised me that the resulting exposure was off-kilter and then some.
#3 The Happy Accident
Trying a multiple of a butterfly was one of those, “it’s probably not going to work shots” because I was incorporating the butterfly’s unpredictable flight pattern and skittishness into an already multi-variable frame. I didn’t get to pan slowly to follow the swallowtail’s small movements, because after I took my first two frames she bolted. I followed her for the remaining two exposures and so my “plan” or the way I’d intended to frame the shot had to be abandoned midway through. Instead of staggered motion, I ended up with a kaleidoscope, and in the process my eyes were opened to a whole new way of filling the frame in a multiple exposure by incorporating multiple angles and focus points to create a collage within frame.


For me learning comes from trying things that I think will work, things that I think might work, and a few things that I’m pretty sure won’t work. If I didn’t push the boundaries to the point of likely failure, I would never learn how far I’m able to go.

To quote something I’ve read a bit more recently, “At every stage of life, you should be a rookie at something.” Barbara Bradley Haggerty, Life Reimagined. At a certain point knowing you can get the shot isn’t enough. To grow you have to keep trying new things, and one of the things that I love most about photography is that no matter how much you know and how long you practice, it continues to offer fresh ways to be a rookie all over again.

What new have you tried recently? What can’t you wait to try? Please let us know in the comments!

Keep your eyes wide open,

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