WARNING: TERRIBLE AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHS. NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART.
Recently a photographer I'm a pretty big fan of has been posting to Instagram every day during his trip to Nepal, and it made me feel a bit nostalgic about my time there. So I did what anyone feeling nostalgic did and scrolled all the way to the bottom of my Lightroom catalogue to take a look at some of the first photos I'd ever taken. It has been almost 2 years since my time in Nepal, and over a half a year or so since I'd looked at the photos I took while I was there. Having come so far in photography since then, I looked at those photos and felt no nostalgia whatsoever... I was just disappointed.
I bought my first camera 2 weeks before my trip to Nepal, and while I had a basic understanding of composition and lighting, everything else about photography was still either unknown or oversimplified in my head. Shutter speed was just a number to choose how much you wanted stuff in the photo to move. Aperture was the thing that made the background blurry or not. ISO was the thing I set to AUTO and forgot about. That was all I knew (and thought I mastered) when I got off the plane in Nepal.
It wasn't until I came back from Nepal that my knowledge of photography had grown, and I become more confident and consistent with the photos I was creating. I started seeing the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed and mastered my camera. Even then I was having more misses than hits, and I became more used to slip-ups than successes. Every time I fumbled and struggled with my camera though, it was during these rare opportunities that I'll never be able to replicate. I accidentally set my camera to an HDR picture setting and walked away with horrible photos from an overnight hike that in retrospect had an incredible affect on me (see pic below). I failed to check focus and walked away with out-of-focus shots more times than I can count...
Simply by learning the ropes of photography I felt like I was throwing away so many chances to take photographs. I look back know and wish that that learning curve, that photographic-puberty would have happened a year before, so that I would have beautiful pictures to show for those beautiful experiences in my life. The learning process (despite being one that never actually ends) has become this sort-of necessary evil to me.
The process of learning an art form or a trade is one of the most rewarding in the world, but it's one that you have to go out and apply it in the real world constantly to actually improve. The thing is the real world is constantly moving and changing. You may take a spontaneous trip, meet someone for the last time, stumble across some hidden gem of a place or a face and lose it forever because of a lack of skill, or lack of competence.
I want to give you some silver-lining, and tell you that 'you may lose a once-in-a-lifetime photo BUT you learned a little bit about yourself in the process'... It's true, sure, but I don't feel that way. I feel a sort-of regret, not like I learned something but like I lost something. Even know I struggle to believe that there was really an positive to those mistakes I made a beginner. The loss feels like it outweighs the gain. But it's a reminder that no-one is a perfect photographer, parent, teacher, artist, human-being from Day 1.
I can't tell you how to avoid losing those oppurtunities, reality of it is they're inevitable. All I can tell you is if you're new to anything, just be prepared to screw up instead of prepared to succeed.