Book Recollection: Within the Frame

It has actually been awhile since I posted a recollection – let’s just do something about that.  Today’s recollection once again comes from the field of photography.  Last year I obtained a book recommended by a photography podcast that Linda and I are regular listeners of.  It was also recommended by Scott Kelby so it had two very good things going for it.  The book at hand is by David duChemin and called Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision.  It was billed as a book about the art of photography, those things that go beyond the technical aspects of taking a photograph that make your images compelling.  I have definitely had my fill of the science side of photography books as of late, so figured I’d pull this book out for insights on how a professional photographer sees the image, or as the book characterizes it, how the shot is framed.  There were two things that caught my attention immediately.  The first was the fact that the author was Canadian.  Based on a quick skim of the photographs in the book revealed a large number of Middle Eastern and Asian portraits and figured it was due to proximity.  Nope, David is actually a well traveled photographer and to say he has seen the world would be an understatement – and that isn’t just book a flight, walk around the tourist attractions and call it a day.  David truly immerses himself in the culture and tries to capture that in his photography.  Ironically, duChemin means “of the road”.  The second thing that stuck out immediately is he’s primarily a portrait photographer and not that into wildlife.  This is exactly contrary to my preferences so immediately there were concerns as to whether I should invest time in this book.  I consider my free time pretty precious so most of my reading is focused on learning something – but you should know that by now if you’ve looked at many of the recollections on this blog.  After some waffling, a decision was made to proceed and since giving up on a book is pretty rare, figured I was in for the long haul .. good .. or bad.

All in all, it turned out to be a good thing – or rather really good in the beginning and eventually tapering off as he began to hone in on the portrait details.  There were a number of thought provoking concepts scattered throughout the first half of the book.  The one that touched home was the belief that photography is a journey.  This I can relate to.  I’ll probably never get to where I’d like to be with this form of art, but looking back it is pretty easy to tell that there has been significant progress since those younger years of shooting film.  Granted, some of this is due to an improved income which enables better equipment, but there is a definite change in how I compose a shot and there is more interest for me beyond the common postcard shots on our vacations.  To sum it up, my shots are more about what I want to remember from a trip and less what I want to be able to show people where we went.  If there was one sentence in this book that stood out for me, it was definitely in the Afterword by Vincent Versace.  “Most likely there is one image that sent you on the path of photography.”  Wow, that is a tough one.  My early interest in photography was thanks to my brother Ron who would take me out with him to parks and what not to take pictures with the trusty 35mm Nikon – I still remember shooting deer in a park in Rockford and even further back when we were out chasing the moon on country backroads trying to get the perfect angle for a shot (don’t ask).  However when the digital age came I likely embraced that ahead of him when my wife and I would head out to the local wildlife park to shoot the animals.  At some point I came upon the work of Joel Sartore (link here) and Scott Linstead (link here). From that moment on the hook was set.  If I was to answer for Linda she’d probably go with Ansel Adams and me (hehehe, sorry had to get the dig in since she is currently lagging in the awards department – If she reads this, she’ll probably make some crazy excuse for what that isn’t true, but the jury has already rendered their decision!)  Take the time to ask yourself that very same question and see what you come up with.  The look back is well worth the time.

So if there is one aspect that gets some scrutiny, it has to be the impression that you should just travel somewhere and immerse yourself in the culture and come back with great shots.  First of all, depending on what your preferences are you could be carrying more than the locals would see in their lifetime.  Second of all, depending on your heritage, you might not be welcome in certain parts.  This thought made me cringe when he wrote “When seeing and capturing the spirit of a place, nothing can compete with wandering on foot and getting good and lost, Not momentarily lost, but completely and unfindably lost….you have no idea if it will open …. into a narrow alley that is the de-facto red-light district of town.  Clearly David has knowledge, experience and contacts that far exceed most of us and this familiarity allows him greater freedom the other cultures.  However, the thought of walking around in the back alleys and local haunts seems dangerous at best especially carrying stuff that says Nikon or Canon on it.  Hell, even he mentioned he was almost arrested for taking a picture of a Muslim girl.  To his credit, he does recommend using resources like Lonely Planet before you go, but for my comfort we’ll pick safer shoots and keep the danger to just the footing.

It does look like duChemin is an active blogger (http://www.pixelatedimage.com/blog/) so check him out if you want to learn more about him and his art – described as World and Humanitarian Photographer.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways (which were actually more than initially anticipated)

Takeaways:

  • It’s a book about chasing your vision and telling your stories as clearly and passionately as possible with compelling photography.  I actually like how concise this sentence is and rings true – I guess lucky for me, I’m a long way from producing my vision so it doesn’t look like photography will get boring for me anytime soon
  • Vision is the beginning and end of photography
  • Finding and expressing your vision is a journey, not a destination
  • If you don’t love photography for the sheer act of trying to express yourself, , yours will be a disappointing journey
  • Photography is deeply subjective .. it will tell the truths and the lies – we have witnessed the latter all to much recently on both sides of the camera – those that distort the truth and those that try to keep the lies hidden.
  • It’s about creating images that others will care about – I think this is the big difference between hobby and occupation – in truth as a hobby I care more about images that please me first and other second – this would be flipped if I was having to rely on this for a living
  • David is definitely not drawn to wildlife subjects
  • You are responsible for the images you take – you decide what is in and what is out
  • When you press the shutter ask yourself what it is that is compelling you to capture the image
  • As photographic storytellers, it is our job to ruthlessly exclude every element with the frame that is not part of the story
  • Merely filling the frame with something exotic does not make it a good photograph
  • Consider the look of your images beyond just getting the exposure right.
  • Recommend panning shots at 1/30 or 1/15 of a second shutter speeds – in truth, these panning shots really don’t interest me unless it is related to sports – otherwise the background generally seems distracting to me
  • Know you camera well enough to change the important setting without looking up from viewfinder – this is something I have been working to get better at, but with the big lens, it is to difficult to hold the glass while making the necessary changes
  • Why become addicted to the how of photography … and when that happens the why and the what suffer – this is the same author that just told me to know how to change my settings without looking!
  • And then proceeds to write: By all means, geek out the gear, but don’t forget that without vision the whole thing falls apart and devolves
  • Digital noise always lo0ks crappy – this is my constant battle – trying to keep the ISO down but keeping the shutter speed high enough to compensate for the wiggle with the huge glass and the movement of the wildlife
  • This histogram: shadows without detail on the left – highlights without detail on the far right – latter of which is almost impossible to get back beyond a stop even in raw – push your shots to the right of the graph without letting it go past.
  • 85-135mm are considered best portrait glass – higher and the face has an unflattering compression
  • Once again, here’s the rule of thirds but don’t be constrained by it
  • Three images go into a final photograph – the image you envision, the image you capture and the image you produce in the digital darkroom
  • In Photoshop there is no Un-Suck filter – sweet, a little coding and I can be a millionaire
  • He totes along a small printer to give as payment for people allowing him to photograph them
  • The first thing is to realize that the creative process is not so simple that it can be reduced to a formula – which is why I get a little irked when photography sites write as absolute truths and not recommendations
  • Nothing kills creativity, inspiration or motivation like self-pity, self-doubt and self preoccupation – well that, and a jittery bird
  • Inspiration means to breathe in
  • Recommends getting out of your rut – force yourself to try a different style, subject .. break your rules – reading a book on portrait photography when you are a wildlife photographer seems to fit that bill
  • Photographs must be about something – I guess I’ll buy this belief if the about can have no meaning to anyone else but the photographer
  • Recommends studying National Geographic for tips on how to create photo essays
  • A good story has a sense of wonder, it raises curiosity and it leaves something untold for us to gnaw on – tough to do this in wildlife photography, but this maybe why shots of animals staring off the frame (not at the photographer) so intrigues us
  • David brings up the hotly debated topic of paying people as compensation for taking their picture – he doesn’t really take a position other than saying he generally doesn’t, but I know he gives them printouts of this shots – he also has strong feelings toward not taking the remaining dignity by exploiting another’s misfortune
  • He also touches upon photographing kids – this issue is getting out of hand by the overprotective populous, but this is exactly why I spend my time in the wildlife arena – in a way, they are far more civil
  • Know the laws of where you are photographing – that which won’t get you arrested just might get you stoned – this goes for all the new homeland security laws that have been the rage as of late
  • Again, the difference between hobby and occupation – his clients don’t pay him to travel light, they pay him to come home with shots
  • Recommends the Lonely Planet books to learn about where you shouldn’t go when traveling
  • F/8 and be there.. well, mainly be there
  • Important to remember there are few places in the world that have not been photographed – avoid the cliche shot by concentrating on the unique way to take the cliche shot
  • Apparently the Taj Mahal is just another dusty tourist attraction – did learn that the emperor that built it was imprisoned by his son for misspending the nation’s wealth
  • Provide a point of reference if you want to demonstrate things like size to the viewer
  • Look for patterns and broken patterns
  • Sun – put aperture down to f/16 or deeper if you want a starburst effect
  • Culture is the outward expression of the inner life of a particular demographic – very nicely articulated!
  • Apparently do not take a picture of a woman in a Muslim neighborhood
  • In many parts of the world you do not eat with your left hand… there is a reason for this and it is because of what the left hand is used for in those parts
  • They say if you can shoot food well, you can shoot anything well

2 thoughts on “Book Recollection: Within the Frame”

  1. Thanks for the very interesting summary! I find myself getting annoyed now when there is no reference in a frame for sizes. I’m also one who has had no interest in photographing people (other than shots of my family, of course, but I’m talking artistically).

    That last line of your post: I am embarrassed to admit that I thought for a couple of minutes that it was comparing the process of hunting with the process of photography. Pretty profound, I thought. Oh, well.

    Ron

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  2. As a note, I leave a penny on the porch so when I do my “night on the porch” macro shots I can give some reference to the subject – otherwise everything looks straight out of a Japanese horror movie! Are you saying your family is not artistic? Honey, can you bring a mirror and check my nose, I think I’ve just been tagged.

    Hey, I can shoot the food with the best of them – it is especially easy since they don’t move so you can center your crosshairs pretty easy – fortunately for the animals I generally don’t put animals in my crosshairs .. although I do make an exception for MOLES!

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