Success may motivate you to continue, but failure will teach you how to succeed.
I had a mentor who said he made 90% of his images to learn how to make the other 10% better. Reading between the lines, I came to understand that real learning comes from analyzing your failures, not reveling in your successes.
Each year in winter I examine my work from the past year looking for images for my portfolio. I have come to understand with time that it is at least equally important to study the less successful images for what can be learned from them. What elements of those images keep them from rising to the top? Why are they less interesting, or less powerful?
Those images that represent the cream of the crop do so for many reasons. The powerful and inspiring images will always be the minority, but the level of accomplishment of your work is as much measured by the quality of your work as a whole as it is by the few outstanding images that sit at the top of the stack. The challenge is to raise the level of your work overall. Therefore, your attention needs to be on your failures.
The digital camera is a teacher we work with daily. In film days we had to wait until we could review contact sheets to see what we had done. The problem was the shoot was over and we could only take the results into the next opportunity. The instant feedback of the digital camera, especially if you shoot tethered and can really analyze your images in detail, is real time insight into what you are doing and the opportunity to massage each image into something better.
If you are a street photographer or photojournalist this is not so easy. Photographs made where you have time to make changes, move lights or the camera, change settings, and otherwise manipulate how you are creating the image allow you an unprecedented opportunity. In studio illustration and often on location we would “pull Polaroids” to get this kind of feedback. With digital it is faster, more detailed, and a level above what we could have even imagined not so long ago.
What we need to do is convince ourselves to pay attention to the gift technology is handing us to learn from our own mistakes.