The Journal: Photographer’s Best Friend


A Journal: The most valuable piece of equipment in your camera bag.

In a recent open poll, hosted by, participants were asked:  What is the single most important item in our camera bag? Some simply said “My camera”, others spoke about a specific lens, batteries, a specific filter or so on.  I gave it some thought of my own, and I responded:  My Journal.

I wasn’t trying to be cute or unique.  I really believe that my Journal is my most valuable item in my bag.  Over the years, my camera bags have changed.  My camera bodies have changed.  I’ve upgraded lenses, replaced filters and flashes.  Not one thing has been the same.  But I have always – always – carried a journal.  My journal of choice is a Moleskine Squared Soft Cover Notebook.  It’s small and durable – but everyone has their own preferences.  It goes with me everywhere I go.

A Journal For…

My journal serves many purposes and I fill its pages with countless details.  Here’s a list of many, but not all, things that end up in my journal:

  • Facts about photos I’ve shot (Filters used, lighting conditions – things your EXIF data won’t tell you)
  • Sketches outlining out how I set up a shot – so I can do it again in the future
  • Photo Ideas – ideas come to you at funny times.  Be prepared to write them down
  • Addresses/Locations of a site I’d like to visit (or revisit)
  • Anything else that comes to mind…

My list is certainly not extensive, and I’m sure many of you have other ideas.  So if you have ideas, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  But this list gives you an idea of the journals purpose.

So now the question arises:  Why is the journal my most valuable piece of “equipment” in my bag? The answer is simple – without my journal, I would not have learned half as much as I have.  One of my major lessons (and my regular readers will attest):  You learn more from your mistakes than you do from your successes. There’s a caveat to that, of course.  You cannot learn from your mistakes if you don’t know what you did.  So the most important reason to carry around a journal is to document the things that you’re shooting – it’s the very first point in my list above.  EXIF data is only going to tell you so much – and if you’re shooting film, you don’t even have that.  So write down the rest.  Write down lighting conditions, your shooting angles, where you placed reflectors and flashes and your tripod.  Write down anything that cannot be picked up by EXIF.  It’s even worthwhile to write down things like your mood, or weather conditions.  These things all affect your photos, so why shouldn’t you know it?  You cannot depend on EXIF alone.

Also as important is writing down photo ideas.  I wish we could all be so lucky as to be creative all the time, but it doesn’t work that way.  We get ideas riding in elevators or driving our cars.  Ideas come to us in your sleep or as we’re eating.  We can’t very easily set up our cameras at any given opportunity, and ideas are easily lost.  So write down your ideas and come back to them later.

It all comes down to learning.  Learning is something we should all be doing as photographers, regardless of your skill level.  There is always something to learn, and we will always make mistakes.  A journal is your window to your psyche at the time the shutter button was pressed.  So take advantage, write everything down.  And I assure you – you will grow significantly as a photographer.  So I challenge you to go out to the store – right now – and buy yourself a small pocket journal.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  But having one in your bag is important to your growth.

And so I bring it to you, dear readers.  Do you carry a journal?  If so, I’d love for you to share how it has benefited you and what kinds of things get scrawled across your pages.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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