Ideas are fleeting: Keep track of Them

“Often the difference between a successful person and a failure is not one has better abilities or ideas, but the courage one has to bet on one’s ideas, take a calculated risk, and to act” –  Andre Malraux

The Town Race Series at Aspen Highlands was weekly event that had wonerful opportunites for photography.

Successful people are good at one thing: ideas.

It doesn’t matter what you do, or where you work, ideas are the driving force of success.

Photography is no different. It’s not a matter to “edit as you go,” but to just write them down when they come to mind, write them down when you run into them. And ideas will come at the worst possible times. Some of mine came while driving, some while talking on the phone, others while sleeping.

There are some days I wouldn’t have a clue what to shoot as my “Idea Bucket” was empty. On days like this, I have a fallback: I keep track of my ideas in a small notebook. My “Idea Log.”

The idea for this entry came when I was writing down another idea. I saw something on a bulletin board and was writing it down in my note book.  A light bulb came on and I said “Hey, how about an entry for this?”

Dave Labelle’s book “The Great Picture Hunt,” and “The Great Picture Hunt 2” are great sources for finding ideas.

In it he writes that you should always keep your mind and eyes open for inspiration and that ideas will come from anywhere. He also has said in class at Western Kentucky University that one good idea will spawn many others.

Having an idea sometimes means you'll find something better.

Having an idea sometimes means you'll find something better.

I believe it’s not enough to be just a good photographer, but one must also have good ideas. Anyone with reasonable creative skills can cover and assignment when given one. But few photographers can consistently come back with fresh photos when there are no assignments.

Here’s where one of my greatest strengths lies. While working for newspapers, I regularly came back with feature photos when I had no assignments. In fact, I was told by my friend and former colleague Jacob Ware that was one of by best abilities: to come back to the paper with interesting feature photographs on a regular basis.

To come up with many of my feature photo ideas, I just read. Anything that strikes my fancy, I’ll write down. While driving, if I see something that will make a good photo, I’ll make and mental note (repeat until I stop to write it) and write it down.

The amazing thing is when I write something down, it will remind me about something else and I’ll write that one down. I don’t edit as I write, I just put pencil to paper and let the ideas flow. I edit later.

Some of my ideas can be a simple change of plan. I shoot a photo and like the composition, but I hate the lighting.  Or I love the lighting, but something is in the photo that is distracting. I write those ideas down when I am viewing my photos.

To keep track of my ideas, I keep a simple log listing them. Ideas such as “old ship in mulkilteo,” “sunrise under trestle,” or “homeless on the waterfront.” There is no rhyme nor reason. I just list them in no particular order. Unless something come up with a specific date and time, then I use a calendar for that.

Where do my ideas come from? Besides the obvious of just getting out there and shooting, they come from everywhere.

Here are some areas where I get my ideas:

After shooting this, I like the composition, but don't like the lighting. I've writen this down so the next time I go, I will wait for better lighting.

Newpapers: the “Weekend” section is best. “Upcoming Events” is another area to look. You can fill your calendar with this one. Reading articles helps you come up with things to shoot. Especially articles that have no photos. When photojournalist Anthony Suau was working for the Denver Post, he saw an article on the famine in Ethiopia and felt compelled to go. He won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo coverage.
Bulletin Boards: Take a moment to read them. You find some interesting things. I discovered a group that liked to salsa at the park.
Eavesdropping: You never know what you might hear. Sitting at a Saxy’s Cafe in Basalt, Colo.,  one day, I overheard  that a group of really young kids where up the Frying Pan River fishing. Made for some fun photos.
TV: Yes we all know about TV, but you can come up with some interesting ideas if you want.
Friends: Yep. The will give you a hard time and help you with ideas.

Even if you end up not shooting all the ideas you come up with, at least your “Idea Bucket” is full and you’re not scratching your head on what to shoot.

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.” – Buddhist quote

While walking along Mission Beach one day, I shot a composition similar to this. Then I remember I had an ND64 filter and wanted to play with it.


  1. Geat ideas come from great ideas and this is full of wonderful ideas . Im very much still in the learning process when it comes to photography, and this as brought so much to light ! I am going to start a idea log ASAP ! Thanks 🙂


  2. Thanks Heidi,

    I am so glad my post helps inspire you. Inspiration is all around, we just need to open our eyes and heart and allow them to flow.

    Thank you for the wonderful comment


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