Your Daily Record

As mentioned in my last post, over a couple of weeks around Christmas and New Year I have been trying to connect and replenish my creative well. I have spent time letting the inspiration flow and getting in touch with my muses again, particularly in order to renew this blog.

One way to tap into our creative mind is by something called Morning Pages. I will get back to this in just a second. The reason I mention Morning Pages is a book I have just finished reading. It’s called Zen Camera and written by the American photographer and teacher David Ulrich. In the book, he suggests something he calls Your Daily Record, which has many similarities with Morning Pages except instead of writing it’s a journal of photographs. I think Ulrich’s idea can be beneficial for all photographers at all levels, and that’s why I want to pass it on to whoever is interested in developing their photography.

But first Morning Pages: Let me quickly summarize what they are all about. The award-winning poet, playwright, and filmmaker Julia Cameron developed the concept. Despite her extensive film and theatre credits, which include such diverse work as Miami Vice and the prize-winning romantic comedy God’s Will, which she both wrote and directed, Cameron is best known for her hugely successful works on creativity. Particularly her book The Artist’s Way has gained worldwide recognition. The book teaches techniques and suggests exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills. One of the basic tools is what Cameron calls Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are a way to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. The idea is that when you wake up you are still very connected to your unconscious mind—which then expresses itself through your writing. It really works (for more about Morning Pages, look up my post Finding the Creative Well).

I recommend anyone who has embarked on a creative endeavour to do Morning Pages, or at least try out the idea. Despite the fact that you have to write, it’s by far for writers only. You don’t even have to be able to write. Well, literally you will have to, of course, but Morning Pages are good training for photographers and everybody else who is creating even if they don’t believe they can write any good. It’s not really about writing, but about getting those unconscious processes to flow and become an integral part of your creativity.

I read The Artist’s Way long ago and ever since have done Morning Pages—admittedly on and off. Nevertheless, already back then in the beginning, I thought the idea could be morphed or moulded into a similar processed using the camera. I did try my morning photographs for a period of time, but never made it work.

But, alas, here comes David Ulrich and Your Daily Record. In the preface of Zen Camera he does himself compare Your Daily Record with the Morning Pages. Imagine how excited I was when I found out. He had developed a method that works.

The baseline for the idea is acknowledging that it’s imperative to photograph regularly and frequently if you want to strengthen seeing and become a better photographer. How much then? Personally I will strongly recommend trying to shoot on a daily basis. I know, it sounds like a lot, but I am confident that you relatively easily may accomplish some shooting during the daily rut of things you need to do. At least the way described by Ulrich. Doing so will encourage development of your skills as a photographer.

Your Daily Record is similar to a free-ranging journal of thoughts and impressions. You let go of conscious thoughts on how you ought to photograph and let the unconscious mind connect directly with the world around you through the camera. When doing Your Daily Record, make it easy for yourself and use your cell phone, which you always carry around anyway. And if you use a “real” camera put it on automatic or program mode. Furthermore, capture images in jpeg-format. I am an ardently believer in shooting with raw-format, but for Your Daily Record, jpeg makes sense since these are images you would normally not process but only capture as sketches and for you to become aware of and develop your photographic mind (truth be told, though, I have set my camera I always carry to capture both formats, just in case…).

Now dedicate time for the daily exercise. It doesn’t have to be time solely for shooting; use off time if you have a change. Shoot while you go for your daily walk, or shoot while commuting with bus or train, or during your lunch break. Whatever works and doesn’t feel stressful. Now just see and record what you see with you cell phone (or camera). Don’t worry or think about making good photos. These are only sketches. Take photos of everything you see and that strikes you enough to make you become aware of it. Photograph anything and everything that ignites any kind of response or resonates with you. Just captured images without thoughts and any worries about composition, light or technique. Use your emotions as a guiding light, photographing what hits you in some way, whether positively or negatively. Shoot a lot and quickly. Shoot from the guts. Over one week, you should try to capture at least 100-200 images according to Ulrich.

Reviewing the images is just an important part of Your Daily Record as the shooting itself. This is how David Ulrich describes this second part of the process: “Organize your photos and view them daily. You can do this at night or odd times throughout the day when you have a free moment. You want to look for recurring themes and core forms or shapes that appear and reappear. Study how you use colour and form, and your magnetic attraction or revulsion to certain subject matter. Above all, seek the pearls of resonance, those images and scenes that call to you from the deep within, that touch your being in ways you cannot yet identify. Place these, and only these are gem-like reflections, in a separate folder.”

Before starting the reviewing, upload the images to a computer. It’s much easier than watching them on a small cell phone screen. Then go through them, initially without any editing or judging. Remember that Your Daily Record is most of all about the process and much less about the final product. And remember—once again—that these images are merely photographic sketches. May I finally make a recommendation at least for those of you who are serious about your photography? Make this exercise a lifelong habit. Keep shooting a journal of free images every day. I promise you it will take your photography to places you wouldn’t even imagine. I have started myself.


66 thoughts on “Your Daily Record

  1. In the days when I used to write, I was urged to try Morning Pages…I didn’t do many. Now I am thinking I really should try Daily Record….

  2. I loved Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Doing Morning Pages got me writing years ago when I had a great fear of writing anything because I figured it would be bad! I like this idea of the Daily Record for photography too. Great ideas, Otto. 🙂

    1. As you may know from previous posts, I am a strong believer in using restrictions for boosting creativity. A 365-project is quite a commitment. But I hope you find it worthwhile to do. 🙂

  3. This is fantastic! I’m giggling a bit because “morning pages” as it’s been called is my every day therapy. I cannot start my day without a cup of coffee and a bit of writing in a sketch book with a specific blue or black pen (I alternate daily). I described to someone that it’s like brushing my teeth — I CAN go a day without brushing them I do suppose, but I’d never want too. Yes, it’s that important to me. So, I love this. I love this idea and I wish all the photographers trying this much joy in the process. Somehow journaling for me is not only a great exercise where I’m going through a process of venting, releasing and creating, but it’s also strengthening my craft. I’ll also add this — it is said that it takes about 66 days for create a habit. I’m not sure that’s true for everyone. But, like anything else, there will be moments where it makes sense, and then moments when it’s just outright annoying. Do it anyways. It is in those moments, when it feels the hardest, that we start to develop that discipline, and through that discipline, that practice, creativity thrives. I wish I were into photography. But you know, maybe I’ll start changing up my journaling a bit too and take some pics every day with my phone. Sounds like a plan. Thank you Otto. Abrazos.

    1. You have some very good points about discipline. It takes some tenacity to keep at it (whatever it is). But when you get through that hard periode of pushing through, it will slowly start to become a habit. I have not heard about the 66 days, will have to do some research about it. You are not into photography? I am sure you do take photos. That’s all it takes. 🙂

  4. That is a good suggestion. I like the term “photographic sketches”. It really helps provide context of what you are doing and the important thing it gives is just “sketches”. You mind will let go and free from any stress if you think in term of photo. session. Excellent!

    1. I just came across another quote: “There is no difference between practice and art. The practice is the art” (by Dani Shapiro). Sketches are practice, thus the art we do. 🙂

  5. Writing first thing in the morning is a habit for me, although I don’t follow the ‘morning page’ routine. Most of the time, my brain has been working the night shift, and I awake with ideas, solutions, or revisions already in mind for pieces I’m working on. But I’m intrigued by the thought of applying the discipline to the area of photography. How to fit it in would be the question, particularly in this season, when the days are so short and hours of daylight have to be devoted first to work. Still, a little creative thinking surely could find a creative solution; that will be the first step!

    1. I am sure you take some time off, in between. For a walk, going shopping, going sailing. Just start to do Daily Records during those periods, even if it’s only for a short while. That’s at least my thought. 🙂

  6. So cool as I used the Artists Way myselfna few years ago! I did morning pages for about four months and then stopped. I’d love to start it up again. A great way to get the creative juice flowing!

  7. I have read and re-read Artist’s Way several times, but it’s been a long time. I like the way you’ve taken the morning pages and expanded on other ways to consider a creative daily routine. I’m feeling a little “creatively stuck” myself at this time, so your encouragement to refresh with some regular morning habits is well timed. Thank you for sharing how you’re doing the same, Otto.

    1. I think making room for creative habits of any kind, in the idea of just doing sketches or free writing or whatever, is really helpful during periods of feeling creatively stuck.

  8. I’ve done morning pages on and off for years but I never thought of carrying the idea into photography. Taking daily photos (particularly with the phone) is a great idea. 100-200 a week sounds like a quite an achievement. That would take a long time. 20-30 is probably more achievable for me right now but I will certainly give the idea a go. Thanks very much for sharing it with us. It would make a good weekly challenge, wouldn’t it. People could upload the ‘best of’ in a gallery format.

    1. The thing about the amount, is really to fire freely. When you see something that hits you, what could be referred to as a flash of perception, just shoot a lot, like 20-30 pictures at least. Then it doesn’t take much to get 10 times as much through a week. 🙂

  9. hi Otto… i think i shoot that way anyway haha… i used to do morning pages… i don’t journal at all anymore… that kind of stuff reminds me of what HEALTHY people do with their life. I wasn’t healthy when i did morning pages… but back then i still had hope that I would get better. if creativity was at the top of my daily to do list, i probably wouldn’t set out to take bad pictures from the get go haha… i rage rage, against the dying of the light 🙂

  10. Half a century ago, when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras, I set myself the task of writing every day (I can’t remember if the self-imposed minimum was 500 words or 1000 words). I didn’t keep up that kind of regularity in the decades that followed. At this stage in my life, with photography as my primary creative outlet, I sometimes find myself unintentionally taking a break. Last year I once ended up going four weeks before taking another picture. Right now it’s been 17 days since my last photo walk in nature. I understand the usefulness of regular engagement in a creative activity but I don’t feel bad about falling into occasional lapses.

    1. Oh, there is nothing wrong with breaks, as far as I am concerned. On the contrary, we all need breaks from time to time. We cannot and should not impose a strict regime over ourselves, not when it comes to creativity and not in other areas of life. Good habits are good, but they are and should be not unbreakable. 🙂

  11. I like the silhouetted birds on the roof. I still have Julia Cameron’s book after many years of moves and culls and promise myself to give it another read. I faithfully did the morning pages and went on my artist’s dates which took me to interesting places that gave me food for thought. When You mentioned zen, I instantly thought of Miksang photography. Fascinating, if you haven’t seen their site, I recommend that you check it out. I will check out David Ulrich’s book and start to practise what you have written down. Happy shooting!

  12. I am familiar with ‘The Artist’s Way’ but must admit I was not successful at keeping up with Morning Pages, nor did I finish the book. I also read about half of ‘The Creative Fight’. I just have trouble ingesting and relating to writings about creativity I guess. I am more of a doer and that is why I like this ‘Daily Record’ approach for photographers. Still after years of experimenting with all types of photography I am no longer searching but am content to do my best and be proud of my work. I do feel a zen-like experience when everything is ‘clicking’! 🙂

    1. We all have to find our own way, and the road we choose changes with our age, doesn’t it. There certainly isn’t one right way. Being proud of one’s own work is something we all ought to learn.

  13. I like this idea, Otto, and the idea of shooting in auto and jpg’s for it. At this point I have a pretty good idea about what kinds of subjects, moments, shapes, etc. speak to me, but I bet new ideas would come out of this exercise. One thing that makes me hesitate is the abundance of images I have already, and the large amount of time I already s pend looking at them, at the computer. I need to spend more time walking outdoors and less time indoors at the computer. But I do like the idea of photographic sketches, shooting from the gut, etc. We’ll see.

    1. Yes, it’s already overwhelming to have to access many photos for many of us. But I think with the Daily Record, it’s not about using a lot of time in post, but quickly assess and pick out a handful of images that feels right for you. That’s why using a cell phone and jpeg’s is part of the deal.

  14. Morning Pages is a good suggestion, as was the suggestion from at least a month ago to turn around for images in the opposite direction…
    Am in the process of taking down the show, and today I pointed to one painting called ‘Trocitos’ and showed the various butterfly and insect wings and even feathers. “Before resuming work on a serious painting, I first warm up by painting something small… and this painting progressed one wing at a time, before moving to the more-serious painting.” That’s a bit like the “Morning Pages” though almost every morning I spend w/the hummingbirds, begging at the window for their daily fix of sugar water… Morning pages would definitely work for that, and yes after dark I work on photos and paint late at night…

  15. Although I have never plunged into calling myself a photographer, I have done my share of taking photos—something I really enjoy. Saying a picture is worth 1,000 words may be cliche but very true indeed. How many times do we see something and wish we could have snapped a photo of it…right then….that moment? Capturing moments, and people, and places—photography does all that and more. When people are long gone, we can “see” them thanks to this medium of photography. A moment can be forever captured. Thanks for the ideas you’ve shared here. And I enjoy your writing style, by the way. Have a great week!

  16. Ive heard of this before. It has been suggested to me by others. I always thought I didn’t have time to do this but after reading your post I realise I DO do this on a daily basis. I am always using my phone camera to capture comical photos of my son and the new things he has learnt or to take a photo on our walks etc. I don’t have to use my DSLR to get my creative juices going. Thank you!

  17. I loved working my way through The Artist’s Way many years ago. In particular, I really enjoyed the morning pages, and did them for several months. I found it really freeing. I also love the idea of taking photos on a daily walk, as a kind of daily photographic journal! Thank you for explaining it so well, Otto.

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