My Camera, My Notebook, My Sketchbook

Some years ago, when my main creative outlet was poetry, I always had a small notebook close by to jot down poetic fragments that came to me.

Then, during more scheduled and longer sessions, I’d flick back through the excerpts and see if the rest of the poems were ready to emerge from me to join these scattered beginnings.

It worked very well, and however well you think you might memorise a line in your head to jot down at a more convenient time later, you rarely do, and it becomes lost forever.

Still now, I use the Notes app on my phone and iPad to record titles and ideas for new blog posts.

This means I’m never sat staring at a blank screen wondering what on earth to write – there’s always a starting point to launch from.

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In photography, I’m finding a very similar behaviour emerging.

Or maybe it’s always been there, I’m just more aware now.

Since acquiring the amazing little Ricoh digital compacts in recent months, there’s no excuse not to have one with you virtually everywhere you go.

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A DSLR might take more accomplished and high resolution images, and might be far more adjustable, but they’re far from pocketable.

The Ricohs (and similar cameras like the so tiny it disappears in your palm Sony Cybershot I wrote about the other day) are ready in a second, whenever you might need to capture a scene or moment as you go about your day. 

I’ve found myself capturing more shots around the house than I’ve ever done before.

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And more simple shots just of things I pass when walking the kids to school or on lunchtime walks at work.

With the poetry I mentioned how fragments of lines – sometimes just two or three words – could then be built upon later.

With photography it doesn’t work quite the same – you can’t add further elements to a photograph once it’s been taken, even if you can tweak the fine details of how it looks a little.

Instead I see these “camera sketches” as individual images that will in time be part of a larger collected theme of work.

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A project based on, say, trees, you probably wouldn’t go out and shoot in one or two sessions. Far more likely it would be a collection of images taken here and there over a period of three months, six months, or six years.

And this is where using a camera as a notebook in this way this becomes valuable on two levels.

First, you have a new photograph you probably wouldn’t have taken with your full on highfalutin “proper” bells and whistles camera.

Second, each one is a page in a future project (possibly literally, they might become a page in a photo book you create one day).

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Do you use any cameras in this way, as a tool for spontaneous sketches? Please share your experiences in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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10 thoughts on “My Camera, My Notebook, My Sketchbook”

    1. I’ve read a lot about the film GR series, and I’m sure I’d love using one. But so many people have had issues with them breaking down it’s put me off. Especially given their expense. I’m hoping my digital ones, being much newer, have plenty of life in them yet!

  1. My notepad is my iPhone. I use it for just the same reason you used to jot down lines of poetry. As a reminder, as a quick memory. For the unexpected shot.

    For photography, when I go out with the intention to make photos, I prefer to use real cameras. As I shoot film, wasting a frame just as a reminder is too expensive for my taste.

    I agree, those casual ‘notes’ can one day amount to a real project, no matter what they were made with.

    1. Hi Frank, yes I agree too about when I go out specifically to photograph I like to use a “proper” camera, but I certainly see the Ricohs (especially the GRD III) as in this camp, as well as being small enough to be a “sketchbook camera” too.

      As much as a film lover as I was when I was shooting lots of it, I found myself in a dichotomous position. I was simultaneously afraid to waste a frame of film because of the expense (like you Frank), but wasting too many shots on mediocre compositions just because I wanted to get the end of the roll and try a different camera.

      Using digital and using fewer cameras (FAR fewer cameras!) has freed me up to experiment more with the cameras I am using, and get a few shots along the way I otherwise wouldn’t have tried.

      1. Tell me more about the K10D? Has it gone? I confess mine is on hiatus currently, all I want to shoot is the Ricohs b/w. Still I know in the spring and summer when colour returns I’ll likely dust off the DSLR(s) again…

  2. i have been doing this for about the past year or so with my lomo lc-a — its quick operation and pocketability make it an ideal carry around everyday camera. its meter can only be described as predictably inaccurate, but i’ve gotten used to it. i have hundreds of images i’ve shot over the year, and i have a roll in it now. i’m encouraged to hear about someone else’s similar side project, glad i have something more catchy to call it!

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting. I do still like to venture out on specific photowalks with the intention of making photographs, but having a “sketchbook camera” with me all the time does lead to different shots I wouldn’t have otherwise made.

  3. This is a great way of looking at things, viewing photos as collections to be filled later on. Thanks for the reminder.

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