Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Un-Styled Shoot

When my business coach told me that I should start doing weekly personal projects (which I have dubbed The Styled Series), my first response was, But I'm afraid I'm going to fail. Meaning, what happens if I take crappy pictures and my idea just doesn't turn out? 

I think she assured me that I wouldn't. But four weeks into the adventure, I did.

I don't like admitting this. It's really uncomfortable to share this with the world. I usually try to see the silver lining, and salvage what I can, but there were hardly any salvageable images…really only a story. It sucks when you plan something, put in time and effort, and for a variety of reasons, it just doesn't work out. You feel like you wasted time and resources, you feel like you're not good enough, and disappointment sets in.

So here's the story: one of my project ideas was to do a shoot with colored gulal (aka holi) powder, but when I started researching it, buying the stuff seemed to be unrealistic in terms of time, money, and intention. Most of it comes from India, so it takes several weeks to arrive and is therefore expensive, on top of generally being bad for your skin because of the chemicals in the pigments. Being no stranger to DIY, I decided to make colored powder myself using cornstarch, water, and food coloring…and every cooking tray in our kitchen, much to Ben's delight. After mixing five different colors, I set them out to dry in the sun for a week. Except that it wasn't very sunny, and in fact, it rained several days and was very humid. But it seemed that the water had evaporated enough because the colored cornstarch was powdery enough, so I packed it up and took it to Georgetown for a photo shoot with a very wonderful, kind and accommodating friend who was super excited to play around with it and get messy.

But upon throwing it into the air, it became very obvious that it wasn't going to work. The beauty of gulal powder is how it spreads through the air and leaves a colored plume behind for a few moments before fading into the atmosphere. My homemade version just clumped and fell fast to the earth, barely leaving a trace of color. We tried a couple of times, but ultimately decided that it was still too wet and was not going to give the gorgeous intended colored effect. So we played around a little more, but I went home with nothing to work with.

On my way home through Friday afternoon DC traffic, I called Ben, dejected. I had spent a whole day executing this shoot - no really, a whole week, planning and working on putting this shoot together - and it turned out nothing. I really and truly felt like the worst photographer ever. Because I have always prided myself on being able to make something good out of almost any situation, I questioned whether I had given up too soon and what the heck I was going to use for this week's styled shoot. But this is why my husband is awesome: he said that even though it hadn't worked, he was still really proud of me. That right there was enough to start the waterworks, and yet he went on. He said he wished that he had the determination to take on personal projects and pour himself into something and make it happen - but it takes a lot of effort, so he usually just stops at the idea. And even if it didn't work out, at least I was still doing something and following my dream. 

I swear, this is why I married him. Sometimes, he just knows exactly what to say.

I recently heard somewhere (and I wish I could remember where) that when we are faced with a task that is outside our comfort zone, we usually ask What happens if I fail?  and we think about the possibilities and we scare ourselves out of doing it. But the real question we should be asking is What's worth doing even if I fail? In my heart, I know that although they take thought and effort to put together and come with the risk of not working out, my personal projects are helping me grow into a better photographer. And if my pride is really the only casualty of a failed shoot, then I'm still getting more out of the experience than sitting on my bum waiting for fate to turn me into the next big thing.

I love, love, love the idea behind this shoot, so I'm not throwing in the towel on the idea just yet. It's just taking a little longer to complete than I originally intended. As I was telling a friend about the powder, she suggested putting it in the oven to remove the moisture (an idea that had occurred to me earlier, except that I hadn't come up with a better drying mechanism than a hair dryer, which for obvious reasons was not going to work. I'm always seeing zebras instead of horses), which worked brilliantly. And I also decided to be extra prepared for the next time I try and saved a whole bunch of powder from our day at the Color Run - which I am positive will do exactly what I have in mind. 

So I am sorry to disappoint anyone who was excited about seeing a styled shoot today, but in the long run, I probably learned just as much from this one-that-got-away as I have from any of the others that worked out. And be on the lookout for attempt number two, which, with any luck, will be brilliant.


  1. I know how you feel. I've had a couple of styled sessions where the vision just did not happen. But when I reflect on the whole experience, I always try to find what I can learn from it and work on it for the next project. I think this just means that your idea has not completely bloomed into what you want it to be. I'm sure when you've got it in place, it will be AWESOME. :)))

    1. thank you for saying's always good to know that it's not just me! I really did learn something from this, even though it wasn't perfect :0) i wish you were closer so that we could do one together!

    2. I wish we lived closer to each other, too! Though...we can always plan one together via e-mail and then meet up to make it happen. :)