Some time back I remember hearing the always fantastic, Brooks Jensen from Lenswork talk about the idea of gathering assets in relation to his photography.
He described how his approach to photography is a little different than how many others approach things, especially in regards to thinking in terms of projects, and his approach just might be the key to helping you unlock your next big project.
The “Hunter/Sniper” mindset
Most photographers, when tasked with a personal project, will agonize over finding an idea, perfecting that idea, then heading out in the world to attempt to hunt down the specific images they need for that project.
It’s a process that can work very well, especially when there is a very clear cut project that requires some very specific photographs to create the visual narrative of the project you have in mind.
If you’re like me, however, you may find that approach a bit stifling.
I’ve mentioned, albeit vaguely, a couple long term projects I’ve been working on. Both very specific in subject material and as such I’d go out with my camera with the specific intent to hunt down the next couple photos I needed in the series.
Guess what, I’ve lost motivation to do anything with those projects by and large. I got bored with the subject material and more importantly I got tired of going out laser focused on those specific subjects only to find that I was able to add one or two new photos for a full afternoon spent searching.
I can’t help but feel like I missed and willingly passed up many amazing photo opportunities because I was forcing myself to shoot only for that project.
That being said, I came away from those projects with a good number of photographs that I really do enjoy. Even though the overall projects fizzled out, I still gained some excellent photos that may actually work better in some other projects down the road.
Which brings us to Brooks Jensen’s approach.
The “Asset Gathering” approach
The statement Brooks made that has stuck with me so much, is how he thinks of being out shooting as simply gathering assets for future projects.
To paraphrase, when he’s out with his camera making photographs he doesn’t want to limit his vision to just one subject or idea. In doing so we close off our minds and stop actually SEEING the world around us.
I’ve come to really agree with this.
Because of that, Brooks thinks of his photography outings as “Asset Gathering” sessions. By not limiting your vision to just one subject you are able to focus instead on truly SEEING the world around you.
It’s not about just making snapshots.
The goal is still to create the best possible photos you can. The difference is that you aren’t trying to force the scene in front of you into one creative box or another before you create the photograph.
For Brooks, the formation of the project comes after he’s gathered a whole bunch of assets.
This dilemma requires a different approach
Think about it this way if you will.
How many times have you settled on an idea. Rolled up your sleeves and got to work creating the necessary photos. Found yourself at the half-way point of that project losing steam.
Your mind starts to wander. New ideas start to form. Maybe it’s a variation of the project you’re working on. Sometimes it’s a totally different direction pulling you.
So you abandon the project. The time, effort, and energy you’ve spent now tossed aside and wasted.
You start the next project… only to have this cycle repeat.
But what if there was another way.
When we approach photography in terms of simply gathering assets, we gain a couple of benefits.
- It’s easier to stay open to any and all inspiration. We are not walking around with blinders on. Big project success comes from having big creative vision AND a mind open to all inspiration.
- Spending time gathering all sorts of unrelated “assets” in our photography means we can work on multiple projects simultaneously. We just don’t quite know what the project is in that moment.
- It gives us time to let our work breathe. We need a little distance from our own work. In my experience, it’s one of the only ways to get better at self editing our work.
- Once we have a good pool of assets, we can better see where our AUTHENTIC vision was leading. What our TRUE creative voice was trying to say. When you look back at a pool of photographs you’ll begin to pick up on themes flowing through your work. Connecting many unrelated photographs because your subconscious voice wasn’t silenced while you were out shooting.
- If your photography was starting to feel stale or boring, THIS approach helps you break free of the routines. Doubly so if you allow yourself to chase any of those off the wall, outside the box, totally random ideas that pop in your head. Creatively speaking, feel free to dive down any and all random rabbit holes and explore, explore, explore.
- Over time you’ll start to learn more about who YOU are as a photographer, what YOU are trying to say with your work, and HOW you can better express yourself through your art.
Is the “asset gathering” approach the best/only way to work
Of course not.
Anyone that tells you there is only one RIGHT way to do anything probably has their head so far up their own backside that the itch they feel in the back of their throat is the hair on their head coming up from below.
Working with the asset gathering mentality is just another approach that you can try if you are feeling stuck.
For me personally, what I’ve found as I’ve continued to explore this approach with my own photography work, is that it’s actually really letting me feel better about the BODY of work vs just a couple single images.
Of course, the essential part of the asset gathering approach is that you need to make time to sit down at your computer and go through your pool of photographs.
That is where the projects and series come into play.
As you start sifting through the work, stories and themes will present themselves. At that point you begin to take a few from here, a couple from there, and through playing and re-arranging suddenly this finished project rises up from the pool of photographs.
You may find you need to add a few more photos to complete the project.
Or you might find multiple small themes that all tie together into one larger project.
But that is the beauty of it. When you put time into gathering a large number of assets, you’ll always be able to pick and choose only the BEST photographs for your project. Even better, you won’t have the suffocating pressure of trying to go out and find a way to hunt down just one single composition you need for the next page of the project.
And if you do find you need a couple more very specific photos to complete a project this way, you’ll actually have a much clearer understanding of what you need BEFORE you head out hunting.
What do you think? Have you approached your photography this way? Do you find it beneficial to your process? I’d love to hear what you think about it so drop a line!