What Colonel Sanders can teach us about our photography

I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Michael Jordan

Consider the story of Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of KFC and not a photographer in the slightest. He lost his father at the age of 6 and became responsible for feeding his siblings. Sanders subsequently developed a passion for cooking, refining a fried chicken recipe over the ensuing decades.

Long before KFC was a commercial success, he tried his hand at being a railway worker, a streetcar operator and a life insurance salesman, among other things.

He also started a lamp manufacturing company, only to discover that another company sold a better version of his lamp.

He built a motel that later burnt down, so he rebuilt it. Later it was closed at the onset of WWII.

At age 40, Sanders was running a service station and selling chicken on the side. A new interstate highway took the traffic and the business with it. Sanders eventually sold for a loss.

At age 65 and armed with a meagre $US105 social security check, Sanders began pitching the idea of Kentucky Fried Chicken to restaurants, sleeping in his car as he went. He was rejected exactly 1,009 times before one decided to give his recipe a go.

One thousand and nine times.

That’s all well and good you might say, but how can we apply the lessons of fried chicken to photography?


I equate tenacity with determination and persistence. With playing the long game and enjoying the process, no matter what it brings.

Sanders showed us that the realisation of one’s dreams can take decades. Life gets in the way, sometimes we get in our own way.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to go out and found a multinational fast-food chain, but I believe tenacity one of the most crucial ingredients in improving your photography.

Tenacity means returning to the same location over and over again to get the perfect combination of light and subject.

Or it could mean getting up at 5 am for a sunrise shoot, even though the last 16 times you went out, you didn’t get shots you were satisfied with.



Although Sanders was destined to become a chicken magnate, he was not afraid to try other things. That he sometimes failed spectacularly is largely irrelevant.

Why? Because for him to truly know what he liked doing, he had to find out what he didn’t like doing.

We often don’t receive this critical feedback, because we don’t try in the first place.

Open-mindedness means welcoming the possibility of a new location, subject, or technique. It’s easy to convince ourselves that we don’t like something without giving it a red hot go first.


Passion may have been what motivated Sanders to hit the road in his sixties and risk it all to follow his dreams.

Passion for me is standing bleary-eyed by the side of the road at 3 am taking photographs of thunderstorms, convinced that the rustle in the bushes behind me is a snake or worse still, a flock of killer sheep.

Passion elevates your highs into the stratosphere and smooths out your lows so that you can start climbing again. It helps you build resilience to whatever else life throws at you.


Courage is defined as the ability to do something in spite of fear. Sanders had a grand idea to showcase his fried chicken recipe to the world, but this brought the inherent risk of rejection. He did it anyway, pitching his idea to restaurants over and over again.

It’s supremely important to push past the fear.

Fear was a useful defence when our ancestors were trying to outrun lions the size of houses.

But while modern civilisation has little to fear in the way of life-threatening megafauna, the potential of being rejected elicits that same primal response from the brain.

Fear and ego may prevent you from putting yourself in a position where you or your work could be scrutinised. It could be something as simple as entering a local photography competition.

But scrutiny is not life-threatening, so put yourself out there anyway and see what happens.

Courage is not doing our work in denial of our fears, but in response to them.

David duChemin

Fail to succeed

Colonel Sanders had tenacity and willingness to try new things that ultimately led him to doing the thing he wanted to do in life.

But it took courage and a passionate devotion to fried chicken to realise his dreams.

To move forward with your photography, you ought to embrace the process and everything that comes with it. Be that scrutiny, rejection, fear or images you aren’t happy with.

If you’re passionate about photography, I mean really passionate, then making photographs is one of the best things you can do for your own well-being.

Failure, in particular, should be welcomed – because it means you’re taking action and (eventually) getting to where you want to go.


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    1. For sure! Don’t think I would have had the energy at 65 to bother pitching a fried chicken recipe. Whatever floats your boat I guess!

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