ESSAY: Three, Research

Over the past twenty-five years, I’ve completed documentary photography projects all over the world. Some have been successful, while others, not so much. However, completing these stories has allowed me the opportunity to experience remarkable people and places. Completing these stories has also allowed me to create an archive of images as well as an archive of self-published books and magazines, like my new series, ESSAY.

A roll of film photography

Why Research is Important

One of my favorite parts of doing projects is doing the research. When I started in photography, research meant heading to the library or photography archive. Now, we all have the world at our fingertips.

First, researching a story allows me to see what has been done before. If I do a story on the Grand Canyon, I know I’m not the first photographer to arrive at this idea, so I need to know what has been done to make sure I’m adding to the dialogue. Research also allows for a deeper understanding of the larger story. The deeper you dig, the smaller the story, in some ways, becomes—finding my personal angle becomes easier. The Grand Canyon is a large place, but perhaps there is a park ranger from my hometown, who would give me the local, or granular-level story I’m looking for.

Now, there is such a thing as doing too much research. If we go too far with trying to predict what might happen, sometimes what we end up actually seeing and photographing might not live up to our expectations. My thought process is this: Credit what has been done before, add my twist to the story, and try not to imagine what I’m going to experience, but rather, simply react to what is actually there.

Finally, save your research notes. Often, these behind-the-scenes documents can be an integral part of the final book or magazine.


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