Dealing With Disappointment | How To Make Sense Of That Sinking Feeling

After a shoot, the mind can sometimes fixate on the shots that you didn’t take. How can photographers make sense of that sinking feeling?

How are you feeling?” The groom asked me, as he showed me around the wedding venue on the morning of the big day. “I’m so excited about today,” I started to respond. I should’ve stopped there. Instead, as a perpetual oversharer, I continued. “But I also know I’m going to be so disappointed tomorrow when I think about all the photographs I didn’t capture.”

We were at Wells Cathedral, arguably the most beautiful of all the UK’s cathedrals, and a renowned movie and television show backdrop.

The tiny city surrounding it is the stuff of magazines: cobbled streets, picturesque arches and postcard-perfect scenes everywhere you turn, including what’s thought to be the best-preserved 14th century residential street in Europe.

I could’ve spent a week there and I would still run out of time to create all the images that flooded into my imagination as I looked around. But as always with weddings, today’s portraits would be created under the pressure of time. There would be an afternoon ceremony, an early evening meal and, of course, hundreds of guests wanting to spend time with the happy couple.

It was a wedding, not a photoshoot. I had to remember that while trying to tick off as many of my image ideas as possible. Because, although this venue was particularly stunning, I experience the same emotions every time I turn up for a wedding: first nervousness, then excitement, and finally disappointment.

Even after a decade in the industry, that sequence of feelings has never gone away. It’s only recently that I have realized it’s never going to change and that perhaps this is a good thing.

Drumming up courage

I went through a similar experience years ago when I was playing the drums for a band. Before every show, I was hit by a wave of stage fright. This would be followed by a surge of adrenaline during the performance before finishing with a low when I’d ask myself afterwards if I could’ve played better.

That question would stay, marinating in my mind, until the post-show critique. We recorded every performance so we could listen to it later, analysing it for future improvements. We wanted each show to be better than the last and cared enough to put in the time to make it so.

I still care. I care about delighting each client, ensuring every image is as good as it can be, and that I haven’t let anyone – myself included – down.

But if you were in the passenger seat of my Land Rover, travelling back with me the day after the Wells Cathedral wedding in 2020, I’d forgive you for thinking you were sat next to a madman. I spent most of the three-hour journey muttering to myself. My brain insistently tortured me with a mental film reel featuring all the locations and opportunities I didn’t get to use.

I wallowed in that disappointment as I unpacked my gear and backed up the day’s work onto the computer’s hard drive. My stomach lurched and the mental self-flagellation chatter continued as I loaded the images into Lightroom. I dreaded the day that these clients travelled up to the studio to see their wedding images in a few weeks’ time.

Then, finally, the dark sensation started to lift. I felt my shoulders and stomach relax and my breath properly fills my lungs for the first time as I flicked through the pictures.

Yes, I could see that I hadn’t captured everything I would’ve liked to. But what I had captured is beautiful. There are hundreds of images that are going to transport my clients back through each feeling and moment of their special day.

Instead of seeing missed opportunities, I’m suddenly visualizing wall art and album layouts. I picture the client in the reveal room, laughing with delight, sighing with affection and crying tears of happiness. I’m excited.

I realize that I’ve done the best job possible, with the time and situation I was in. And that’s what I really needed to know. If I’m honest, I’d miss riding this rollercoaster of emotions if they one day disappeared. The worry, paranoia and disappointment are just ghosts of my true intention: wanting to make my client happy.

If I stopped caring about that, and if I stopped being passionate about what I do, then maybe it would be time for me to put down my camera and do something else. I just hope that day never comes around.

N-Photo Magazine

This article is adapted from my article in issue 112 of N-Photo – the unofficial Nikon Magazine,

N-Photo is the only magazine devoted to Nikon photographers. Brimming with expert advice, product tests, tips and tricks, plus beautiful images to inspire your next session, you’ll be motivated to get creative with your photography and learn brand new skills with every issue of N-Photo magazine. Packed full of interviews and masterclasses with award-winning photographers, you will discover how to shoot great pictures, as well as enhance any imagery using Adobe Photoshop and other popular tools with helpful guides and step-by-step tutorials.

If, like me, you’re a Nikon user, please do support the magazine and think about subscribing!

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