Why I Journal & You Should Too

If you want to increase the creative and emotional range of your photography, then you need to keep a journal.

Creative leaders in the photographic field such as Adams, White, Szarkowski, Stieglitz, as well as contemporary artists all keep or kept journals, many of them quite detailed. However, journaling is not limited to those pursuing the arts; Thomas Edison, Marie Currie, Lewis and Clark, Eisenstein, Mark Twain, Steve Jobs, and Serena Williams did or do it. So does Oprah. Tyler Perry says journaling helped him launch his career. Presidents and paupers alike kept journals. In other words, you don’t need to be famous to journal, but the fact that successful people in all fields journal should tell you this is a powerful practice.

As Psychologist Reb Rebel says, “Journaling is the Swiss Army Knife for healing and personal growth.”

At our core, all of us know that life is a great teacher, but you have to take notes if you want to be a meaningful student. That’s why I made journaling a regular part of my photographic and personal ritual many years ago. Today I stress journaling with our National Park Photography Expedition Workshops, and I have observed that students who journal during their classes achieve creative visual approaches and develop deeper themes than those who don’t.  More often than not, these same photographers continue to journal when they leave class if they had not been doing so before coming to the workshop.

And I believe the most important benefit of keeping a journal is this:

Journaling helps us identify limiting beliefs and replace them with liberating truths.

How to Keep a Photographer’s (personal) Journal

There are several things photographers should consider when beginning to journal.

  1. Journaling is a personal activity. Your journal entries are for you and no one else. As you write about your photographic and personal day, you will clarify your thinking; process your feelings, and going forward make better decisions.
  2. Journal entries can be multi pages or a few simple lines. The length of your entry is not important, but honesty and note organization is. The purpose of your entries is to organize your thinking, clarify your emotional outlook, and eliminate vague thoughts, which often drive us to create vague images.
  3. Photographers usually make journal entries about their photographic and art purists. That’s great, and a major reason why you journal, but don’t limit your journal thoughts to photographic subjects. You have a life beyond photography and journaling about other personal issues helps round out your creative self-examination.
  4. For photographers, we recommend that you journal in the field while shooting as well as at a regularly scheduled time of days, such as in the evening or early morning. I carry my journal with me wherever I go and make journal notes while researching landscape scenes and after I complete a capture session, I make:
  • Brief notes about my visualized outcome plans based upon my feelings about the scene
  • Notes about mechanical data such as lens choice and its impact on the emotional range of the image
  • Thoughts about framing, colors, atmospheric conditions
  • Details about highlights and shadows, and other data that will help guide me towards my visualized outcome.

Later in the day, usually in the evening, I flesh out my thoughts with more detailed entries and add additional information beyond photography that includes but are limited to:

What did I learn today photographically and personally?

This entry is a general discussion with myself that examines how the day went, emphasizing what I learned, what was successful, what failed, and changes I want to make going forward. I note a wide range of thoughts and subjects with this entry.  For me this is a daily brain dump written in a fluid stream of consciousness manner; some days it is a few sentences and on other days substantially more.

What am I grateful for on this day?

Expressing gratefulness for the opportunity to be a photographer, an artist, and a teacher is something I do every day. I take time to express my gratitude for my family, friends, and team members who believe in what I am doing and consistently express their honest thoughts and support. When you take a few moments each day to express gratitude for what you have, you are expressing hope for your future.  People who express thankfulness reap greater gratitude in return.

Journal Excuses

Before I finally committed myself to journal, some negative thoughts held me back, and I have observed those same excuses for failure in others as well. Let’s eliminate these issues so that you can get started with a successful journal.

I don’t have the time.

We are all busy, but what you are saying with this excuse is that you don’t have time to invest in yourself. Everyone can find the time to keep a journal and if not making entries every day at least making entries several times a week.

I’m not a good writer.

You don’t have to be a great writer. These words are for you and you alone, and you simply need to jot down personal thoughts in any wordsmith structure that works for you. This is a therapeutic time for you, not a publishing review.

I’m too old to start a journal.

Senior citizens create journals filled with wisdom and reflection. They often put life’s regrets, success, and failures in perspective; create photographic notes based upon historical comparisons, and put the experience to work to change the future for themselves or those who will come in their footsteps. Seniors’ who journal often create images with deep personal expressions and unyielding truths.

I’m too young to the journal.

Young people create journals filled with hope and dreams that build skills for goal completion and personal confidence. The journal allows them to examine with introspection their success and failures and reach a balanced perspective. Young photographic journalist creates ideas for images that are often life-changing for themselves and viewers alike.

I can’t express myself with words.

This is a common, self-defeating belief. Staring at a blank white page is often scary and prevents us from creating journal entries. To overcome this fear create a simple template of questions to guide your entries.

What did I see? What does it mean if anything? How do I think this image should appear when I complete the post process? What process should I use? I am thankful for? Tomorrow I will do? — And other questions that are important to you.

Answer these questions without formal sentence construction. One or two words or simple phrases will get the job done. In the beginning, you want to jot down meaningful thoughts, and over time, your expressive range will grow.

A Journal is not a Daily Planner

Planners are great tools for identifying goals, measuring goal achievement progress, calendaring appointments and events and detailing tasks that need your attention and execution. I use a daily planner and online calendar for appointments, tools that allow me to keep my photography projects, tasks, short and long-range goals on track.

The purpose of your journal is for reflection not planning. That is not to say that as you reflect on your photography, personal life and interactions with those you love and support (and support you) that you can’t plan to make changes in your work and personal life— you can and you should. Journaling provides self-analysis that you can transfer to action steps in your planner.


Writing is simply an effective tool for processing our emotions, identifying how and why we feel about our photographic choices as well as our visualization. Journaling prompts us to spend time in reflection, to dig deeper, to think about topics in new ways.

Journaling will increase your creative range and production— guaranteed. Start today for a tomorrow that will be filled with gratitude and creative accomplishment.

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(3) Comments

  1. Mary Ince

    Bob… always such wonderful thoughtful posts. Thank you… Mary

  2. Soteria Allen

    Wow Bob, that was a great article! Journaling has a lot more application than photography, as you did note. Yes, it’s amazing how God can bring out good things within us, that we have kind of given thought to now & then, but just remained vague until expressed through writing about them.
    Really ENJOYING your blog!
    And you, my sweet & talented brother! ?

  3. Eileen Cabrera

    I appreciate the”push” that I needed. I have a beautiful handmade journal from a wonderful friend. I read this journal from another friend. The gal that made the journa, I’ve never met. I follow her art work on FB…small ?..
    But through the camera lens…it’s an amazing world.
    Thank you!

Comments are closed.

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