10 Uses For Your Photographer’s Workbook

Young olive skinned girl crouching by partially shown stools with an intent look on her face as she takes a photograph through a window. It looks cold and bright outside, there are people walking past and the butterfly logo of Itsu is clearly visible on a temporary fence around tables

Taken with my Sony Ericsson S7 Edge, this is one of my students shooting through an Itsu window with my old D700, (c) Carole Edrich 2017

This post; revision for my ‘improvers’ photography students and an extension of the notes I give to my beginners, discusses some of the uses and benefits of the photographer’s workbook.

What is a photographer’s workbook?

A way to document how you are thinking and what you are thinking of; both a record of your development and a tool. Like any personal project or journal, it’s up to you to put in as much or as little as you choose.

The photographer’s work book can be used to:
• help you develop your own style,
• help increase the pace with which you improve,
• reassure you: it will show you how your photography has developed and your thinking improved; something it’s very easy to forget,
• help you understand your strengths and weaknesses and to decide what technique or theme might be best to work on next,
• help you evaluate your own work and its impact on others
• help you plan and visualise future work

.. and very much more.

The photographers’ workbook tends to develop over time. A beginner might just log images they like and hate, the EXIF data, an artist’s statement and how they see (and plan to show) narrative and themes in their images. I started by saving notable images to a ‘development’ directory along with a document with notes.

As the photographer improves, other things become interesting and photographers tend to look beyond their own work to that of others – and even to other forms of art – to help them develop their own. While it all depends on what your objective is and the extent to which you want to push your creative development with this type of structured approach.

Things you might consider including in a photographer’s workbook:

1• Strategy and Objectives
What do you want to get out of photography? Where do you see yourself next year, in 3 years time or 5 years time?

Some workbooks start with a project description, others are course related, others are specified by the client in terms of an idea, theme or specific commission and others are whatever seems important at the time including ideas that have been discarded or developed. This is really important as a developing Fine Art photographer will pick themes and display their work very differently to someone interested in street photography and both will follow different paths to those wanting to develop their documentary photography skills.

2• Artist’s Statement
At the beginning this might be simply what you find interesting. Did you start photography for a reason? Previous students have come to courses because of an interest in baby photos, landscape photography, a holiday, a safari, to document pets, for personal blogs or work, but over time this might change.

Maintaining a photographer’s workbook –  like learning –  is an iterative process, so the chances are that you might want to refine your Artist’s Statement after a while. Don’t delete the original statement, store it somewhere so that you have a record of how your creativity develops.

I started photographing dancers while I was waiting to be asked to dance so for a while my work was pretty random. The first decision I documented was to take photographs that extended the narrative of the features I was writing, so that first artists statement was pretty bland. When I’m struggling to create an image that encapsulates my current objectives well, it’s reassuring to be reminded of how very far I’ve come.

3• Inspiration
What sort of thing appeals to you? What inspires you?

This often ends up in the Artist’s Statement but consider whether or not it is worth recording on its own.

Once, for three months, tired of the clichéd images of tango dancers’ faces in close embrace, all I photographed was tango dancers’ hands! I can trace my own priorities through ways of showing particular dance forms, moods, movement and light. Now my inspiration comes from feelings, ideas, the expression of potential and always from light. My workbook notes help me understand what currently informs my photography and how I might develop further.

4• Ideas
What do you think you want to do?

This might be rough sketches, words or other expressions of ideas and is likely to be quite random in your first workbooks. To begin with that is good. Even if you know what you want to concentrate on, you’ll need to experiment with different approaches and techniques and of treating the subject.

If you record how you felt, whether you enjoyed it, what you need to develop your technique and whether your shots are beginning to meet your objectives, you’ll have made a good start in developing your own photographic style and voice.

5• Research

Play with the camera. Modern day cameras are hard to break, so ‘what happens if..’ is a good game to play. If you’re up for it, hire a lens or other kit that you’ve never used, or try tricks and techniques you’ve found online. It’s all good and will help you learn.

6• Copy
Photography is an art and to help you develop it, find photographers whose themes or techniques appeal to you and include them in your workbook. Can you identify different techniques? If you like them, include them and document how you try to emulate them.

7• Development
Include samples of your work, maybe also contact sheets. Note what worked well and what didn’t and what you might change when you try again.

8• Final pieces
Don’t just include the photos you’re happy with or the ones you have selected to share with others. Keep some of those you’ve rejected too. It is useful to articulate why you’ve rejected some images and decided that others are good as it will help you understand better what you need to be doing next time.

9• Evaluation
Look at a recent project or series of images. Do you think it was successful? Did it meet your stated objectives? How can you consider things more impartially? What feedback did you get from others? How do you feel about it and do you agree? How might you develop this next?

10• Use
How can you use and share your photos further? Online? In print? As projections? It’s a wonderful world and the way you share and display your images is another great opportunity to exercise your creativity and imagination.