Approaching Giants

In Pep Talks, Within The Frame by David10 Comments


Tet celebrations in Sapa, Vietnam. I cropped this one to go with the “giants” theme, you know, Jack and The Beanstalk kind of stuff. Now I’m not sure which version I like better, the square crop or the original. EXIF: Canon 5D, 125mm, 1/1600 @ f/4.o, ISO 400.

First, thanks to everyone who participated in yesterday’s Twitterview, that was just too much fun. Thanks! Let’s do it again sometime. 🙂

It seems like ages ago that Gavin Gough and I traded blogs for a day. He wrote here, I wrote over at his place and we shared a theme; the notion of standing on the shoulders of giants. This isn’t about that. But there are giants involved. And I have to warn you, this one flirts dangerously with being touchy-feely and quasi-motivational, but as many of you seem to take some perverse pleasure from this kind of thing, I’ll leave you with it as we head into the weekend. It has significant bearing on the life creative, so don’t be scared off by it.

I’ve always loved the story of David and Goliath, though Jack and the Beanstalk runs a close second. In part because any story with a little runt named David carries a certain resonance for me, and in part because I generally champion the underdog. My favourite part of the story is when little David runs to meet the giant. He doesn’t stroll, doesn’t sneak in with caution. He runs. Approaching giants is intimidating at the best of times. But if the story’s to be believed, the rewards were solid. He gets the renown, the money, and the girl. ‘Nuff said.

I’m a fan, however intimidating it is, of approaching giants. The heroes we look to for inspiration got to where they are with alot of hard lessons learned. But they did get there. And I want some of that. Whatever it is. If it’s wisdom, I want it. If it’s connections and relationships, I want those too. if it’s just the chance to hear their stories and bask in the coolness they exude – I’ll take that, and make it double please. Selfish? Sure. But not only. I like the chance to tell these people how important they are to me, how vital their work, teachings, and influence, have been to me choosing and succeeding on my journey. And I like knowing that the wisdom they pass on to me will make me better and wiser and one day I will have the chance to pay it forward and pass it on when others look up to me.

I’ve said before that standing on the shoulders of giants is important. Reaching out and getting to know those giants is even better. I want to encourage you – at the risk of flooding in-boxes of heroes everywhere – to do that audacious thing you’ve been dreaming about. My life has been impacted in ways I can’t begin to measure by simply approaching my heroes and doing what I can to touch the hem of their garment. To my surprise they’ve all been more than gracious, especially if there’s an offer of lunch and a beer involved. Monday is the official release date of Within The Frame, and the starting place for that book deal was lunch with one of my heroes. The foreword to that book was written by another of my heroes, and that began with a long sarcastic email to the man. Ditto the afterword, though there was less sarcasm involved. Many of my best friendships are with people I just reached out to. To my shock, they reached back.

Sure, aspire to be like your heroes – but even better, approach them.

Whatever that giant is – whether it’s a client, a project, a new technique, or one of your heroes – the first step is the approach. If your particular giant is a person, take them to lunch, go to their lectures take a class or workshop with them. If they’re planning to be at Photoshop World, go to Photoshop World.  Not everyone will respond, and those that do may not have the time to do much more than thank you for the effort, but you never know until you try, right?

The thing about approaching the giants in your life is that it’s scary as hell. In some ways that’s what makes them giants. In The War of Art, to which I refer more and more these days, Pressfield contends that the greater the fear the greater the indication that the thing of which you are afraid is in fact the thing you really MUST do.  Here’s a quote, he’s talking about resistance, but if you assume that fear is often one of the greatest manifestations of resistance in the creative life, it’s a powerful thought:

“Like a magnetized needle floating on a surface of oil, Resistance will unfailingly point to true North – meaning that calling or action it most wants to stop us from doing.

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it”

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art.

Have a great weekend. Don’t forget to get in on the Within The Frame Giveaway.


  1. Another great post!
    I just want to add to the notion that you really have nothing to lose and everything to gain in approaching the people you admire. More often than not they are more than happy and willing to help out.
    I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to meet with Art Wolfe, one of my photographic idols, about a year ago. Not only did Art graciously give me all the time I needed, but he also invited me to one of his workshops. We have since become good friends…all of this just because I asked.

  2. I’m slowly getting used to approaching people. The 100strangers group on flickr is a great motivator, plus, just asking people in general.

    Yesterday, I was on a shoot at Exposition Park, and I wanted to photograph the inside of the Swimming venue. First I asked at the lovely lady at the information desk, and she graciously called the director.

    He came down, I introduced myself, gave him my business card and told him what I wanted to do. He had no problem with me walking around the facility taking pictures. He provided me with a map and a few brochures, and then said if I wanted the best view, I should go to the third floor. I got several good shots of the pool from a much better location than on the ground.

    It just took approaching him and simply asking.

  3. OK, Mr. Giant. 🙂 I wish that you were closer to North/South Carolina, because I’d sure like to have lunch and beer with you!

  4. David,

    Great post! I’ve found that approaching heroes also helps solidify or dash the hero status they have in one’s eyes. When I finally meet someone I’ve wanted to meet, and they’re a jerk in person, that helps me cross them off my list of people to admire (I can still like their stuff, but no longer are they elevated to hero status). Likewise, those who respond with kindness are doubly hero material.

    PS – I’ve been lurking for several months without posting, but I must say that the sample chapter from WTF is excellent and I’m looking forward to reading the whole book (congratulations on its publication!) I’m an amateur photographer, and never plan on being anything but. However, I’d like to be the best one I can and your book seems like it will fill a void in the photo book are. Thank you!

  5. You big softy you!

    David was and still is one of my ‘giants’ and I sheepishly reached out to him a while back. I’ve learnt so much about marketing, running a photo-business, servicing clients and I even get free sushi sometimes. What more could you ask for?

    It is scary reaching out to those giants – “will they answer?”, “Will they tell me to get another job?”, “will they be annoyed?”, but the benefits and friendships that often result are amazing!

  6. Really enjoyed this post. Sometimes taking that first step is the hardest part. Approaching a giant a certain amount of “puffed out chest” boldness but the results can be rewarding in one way or another.

  7. Pingback: Approaching Giants - David duChemin (pixelated image) | Photo News Today

  8. Hi David,
    I just found out about you and your book from Scott Excited to see your blog post. You are now on my RSS and I am looking forward to learning more about “Vision” from you!!

  9. Thanks for the great post David. You were actually one of the ‘giants’ I reached out to last year and although we weren’t able to get our schedules to coincide before I moved overseas, I very much appreciated the graciousness you showed by your sincere replies to my emails and ‘lunch and beer’ offers. I’m glad I can at least pick your brain from this blog if not face to face. Cheers and thanks again for a great blog!

  10. And in regards to the greater the fear, the greater the need, I recently read a great quote from a photojournalist in PDN recently who said:

    “If you find yourself photographing in a situation where it feels like you shouldn’t be there, you need to be there.”

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