March 28, 2009

Are You A Photographic Grazer?

2004-11-1 Skeleton Final 4-24-2009 750

Are you a photographic grazer?  You know, someone who shoots here a little and there a little, and has an album of “greatest hit” images but doesn’t have a cohesive group of images?

I understand, I used to be a “grazer” too.  I hated focusing on one subject and enjoyed looking around for something that would catch my attention. The image above, “Skeleton,” was created during my grazing period.  It’s a nice image (one of my favorites) but it has no companion pieces and it’s not a part of a collection.  It’s a stand alone image.

I grazed for several years until something happened.

I proudly assembled my “greatest hits” and sent them off to Lenswork.  While polite, Brooks Jensen’s response was basically: “Hey!  Didn’t you read the submissions guidelines?  Pick ONE image and send me 15-25 on that subject.”


That kick in the butt was what I needed, and I think I was ready.  I then picked “Grain Silos” to focus on, and worked on that project for several months.  Instead of getting bored like I thought I would, I became obsessed and really enjoyed myself.  This resulted in my first “portfolio” that I purposely set out to create.

I enjoyed that process so much that I went on to create other portfolios:

  • Ceiling Lamps
  • The Ghosts of Auschwitz and Birkenau
  • Ukrainians, With Eyes Shut
  • Linnie: A Portrait of Breast Cancer
  • The Oregon Coast
  • The Lone Man (in progress)
  • Harbinger (in progress)

I’m currently starting a new project that I’m very excited about entitled “Surprise!” (don’t ask me what it’s about, I won’t tell!)

Now for those of you who also resist picking a subject and focusing on it, again I do understand.  It may be that you’re not ready yet, I think you have to satisfy that “grazing” desire by indulging in it for a while.

But it might be that you are ready, but haven’t found the right subject that really excites you.  I believe you must be completely passionate about a subject before you can have have fun with it and do a great job.  If you don’t feel that way, I’d suggest you choose another subject.

It’s very satisfying to create a “cohesive body of work,” it’s also addicting!


14 thoughts on “Are You A Photographic Grazer?

  1. Cole — Excellent advice as always! In fact, inspired by Lenswork, I have a couple projects in process and in the cue. Just need a bit more time to work on them.

    Best regards — Bishop

  2. Great ideas as per usual Cole.

    I have never really thought about organizing my imagery into portfolios that way, now I just have everything in one big folio…but now will be thinking more along these lines!


  3. A project sometimes get to be too broad, like “landscapes”, or…., or…. BUt I’m finding that assigning folders in PS Bridge
    is tending to somewhat on its own developing in to projects. Maybe. Still, grazing on a weekend in the woods ain’t all bad.
    Thanks for the motivating thought.

  4. I have just started subscribing to your blog and am new to photography and find it so informative!..I used to graze but a friend suggested doing photo essays on subjects that mattered to me and it’s true I found holes that I now concentrate on and the work is now becoming more cohesive and connected and has helped me further refine what it is I am interested in capturing
    The part about focusing is you become single minded in that vision and maybe images that created clutter in your mind and on your desktop you can let go of…
    Great advice and look forward to reading more about your experiences and tips !

  5. Hi Cole

    I enjoy receiving your newsletters by email, and always open them as they arrive. (Just found your blog today) I particularly enjoy the “inspirational” video or thought that you often include.

    I’m studying photography at college at the moment, and that forces one to “focus on a topic” for each semester’s folio. One of my instructors had some advise about “grazing” though…if you have a number of different images or ideas that excite you that’s great. Take your camera out with you everywhere, and shoot whatever you want, whatever appeals at the time. Just keep the “folio subject” in the back of your mind. You’ll still be able to graze, but you’ll find yourself thinking…”oh, that’d be great for “textures” group, and look, there’s an image I’ll capture for my “faces in repose” section”…I’ve found it works well for me, anyhow.

  6. Hi Kylie, thanks for commenting on the blog, it’s good to hear from you again.

    Being forced to focus on a topic to complete an assignment is so different than how you might work without that discipline being forced on you. Learn from it.

    I tend to only work when I feel inspired, and of course this can be abused as it can turn into an excuse (I just don’t feel inspired!).

    Both positions are opposite swings of the pendulum and perhaps some blending of the two approaches would be useful. Perhaps a semi-forced discipline that causes one to get inspired?

    Great thought, thanks Kylie.


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