I had a post earlier this week called “51 Things I Know About Photography.” If you haven’t read it yet, you should check it out. I’ve received a lot of emails over the past couple of days, asking me to clarify or expand on several items on the list. Interestingly enough, it’s been #37– Keep a journal– that’s generated several interesting discussions with readers in the last 72 hours. This also happens to coincide with one of my monthly rituals– running a complete catalog backup that I store off-site (#21, for those keeping track).
Perhaps I should explain.
One of the things I do before running the monthly backup is to go through all of the new shoots since the last backup and make sure that everything is neat and organized. Duplicates are deleted, file names are checked, and I make sure that key words have been assigned, so in six months or a year I can go back and find what I’m looking for with minimal hassle. It was while going through this process earlier today that I got to thinking even more about the benefits of keeping a journal.
Keeping Track of Exposure
This was really what I originally had in mind when I put it on my list. I love shooting film and it is– in my opinion– one of the best ways to not only learn exposure, but also how to trust your instincts when you dial those exposure values in on your camera. Film obviously has no EXIF information or metadata. I can’t go back later with images captured on silver halide and check shutter speed, aperture, date, time, camera model, lens, or gps coordinates. If that information is going to be useful, I’m going to have to keep track of it as I go. Which direction was the sun coming from? Would shooting earlier or later in the day have made a difference? Should I go back on a cloudy day? Digital brought with it an almost magical ability to embed an unbelievable amount of information in our image files. The advantages of keeping a journal, however, do not begin and end with film. There is also a place in our digital existence where keeping an old school journal becomes a valuable tool. More on that it a bit.
Keeping Track of Ideas
Number 33 on the list was “Listen to the ideas that won’t go away.” If you’re anything like I am, you’re almost constantly mulling over ideas for photo shoots. Some are new, while others have been percolating in your gray matter for a while. I remember a time when my gray matter didn’t need any help keeping track of ideas. Of course I also remember a time when I was single had few responsibilities beyond making sure my bar tab got paid. There’s no shame in writing stuff down. If anything, seeing these ideas down on paper is one of the first steps in bringing them to life. Outlining or sketching my ideas is a huge help in translating my vision. I do this not only for images I’d like to capture, but also for lighting setups I want to try. Almost any time a new client walks in the door I’m thinking about the ideas that won’t go away. You never know when lightning is going to strike.
Keeping Track of Memories
I should point out that this has nothing at all to do with my professional photography. No clients or art directors. Just personal photography. Everything from long exposures of the city lights at night to something as basic as a family vacation or get-together. Let’s face it– we capture light in a box and use it to tell a story. For client work, I need a system that’s going to help me find an image when I need it. For my family memories, I need something to round out the stories. I’m not going to be around forever– this catalog of images that’s backing up right now will one day be a part of my legacy. When that time comes I want my son to be able to look at our photos and see more than just the moment in time. I want him to know who relatives were that he never knew. I want him to know that this was the vineyard where his aunt got married when he was too young to remember it. Or what I was thinking when I captured the look on his face when he saw the ocean for the first time. Photos preserve memories, but people keep them alive. Sometimes those people need a little help.
When my dad passed away almost five years ago I started going through his library of images. Many of the boxes of negatives had small notebooks inside, while many of the digital folders contained text files with information that EXIF data will never be able to capture. Adding document files to my image catalog has become part of the monthly backup ritual. There’s no way to do it all at once, but chipping away at it a little bit at a time helps me create a photography journal that preserves not just the memories, but the stories behind them.
What About You?
Are you keeping a photography journal? What got you started? Tell us about it in the comments.