Using Notion as a Photography Planner


I’m 34 years old and I’m just starting a vlog. Restarting a vlog, I should say. I did a couple of travel style vlogs back in 2017 and then life happened. My wife and I moved back to the UK and various projects have distracted us for the last four years. During this time, we got married, bought a house, I joined my family’s business and started an osteopathy course. Two of those projects are going well, one of them went moderately well and one of them was abandoned. Needless to say, alongside working on my landscape photography, these things kept me busy – and still do!

However about a year ago, I started to feel a little rudderless. I am satisfied with my work and home life and my hobbies give me a lot of growth. So it took a bit of careful examination to work out what was missing.

One of my favourite parts of landscape photography is planning a shot. When I find a composition that I think has potential, I start imagining what style of photography will bring it to life. Usually a sunset or sunrise doesn’t cut it for me and I want to get the landscaped backed by stars if it is wide angle or – if it is a telephoto shot – I like to get the sun or the moon in the image.

To get images such as these requires all the elements to come together at once: the heavenly bodies need to be in the right place at the right time; the shoot needs to fit around my other commitments (believe me, I went to a work meeting after a 2am start and it did not go well;) and the British weather needs to play nice – frequent cyclonic conditions may be a boon for landscape photographers, but aren’t so great for those of us who want clear skies… All this combined means that I can sometimes be planning a shoot for months – and years – until the window of opportunity arrives.

Up until recently, my way of planning shoots was fairly decentralised – and hence a little disorganised:

I have pins all over Google Maps – some of them with notes on them and many without.
I save PhotoPills plans (many of these have copious notes attached to them to!)
My Google Keep is full of notes about locations and some reference images.

This system was working ok for me and I was producing images I’m happy with. However, I have been looking for ways to improve and streamline it for some time.

Enter Notion

I’ve known about Notion for a while, but a friend reminded me about it in December and during the Christmas period, I probably sunk 40 hours into designing a personalized organisational system.

I should probably explain.

Notion is a flexible application where you can make notes and create databases. You can view the databases you create in various ways – as a calendar view, as a table, as a Trello-style Kanban board among others.

Given this flexibility everyone uses Notion slightly differently. There are templates to get you started, but once you have the hang of it, the creative potential is endless.

I use it as a life wiki and because I have a bit of an obsession with everything being in one place, I also designed a project and task manager within Notion.

As part of this project manager, I also decided to design a photography planner there too. This planner works in tandem with PhotoPills and pull everything into one place.

My Photography Planner

Here’s how it works: when I start planning a photo, I make it a page within my photo planning database (I’ve called this database ‘Bullet Journal’) in Notion.

I add key attributes to each plan, such as the season they need to be taken, the type of weather and the time of day or night. These attributes really help with forward planning for photo trips as you can filter a database based on them. So in the example below, I have filtered by season and I can see what options I have coming up:

But I can also filter them by the condition (new moon, full moon, mist, snow etc.) required:

I also programme attributes which are purely for organisation within the database. For example I have have an attribute called progress and here you can select new, planning, due, editing and complete. These attributes help me when it comes to a custom view of this database. For example, when planning a shot, I have everything in a Kanban, Trello style board, and I moved the shot along depending on what stage I am at with it:

When I know that the opportunity to get a photo is fast approaching and I want it to be in the forefront of my mind, I tick the box that says ‘Ambient Focus.’ When this box is ticked, the photo plan appears at the top of my daily brief which is the place that I go each day for my every day project and task manager. As you can see, shots at Warleigh Weir, Glastonbury Tor and Cheddar Gorge are due any time:

Each of these plans is a page in its own right and this is useful for planning a photo. Within these plan pages I might make notes, clip inspiring images, put pins on maps or even include PhotoPills plans:

As you can see this system is extremely flexible and customisable. It has brought information that was quite disparate together into one place. I am hoping that having a more organised system for my photo panning will lead to me taking more of the types of photos like. I can prioritise shots that need to be acted upon fast and put distant plans on the backburner and forget about them until the right time.

If you sign up to my mailing list at the end of the article, I will send you a link to a template that you can duplicate and use.

Organising My Organisation

So how does this relate to feeling rudderless?

My day job is in the care sector. During the pandemic and especially in March of 2020 my life became one long task list. I lived within my Gmail inbox. I learned the keyboard shortcuts to turn an email into a Google Task and in the frenetic spring of last year I just chugged away at these tasks with minimal thought about how they related to some bigger picture. As things have calmed down though, and as I’ve taken back on projects, I’ve had to reassess how I handle these varied responsibilities.

Because you can use Notion however you like, creating a bespoke organisational system got me thinking about the hierarchy of my projects and tasks. How do these different elements nest within the greater structure of my life?

P.A.R.A. was coined by Tiago Forte. It stands for ‘Projects,’ ‘Areas’, ‘Resources’ and ‘Archive’. Areas consist of multiple tasks that don’t have a start or an end date. A Project consists of multiple tasks but have a start and an end date. Resources are information that is useful to discharging areas or projects. Archive self-explanatory – it is where anything goes once it is no longer current.

P.A.R.A. has been a really useful distinction, because it’s allowed me to see what tasks and projects fit within a greater life goal (Area.) (I have also nested Areas within an even greater metanarrative called ‘Dreams,’ but perhaps that is the subject of another blog!)

All this organising made me remember the fun I had planning and writing my dissertation. Long form essays take this same thinking about metastructure. I have really missed the feeling of being intellectually challenged and engaged in the type of categorisation and thinking that I got first from my university degree, later from a blog and still later – for a short time when I lived in Russia – a vlog.

Photography scratches several itches – it gets me out in nature and seeing creatively. But it doesn’t make me think about things in the philosophical, incisive way that I was trained to in the Theology Department of Bristol University.

I like getting my teeth into an idea and really considering it from all angles.

So, as if my life wasn’t busy enough already, I’ve decided to start writing again and recording vlogs on those developed thoughts when I have a chance.

I don’t know whether vlogging will become a major part of my life. But I have created a database for these ideas in the same way I have for my photography planner:

Within Notion, I’ve created an area I call my ‘Idea Refinery’ and I use a Kanban board where I moved an idea from ‘New’ to ‘Thinking,’ to ‘Blog,’ to ‘Vlog:’

Adding these two elements back into my life – some much needed intellectual stimulation and a new hierarchical organisational system – helped me reboot after a weird year and so far it has brought some much needed balance to my life – which was starting to feel simultaneously undirected and on rails!

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