Workshop Photography: The Picture Package

Over the past few weeks I’ve been having conversations with several of the people I’m working with on my upcoming workshops. I’ve also had a conversation or two with people who are taking the workshops. The energy associated with a class like this is creatively intense. People, staff and students alike, want to maximize their time. One of the ways I like to do this when I’m taking a workshop or working on a project is by thinking in terms of the picture package, a half dozen or so related images that tell a small story. Add all the picture packages together and you have a larger theme. This theme can then translate into a book, a multimedia package, etc.

The picture package allows you to feel small successes as the time, or workshop, progresses. If I look at my current New Mexico project, I have completed picture packages on the Spaceport, the UFO Festival, White Sands, etc. I could do an entire project on any ONE of these topics, but my goal is a broader look at a larger idea. So, I create packages.

So have a look and listen and see if this helps.

34 responses to “Workshop Photography: The Picture Package”

  1. Brian Miller says:

    Yay, I got to read two of your new blog posts in one day! 🙂 Thanks so much for this. This is a great way to work through a larger project and keep it intellectually and emotionally manageable. This really helps.

  2. Hey Dan | Been thinking quite a bit about the idea of storytelling in photography with my own work, particularly with the strategy of what you’re proposing, a structure of 6 – 10 photographs that implies a narrative. However, I keep coming back to the fact the photographs are incapable of storytelling, whether individually or collectively, as such efforts result in pictures that become simply illustrations of an idea and not particularly visually engaging photographs. Such a strategy may be helpful for a photographer, but I’d also propose the photographer be open-minded about what they see, what they then photograph and how the photograph is different from what was photographed.
    Saw this video on Garry Winogrand,, while preparing a discussion topic for one of the classes about street photography and photographing out in the world.

    • Smogranch says:


      We have differing opinions on this because I feel that not only are photographs capable of telling stories I feel it is nearly impossible for them not to tell stories. I used to think the ultimate goal was to tell stories with knockout, visually complex imagery, but then I realized that might work for another photographer, or the art world but it might fail when viewed by someone outside these worlds. So then the concept of audience became more a part of what I was doing. Now, i shoot for me, so I haven’t got the same concerns. I love working in small themes with am audience in mind, wondering how Ican get my idea or point across. Way do I need to show or not show. Again, now I’m muddling in my own affairs but it’s still a fun game to play.
      Winogrand was so interesting on so many levels, but what I like most about him is his manic need to shoot. I feel bad if I have 5 unprocessed rolls……

    • It is really quite easy. Photographs are incapable of “telling stories” because what each individual photograph (or collective group) has the potential of revealing visually, intellectually and emotionally is far different than what the photographer photographed. How photographs are “read” is dependent on what has been framed with the camera, not necessarily what was taking place in the photographer’s mind. However, the closer what took place in the frame can come with what the photographer was thinking about will provide the greatest possibility of harmony between the photographers intention and the viewers interpretation. Isn’t that what the pleasures of photographs are?
      It would seem that “beginnings” and “middles” and “ends” force the issue of interpretation, which maybe is what some people want when they view and experience photographs. However, particularly with some contemporary practice nowadays, including multimedia, the visual engagement of photographs is becoming burdened by narration and other forms as a means to facilitate the “reading” of the photographs and their meaning. But then again, maybe some photographs need this to help the viewer, but isn’t that what video and cinema are for.
      Wouldn’t it be nice to simply view photographs for the pleasure of viewing a still moment, a pause, so that we might contemplate the picture(s) for ourselves rather than having the “reading,” “meaning” and “interpretation” forced upon us?

    • Smogranch says:


      I would have never passed your class. My photo classes began with things like this, “Try to get something in focus.” I was a “C” student.

      When I write about picture packages or thinking in terms of story I’m only talking about what goes through my mind. We have so much baggage as photographers it’s nearly impossible to get through it. All of this burden is mostly irrelevant to the people viewing our images. I’ll base my opinion on my seven or eight years of portrait work. I would shoot jobs with stories in mind, with books being the final end result. I would spend much time figure cover options, editing, sequencing, etc, but the minute I handed a book to a client, in many cases, the book would be viewed back to front, or opened to the middle. The client wasn’t thinking in the same terms I did. They were viewing, as you said, simply for the pleasure of viewing an image. But, this doesn’t change what I’m doing. I still want to make something that relates to how I see the work, what my initial idea was.

    • I have no doubt you would have passed – you know how to make engaging pictures. One of the problems with photographic practice right now is the lack of attention on the pictures themselves as pictures. Sure, at some point, it is beneficial (and necessary) for the photographer to develop a structure (picture package, edit, exhibition, book) with one’s work, and you’ve provided a thoughtful approach. However, I’d propose this is a process that takes place after the pictures are made, not before.

    • Smogranch says:

      I got a mercy grade in college algebra. A “D.” He looked at me and I could just tell he wanted no part of me for a second round. Maybe we are talking about slightly different things. The number one driving force for me, when I’m working, is the actual image. Just responding to what is there and I how I want to filter it. But, in the background, for me anyway, is a larger game being played. The more time I spent working as a photographer the larger that game became. At the newspaper I found myself framing something only to think to myself, “They won’t run that.” Or, there were too many people in the image and I didn’t want to get ID’s on all them so I’d move and crop. These are strong examples, and I don’t have that baggage now, but I still play this game of storytelling in my mind while I’m shooting. Rarely do I find it possible to work without this game. I am, however, working on it.
      And to your point, I run into a fair number of people today who have chosen a gallery and publisher before making a single image a project. I can’t see how this doesn’t effect their imagery, style, pace, etc. I also think this has to do with our culture and lack of time. To walk unencumbered by outside pressures is a luxury that I don’t think many people allow themselves to have. I can say for me personally, I’m working very differently now than I was 1.5 years ago.

  3. Karen says:

    Thx for posting this Dan. I really like this idea of going out to shoot with a mini-project approach. All too often I just go shoot, then come back with a lot of good ‘middle’ content but no beginning/end.

  4. Fortunately, the Photo Teacher will be going on sabbatical soon as it is becoming clear he needs to get out of the classroom (and off the computer) and just go out and make pictures.

  5. I love the imagery and simplicity the of this story. I sometimes try so hard to make a story, and when I see it layed out like this, it seems SO simple. Thanks.

    • Smogranch says:

      Thanks Martin, not sure what the end game is, but I like assembling images in my mind, like a puzzle, but not quite sure what the final overall image is.

  6. Eric Jeschke says:

    Thanks for articulating such a clear, simple approach to organizing a project. Makes lots of sense. This ought to be a chapter in your book–not the NM book, but your upcoming book on photography the smogranch way.

    …. why not?

    • Smogranch says:


      If I want to create a book that VERY few people want….that sounds like a perfect option. But thanks for mentioning it. My mom MIGHT buy a copy but she would probably lobby for friends and family discount.

  7. That is a great approach, it works well in any situation where one only has a limited amount of time. Travelling for instance and having two hours at a market, things seem overwhelming at first and it’s a great idea to focus on a mini-story. Thanks!

    • Smogranch says:


      That is kind of the idea. It’s very difficult to make great images. Not sure anything in this picture package is great, but working with images like building blocks can sometimes lead to a breakthrough here or there.

  8. Peter de Rooij says:

    I like this – well illustrated and useful, not just for workshops!

  9. Larry says:

    Timely. Made me realize everything I missed from my Saturday outing with the reenactors, but it does give me a foundation of what to be doing in the future. Thanks.

  10. Chris says:

    How many rolls would you typically shoot on a day like this Dan?

    • Smogranch says:


      It’s funny you ask. I just read that interview with Trent Parke who said he can shoot up to 40 rolls of 120 a day. I WISH I could do that but my brain doens’t work that way. I shoot a very small amount compared to a lot of folks. The most I’ve ever used on an entire project is 150 rolls of 35mm, and that was over a five-year period. On a typical day I might shoot a half dozen rolls.

    • Chris says:

      I just wondered because since I “went back” to film I have really slowed down my photography. I got real tired of sorting through a thousand or so shots from a couple of days of picture taking. Since each frame of 35mm equates to $’s I take a lot more time with each image, the knock on effect has been I now shoot digital the same way and have a lot more ‘keepers’. Good article thanks.

    • Smogranch says:


      I know I’m not the same guy with a digital camera in my hand. Plain and simple. I wish I was, but I’m not. So, I have to work differently. I too don’t love the idea of sorting hundreds and hundreds of thumbnail digital files. I think this is one reason why editing has really fallen off. People with that many images tend to get sloppy. PLus, it means you are spending copious amounts of time sitting in front of a computer, and I don’t want my life going down that road.

  11. perudo says:

    I really liked this post and it was very helpful to me.

    by the way, I discovered your work and your site recently and must say I really enjoy reading you and your photography

    • Smogranch says:


      Nice to meet you and nice to see you here. Let me know if there are things you’d like me to write about, at least for discussions here on the blog.

  12. Rob Oresteen says:

    Thanks Daniel for another great post…

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