I've tried as much as possible to keep it short and sweet, but bearing in mind I've been working with these things for 19 years now, and have struggled with them, stopped using them, then in recent years fallen back in love with them, and you'll perhaps understand why it's taken so long to produce this post, and why it's so hard to summarise them!
As briefly as I can, here's a quick round up of what logbooks are, why they're useful, and how to use them:
- First off, you need to get your head around the idea that creativity is a process, and a methodology that can be followed, nurtured and developed, rather than simply some mythical artistic inspiration over which you have no control.
- Now, in my experience the best way to develop this creative methodology is to record your ideas, methods, techniques, and thoughts in a logbook. I was first required to do this as part of my college degree back in 1995-98, and it formed a key part of how they assessed and marked the photographic part of our course. During college I actually found them very hard work, and didn't use them much immediately after I left. About 8 years ago however, I started turning to them again, and I can say with hand on heart that they've been hugely influential in the improvement I've made in my work in recent years.
- Exactly how you use them is completely up to you, but for me, the first thing is always a brief - whether this is client lead - "I need to shoot some images for a social media campaign", or personal - "I want to shoot some sexy fitness shots in the studio". Without some sort of direction your work is unlikely to go anywhere - creativity needs a framework, even a loose one, to operate in.
- Now lay down your initial ideas, as well as your inspiration. These images can be previous images you've shot, or other people's work. When referring to other people's work, always credit them - it's professional courtesy, and you'll probably want to look them up again at a later date. You should also draw different things from these images - some will be references for lighting, some for mood, pose, styling, location, photoshop treatment, and so on. Just slapping some in, and then copying them is basically plagiarism, and rather pointless.
- At this point you may want to record any essential production details for the shoot - shots of the subject/model, shots of the location, notes you'll need to bear in mind for shooting, and so on. Go into as much or as little detail as you like here.
- By now you've got all you need to go out on the shoot, so off you go, referring to the logbook as and when you need to.
- Once you've shot everything, stick in any finished images you feel are relevant, or out takes you think make a salient point. Grab any setup shots you took, or draw lighting diagrams if you'd prefer.
- And finally comes one of the most important reasons for using a logbook - assessing the shoot after the event. This was a key part of being marked at college, and in the real world it's even more vital, as the conclusions you draw after a shoot are what enable you to grow and move on as a photographer. You should always be as honest as possible with yourself at this stage - if the shoot didn't work for some reason, you need to ascertain why, not just shrug your shoulders and put it down to bad luck! Draw as many positives and negatives from the shoot at you can, and next time you'll be better prepared.
- Initially, it serves as a technical resource - a "recipe book" if you like, for how you created your images. This is invaluable when you want to recreate a certain look or image in future. The more detail you put in when shooting, the more useful it will be in future.
- If you ever find yourself losing your way in your photography, trawling back through your logbooks can often flag up where you should be going. Your (hopefully) insightful assessments and conclusions after each shoot will serve a signposts along the way, and guide you in the right direction.
- Lastly, but by no means least, Clients LOVE it. They love looking into your creative thought process, they love using it as a resource to get ideas for shoots, locations and treatments from, and they love seeing their own work crop up in it further down the line. I take it on as many shoots as possible when I know the client will be around, and I've even been specifically asked to bring it sometimes.