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The joy of accidents in photography 

click to enlarge Untitled Film Scan - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • Untitled Film Scan
In photography, accidents happen. A photograph could be out of focus or poorly exposed, or the composition could be off. Maybe the photographer just snapped a frame without noticing.

Whatever the reason, photography is as much about accidents and mistakes as it is about precision and perfection.

Happy accidents can lead to discoveries and I've always been drawn to them. Early on in my career, I found some of my best photographs happened when I made mistakes.

It's different for me today because I don't make nearly as many mistakes — some days I wish I did! But I've learned it helps to be open to the joy of accidents.

One example I found recently is on film scans. These may or may not be considered photography at all, but I like them. I sent in some old film lying around in my studio to the lab. I had no idea what was on these rolls of film, some more than a decade old, and I told the lab to scan whatever they found.

When I got the scans back I discovered a whole a series of frames that were filled with light leaks and nothing else.


I love the way these frames work! They were filled with color and unrecognizable as photographs. They look to me like abstract paintings.

What a nice surprise. After editing thousand of images and selecting pictures for precision and perfection, I can still discover something new — an accident in a roll of film that makes me take a second look.

What photography mistakes have you made that turned into happy accidents? Leave your comment below and if you’re willing include a link to an image. Would love to discover your happy accidents.

Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.


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