How to keep a photography journal

  • photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

For my entire life I have been a documenter.  In an effort to remember every tiny detail I have scrapbooked and journaled.  In fact, I picked up a camera for this same purpose.

My journaling habit began the moment I learned to write words and in high school I really began preserving memories. I wanted to remember every little moment, emotion, and ahem, details… way too many details… ask my mom.

Journaling began to taper off around college and scrapbooking became too messy for me.  Alas, after I gave birth to my chiIdren I felt the itch to begin documenting again. I wanted to remember everything about my children’s lives. I simply can’t rely on my memory anymore.

My Current Journals

1 small moleskin journal for funny things each kiddo says and does that is memorable…

photography journal aticle by photographerMelissa Stottmann

Homemade growth books…

photography journal aticle by photographerMelissa Stottmann

A “Mom” book – each child gets 1 page to write in on Mother’s Day and My Birthday in lieu of a card…

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

A Peel and Stick Album that I add to with 12×12 prints instead of a scrapbook…

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

2 (and growing) photography journals…

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

About My Photography Journals

Last fall, when reading through Julia Stotlar’s Breakout, Cultiviating Creativity and Vision, she mentioned a photography journal.   Why had I not thought of this?  I suddenly realized how messy this could get though and I do not like mess.  As I began my journal, I also started a Table of Contents.  As I began writing, I numbered the pages, and added each title to that Table of Contents.

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

My journal inspired me to start keeping track of foliage and my locations for shooting.  Every fall comes and I’m left wondering what each park looks like so this past fall I started scouting and making notes based on the dates. Next year, when someone wants to book I can tell them that the week of October 24 the leaves at {insert park} switched over to a vibrant yellow and have some example images I took that week last year. Of course, there will be variations and through time I will continue to keep notes and refer year to year changes but it’s so helpful to have this information at my finger tips.  When Spring began I was excited to document tree growth and blooms. For a period of about 4-6 weeks I do a loop around to all of my favorite areas and make general notes.

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

Inspirations are also something that I love keeping in my photography journal.  When I read a quotation, have an idea that I love, read a photography book, work through a course or Breakout I begin a new section.  This journal serves so many purposes and can even just be a ‘brain dump’ when I’m overloaded.   When I daydream I like to draw doodles and bring a touch of chaos to my organization.  My first journal was filled in about 6 months and I recently began a second.

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

photography journal aticle by photographer Melissa Stottmann

Some other things I have journaled:

  1. Notes from my mentorship
  2. Classes I have taken
  3. Pricing Ideas
  4. Inspirational Quotes
  5. Ways to Keep Families Engaged During a Shoot
  6. Breakouts
  7. Branding Ideas
  8. Goals
  9. Books I have Read
  10. Artist Studies
  11. Photography Project Ideas

I love having all of my ideas, inspirations, and new things I have learned in one simple place that I can reference!

giveaway from melissa!

Since Melissa loves journaling so much she is doing a giveaway for the retro mini eco journals from the  CMstore! This set of journals marries her love of journaling and all things earth friendly!  To win, write a comment below telling us if you’ve kept a journal before and what it was for, we’d love to hear all about it.  One random winner will be drawn next Friday, August 9, 2013 after 12pm EST and make sure to come back here to see if you’re the lucky winner!

winner update!

Congratulations to Candice M who said, “I used to journal all of the time when I was younger and always want to go back to doing it. These are some great ideas that!” on being our random winner!  I will email you shortly on how to claim your prize.


About the Author:

Instructor of CPS’s Photographing Your Family’s Everyday, Melissa Stottmann is a newborn, children and family (including her own!) photographer from Wilmington, Delaware that is working on slowly getting her feet wet in the wedding industry. Shooting primarily with her D800, though using film occasionally, Melissa is often found with a 35mm or 85mm lens attached. Melissa believes that every moment is significant and uses her camera to bring attention to otherwise ordinary moments. Her portrait, lifestyle and documentary work revolves around the peaceful and serene life she craves.


  1. Kellie B. Aug 02 2013 at 11:32 am - Reply

    I’ve kept a journal in either written or electronic format for more than 20 years. I wish I was better at keeping up with it, though! Love your journal ideas – particularly the growth books!

  2. Amar Aug 02 2013 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    You have inpired me to journal more. I especially LOVE your idea of the “mom” book. What a great idea to have all those mothers day and birthday memories in one book! Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

  3. Misty Aug 02 2013 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    I am a sometimes journaler, I loved reading this. What a unique perspective, and so inspiring.

  4. Stacey Vukelj Aug 02 2013 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    The Mom book! What an amazing idea! I love this.

  5. Natalie Aug 02 2013 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    I try to keep a journal where I write about the kids.

  6. Carla Aug 02 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    I keep a Birthday Journal for each of my kiddos. Every year on the night of their birthday I write them a little note about their achievements and highlights from the past year. I tell them all about their special day/party. As they get older I also include the “Birthday Interview” where I ask them the same set of questions each year. I plan to eventually give each kiddo their journal at the baby shower to celebrate their first baby.

  7. Yan Liu Aug 02 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful idea to write a photo journal, I should do that. I wrote journal for when I was a kid just for my daily life and sometimes my secrete thoughts :), it’s so fun to pick up my old journal and read it, I guess I’ll start to write journal again when my baby is coming~~

  8. Karen M. Aug 02 2013 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    I am a journal collector. I love journals but don’t often keep up with them. Especially the art journals. the one journal I kept religiously was my darkroom journal. In it I had notes about the prints I made: exposure time, F-stop, Negative ID, print size, filter pack, etc. I’d also make notes about what I would change about a print or how I would crop it differently the next time or what different technique i would try.

    I am trying to do better with my photography journaling by keeping a journal in my camera bag and jotting as I go. This was especially handy when working on my documentary project to keep me on track.

    I like seeing the doodles in your journal as it reminds me that they don’t have to be so perfect.

  9. Meghan Aug 02 2013 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    This is great! I love journaling. I keep a journal that doesn’t get as much love as it used to now that I have a little one, but I try to write at least once a month – at the very least to keep a little written record of how my baby is changing and growing, and how I’m growing as a parent. I’m best at journaling while traveling. While traveling I force myself to write once a day, usually in the evening. This is inspiring me to get back into the habit of keeping more little books for other things :). Thanks!

  10. Kristin Dokoza Aug 02 2013 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    I love the idea of the mom book too! I have little journals all over the place. It is helpful to write down your thoughts and ideas – I hadn’t really ever thought to take note of the light or colors at different times of the day and at the locations. Good advice!

  11. Beth Aug 02 2013 at 1:00 pm - Reply

    LOVE the mom book, wish my kids weren’t all teenagers already!! Maybe it will have to be a teenage version of pictures and writings!?! I have a set of the wood colored pencils, this is the first time I have seen them with someone else! 🙂

  12. Chelsea Aug 02 2013 at 1:01 pm - Reply

    When I was little, I always tried to keep a journal. However, I never filled up an entire one (although it is super cute, if I do say so myself, to go back and look at what was so important to me back then) Just over a year ago, I started journaling again and, am happy to say, I filled by first journal full just recently, and am now on journal #2! I write about anything and everything. From what we’re doing that day to what I’m feeling to future hopes and dreams. Journaling has most definitely enhanced my life!

  13. Kristin P Aug 02 2013 at 1:06 pm - Reply

    What an awesome and inspiring post! I do have a photography journal — I don’t use it as often as I should but if I come across an inspiring quote or thoughts I can quickly pull it out and use it. Thank you for this great article!

  14. Jennifer Aug 02 2013 at 1:08 pm - Reply

    I have never really kept a journal, but I do write all kinds of lists. I am going to have to start a photography journal now, great idea!

  15. Cathy S Aug 02 2013 at 1:12 pm - Reply

    I’ve never kept a journal, tried to on our adoption trip to China for our first daughter. I love the idea of a photography journal just getting interested in doing more photography so journaling places would be fun.

  16. Davina Gruenstein Aug 02 2013 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Well, I don’t currently journal, but now I’m inspired to do so. Thank you, Melissa! And I LOVE the idea of having a book that the kids write messages to me on birthdays and Mother’s Day. Just LOVE it! Thank you!

  17. Ramona P Aug 02 2013 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    I have been keeping a journal off and on for years and years. I say off and on because I don’t always sit down and write every day. I love the ‘dated’ journals because I enjoy grabbing last years journal and reading what was going on in my life this time last year (or five years ago!).

  18. Candice M Aug 02 2013 at 1:20 pm - Reply

    I used to journal all of the time when I was younger and always want to go back to doing it. These are some great ideas that!

  19. Stephanie Aug 02 2013 at 1:26 pm - Reply

    I loved seeing this article, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who does a “brain dump” into a journal. I carry mine in my purse so it is always with me. I’ve tried going digital with it and always go back to a paper book. I have my “photo bucket list” that I’m always adding to. Right now I have “-a lightning shot” on my list as well as lots of other random things! When ever I’m in a rut or lacking ideas I can always find something in my little book to re-insipre me!!

  20. Sarah O Aug 02 2013 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I keep a regular “record everything” journal, and then I have one for the things that come out my kiddo’s mouths, too!

  21. Gayle Johnson Aug 02 2013 at 1:29 pm - Reply

    I have started a travel binder. Hope to retire in a few years and mapping out places I would like to go see and photograph. My husband and I would like to see how many National Parks we can visit. Also, when I see a photo of a gorgeous site and the photographer has listed where it is, I write it down.
    Also, have a photography binder. All kind of ideas about photography go in it.

  22. Nicola Meskill Aug 02 2013 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    I have just recently purchased a note book specifically for my photography. I’m just starting out so like to make a note of manual setting’s and what works ect x

  23. Alice Aug 02 2013 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    What a great idea! I used to keep a journal, but wasn’t able to keep it up. I have been thinking about keeping a photography journal for sketches/ideas though!

  24. Kristin Aug 02 2013 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    I’ve always been an on and off journal keeper. I have my entire courtship wi my husband, up through our wedding, journaled and that is SO special to me. I fell off the wagon after that but I do have our family blog that is sort of like a journal. I try to handwritten journals every so often, but it is not something I do often. I’ve been thinking the last few weeks about a photography journal becaus ei have so many ideas and I know I’ll forget them all! This was a great push in the right direction for me 🙂

  25. Ofelia Aug 02 2013 at 2:33 pm - Reply

    I used journals for ideas – art projects, business ideas, etc. I love the idea of the mother’s day/birthday card – might need to steal that one!

  26. Daniela Aug 02 2013 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I love this post Melissa! I have currently one journal for each one of my kids, I started when I was pregnant each time. I write monthly to tell them about what they like to do or what is going on in their lives.
    I keep a small journal for photo ideas, projects, key notes from workshops, etc in my purse. I just started a gratitude journal as well.
    I LOVE your idea of the mom journal I am starting one on my bday next year! 🙂

  27. Erica Aug 02 2013 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    I love it! I am a documenter too, nice to know I’m not alone and pick up some new ideas!

  28. Krystle Aug 02 2013 at 3:29 pm - Reply

    My first Ron is almost 15months old and I am beginning a smash book journal with my favorite quotes for her and pictures of her:) I also plan to start my first photography journal, but I just feel like I don’t know where to start! Hopefully, I can just start somewhere soon. 🙂

  29. Krystle Aug 02 2013 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    Born* silly spell check 😉

  30. Jessica Aug 02 2013 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I keep journals for each of my kids and use a notebook for scrapbooking/story/photography ideas.

  31. Anne Aug 02 2013 at 3:46 pm - Reply

    I kept a diary from when I was about 14 until I was 23. Then I got married and had a kid. LOL I have a red leather book that I was *planning* to use as a baby book, but I came down with a bad case of PPD and got so behind. She’s 20 months and I think the book goes up to 6 months. I chronicle her development on Facebook though and someday (ha!) I’ll go through my past posts and fill in the blanks.

    I LOVE love love the idea of having a book for the kids to write in for Mother’s Day instead of cards!! I’ve never been fond of having boxes of cards, and the book seems perfect!! I think I’ll even bind one myself…

  32. Krista Aug 02 2013 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    I used to be addicted to journaling! I journaled all through my teen years because I knew that once I got older, I would forget what it was like to be going through “growing up”. Of course, I did grow up and I did forget, or mostly just realized how dramatic I was. But I am really thankful for those journals so that one day when I have a daughter I can go back and read them and remember and hopefully be able to sympathize and have a little patience! Thanks for the inspiration to get back to journaling 🙂

  33. Billie-Jo Aug 02 2013 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    This is wonderful. I write like this all the time but it does ger very very messy! Your idea of a table of contents is super. I will start to do just that xx

  34. Patti Margarita Aug 02 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    I used to keep journals through high school and college. But I stopped, and scrapbooked, just like you. Then I stopped that and now I don’t really journal anything, sadly. I take photos and that is about it. I need to get back to it.

  35. Heather Meyer Aug 02 2013 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    So I did start a photography journal. And have done one whole page. That was a few weeks ago. Keep pushing me ok??

  36. Ruthie Aug 02 2013 at 9:09 pm - Reply

    I keep a journal about just life. 🙂 I have wanted to get a photography journal so bad, so I hope I win! 😀

  37. Melissa Aug 02 2013 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    I received a journal when I turned nine and wrote nearly every day until I was about 20 when I started a blog. 🙂 I have a lot of old journals that are hilarious to read through! I really need to journal about my photography ideas and journey. I have one notebook with a handful of lists and inspiration, but I don’t keep up with it much.
    The retro mini journals are adorable! Thanks for a great giveaway opportunity!

  38. Becky Kueter Aug 02 2013 at 11:00 pm - Reply

    I like to keep a gratitude journal with pictures of my kids from our daily adventures. It has been fun to do with my 4 year old, because she now has been doing her own gratitude journal.

  39. Carrie Yuan Aug 02 2013 at 11:55 pm - Reply

    I LOVE the idea of a photography journal. I’ve journaled my personal stuff in the past, but sadly not lately. Loved reading about this!

  40. Janna Kelly Aug 03 2013 at 12:14 am - Reply

    I currently keep 2 journals…going through some difficulties in my life the last couple years…I have one journal where I note inspirational quotes or sayings that touch me in some way. The other one my son’s girlfriend made for me with inspirational quotes, and ideas for things to do for myself. She included a sweet letter thanking me for giving her the best gift ever…my son… I document the day’s events or whatever is on my mind, positive or negative, my crossfit workouts, etc., etc., etc. It releases my mind from the overwhelming effects of life!

  41. stacie Aug 03 2013 at 2:19 pm - Reply

    This is a great idea to keep track of locations & how they change throughout the year. I want to do this too!!

  42. nicole Aug 03 2013 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    I’ve kept a journal before, mostly with random thoughts and inspiration. I am not sure why I don’t now, I’ll have to start again.

  43. Megan Aug 03 2013 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    I keep a journal of my daughter’s silly sayings, “Sydney’s Silly Sayings!” I also have a Photographer’s Notbooks- I’d love to win this an keep a more organized photography journal- the Table of Contents is genius!

  44. Erin Bremer Aug 04 2013 at 9:22 am - Reply

    I want to journal so bad, but I am so bad at keeping up!!

    I especially love your idea of the “mom” book! I will definitely start one of those for the kids!

    Thank you for sharing!

  45. Carla Bagley Aug 05 2013 at 9:37 am - Reply

    You journals are notes are so pretty and neat!!! I am a big note taker and use those cheap $0.25 notebooks and have 3-4 always on the go…but finding what I wrote can be difficult! Now I am inspired to neaten up!

  46. Sarah Roeder Aug 05 2013 at 9:49 am - Reply

    I LOVED this post. A love of memory keeping is what led me to photography too. I have many stops and starts as far as keeping a journal but now that I’ve incorporated digital memory keeping, I’m doing a better job.

    The Mom book is pure awesomeness and I plan to implement it with my kids. I’ll also be sharing this idea with others!

    Thanks for the article and the chance to win!

  47. Melissa Ives Aug 05 2013 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Before I had a smartphone, tablet and laptop, I used to regularly journal. I have oodles of journals that begin back in elementary school. I would love to get back into the habit. Thank you for the opportunity.

  48. Autumn Aug 05 2013 at 11:01 am - Reply

    I used to journal a lot but haven’t in a very long time. Life gets busy! Going to start soon though!!

  49. Shauna Aug 05 2013 at 11:06 am - Reply

    I used to journal a lot when I was in my 20’s and still trying to figure out “who I am/was”. I haven’t journaled in ages though – particularly because it’s hard to find quiet time with a family in the house! I do LOVE the idea of a photography journal though! 🙂

  50. Erin Portch Aug 05 2013 at 3:43 pm - Reply

    I kept journals in high school. When I moved in with my husband, I went back through them and relived the memories and then ripped them up and tossed them in various trash bags so no one could ever know the whole story if the pages were ever found.

  51. ARC Aug 05 2013 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    The Mother’s Day journal idea is BRILLIANT!!!

    I used to keep a journal, but abandoned it for my personal blog. Now I’m thinking I might go back to writing it down for myself.

  52. Dawn Shiree Aug 05 2013 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    Oh, Melissa, we are kindred spirits just as I suspected!! 🙂 In my photography journal, I outline my ongoing projects and what my objectives/goals are for each one. I brainstorm adjectives and phrases that I would want someone to use to describe the body of work when I’m finished and I keep those words in mind while shooting for that project. If I get inspiration for something I’d like to do in the future I jot down the idea right then and there… I now refer to that page as my photography bucket list. Thanks for sharing your ideas and inspiration… loved this blog post!!

  53. April Maura Aug 06 2013 at 1:37 am - Reply

    Melissa this photo journal idea is awesome. I would love to see a future post on some of those areas that you have journaled on: classes, ways to keep families engaged on a shoot, etc.

    I used to keep a note journal called a writer’s notebook in college for my education degree. I loved it. I was suppose to carry it with me wherever I went and when I had idea in my head to write, draw or note it down in the notebook. It’s an inspiring place to put your thoughts so you don’t loose them.

  54. Ashley Aug 06 2013 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I have a tiny obsession with journals. I love to buy them, but don’t write in them very regularly! I do however keep a regular photography journal filled with techniques I want to try, tidbits from photography articles, and pictures from magazines that speak to my photographic vision. ( I won’t however cut up my Click photos because I keep them all on my bookcase as references!)

  55. Bobbijo Aug 09 2013 at 7:07 am - Reply

    i love journalling too and am finding that as I get busier with life and kids, my “journal” becomes more of a photographic one, with my blog and instagram. I need to think of a way to print out blog posts and put them in an actual book for the kids!

    Great post, you made me want to go home and actually write in the jouirnals sitting beside my bed!

  56. Jessica Reischel Aug 14 2013 at 1:22 am - Reply

    awh. this is wonderful melissa! i have two journals as well -and an entire box full of used ones from around 10 years of age. i list all the things that i want to shoot someday amongst so many other things. mostly right now – i write about my journey -the ups and downs, feeling defeated…elated….etc. 😉

  57. Amanda Myers Aug 30 2015 at 10:15 pm - Reply

    I just saw a link for this on the CM facebook page not realizing it was written two years ago! But I love these ideas. I recently started keeping a prayer journal which has been eye-opening, and then am currently in the second week of the CMU workshop Heart & Vision and am keeping a journal as a part of the coursework and I really love it.

  58. Joanne Rodriguez Aug 30 2015 at 10:51 pm - Reply

    I kept journals for many years, since middle school. Blogging was a way of writing down my thoughts and memories so I did that for some time. All that changed after having my first child; I would only write when I was frustrated or sad. I bought a pink journal when my daughter was born with the intention of writing down things I wanted to remember about her but, that never happened. I’ve been wanting to go back to journaling but somehow, I can’t get into the habit of it again. And I need to because I’ve noticed that I now forget things too easily. I mean, I can barely remember what I did last week. 🙁

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