Being There

In Pep Talks, Thoughts & Theory, Vision Is Better by David22 Comments

grandson copy

One of the lessons that came up time and again on last month’s Lumen Dei tour was the importance of presence. As in really being there.

We photographers often suffer from some kind of attention-deficit malfunction. We look, we shoot, we don’t always really see. So this year we encouraged people to stop running around looking for the next thing and instead to be really present, to sit somewhere and watch, interact, get closer to the scene, the subject, the moment – by knowing it better. As teachers we got the worst of it because we had to subject ourselves to our own advice, perhaps more than usual, and it was…well, it was tough at times. I thought I was good at really soaking in a scene until I met Ami Vitale, that woman has the ability to out-wait a glacier, I swear she does. That’s one of the great benefits of teaching – you learn so much, even when it’s lessons you already thought you’d learned. And as I sat and waited, immersed in the places I was photographing, I saw more than I normally might have. Experienced more. Learned more. And if it’s true that you can’t photograph something until you’ve experienced it, then I shot better images than ever before. Simply because I was there. Present in body and attention.

I keep thinking back to my time shooting the harvest images I showed you last week. I sat there for a long time. I spoke longer to the families. I watched the light longer than I normally would. I watched the dust motes dance in the light, explored the space from more angles than I might normally, and got past the spot I’d normally get bored and go off searching for something else – and beyond that boredom was my best work.

I know, everyone wants the easy path to compelling photographs; something available – for any price – at B&H or Adorama. But the skills that make a better photographer aren’t for sale. Kindness, curiosity, and the patience to wait through the boredom and get to the other side where merely looking becomes actually seeing – these things make better images than the latest digital camera or your newest lens will ever do on their own.


  1. Pingback: peripheral vision blog » Blog Archive » more snippets

  2. Your words really struck a chord with me. They are so true, sometimes we really don’t see because we are so busy looking, which winds up meaning ‘looking past’ what is there. Beautiful shot and wise words.
    Thank you.

  3. I think there is more here to learn from this image. After providing primary medical care for a long time, I have found often the most important thing we have to offer others is our presence. From this grows trust, reassurance and a sense of relationship. This image reflects those qualities, otherwise it would have been unobtainable I suspect.

    Recently shooting images of wild mustangs in Northern Nevada I had a similar experience. These animals are extremely spooky. But the more you just sit and “be there” the more curious/trusting they become. We were fortunate and our patience paid off. And you didn’t a 600mm zoom to make great images.

    Awesome image and post. Keep em’ coming!

  4. Great post, David. And I LOVE the image at the top. Love it.
    Btw, my beautiful woman from India is now hanging in our entrance … She speaks to me on many levels.

  5. Hey David,

    Excellent post, and a fantastic photo. Thanks for this. This post will definitely be kept in my ‘favorites’ folder, to refer back to often.



  6. Well said. Seems like you are often pointing out things we “know” but when I read it here, it is often more of an “oh yea!” than an “oh, yea.” Thank you again!

  7. As others have said, your most compelling posts are as much about life as photography.

    Gorgeous portrait, David.

  8. Pingback: Being There – David duChemin (pixelatedimage) @ Photo News Today

  9. This is a great lesson. My wife and I went on a mission trip this summer. She was asked to be the group photographer. We both took cameras, but we primarily spent the time helping with the tasks at hand, and it brought much more satisifaction when we got home and were able to pour over the images we brought back. Those cultural barriers are tough to break down, but if you are genuine, most people will pick up on it

  10. I love the way you write. You’re as gifted with your word-smithing as you are with your image making.

  11. I think that that was one of the enduring lessons of the whole experience.

  12. I like to call it suffering from Terminal curiosity. A condition that gives you the time to wait out anything to really find out something of importance no matter what gets in the way.

  13. I think the by-product of your experience are the compelling photographs. That is the part that I am drawn to… the experience. The camera’s job is to record my experience.

  14. This is really a Life Lesson. I really enjoy your insight, in photography and beyond.

  15. so true!! the things you experience while you are REALLY there (in mind, body and sprrit) are much more intens and that will show in your work!

  16. Nice piece of advice. You don’t want to watch the world through a camera lens. I’ll try my best to practice that, but the fact that I shoot a lot of LF kind of forces me to slow down, at least that’s a start.

  17. This is a lesson for *life* itself. I’ve been trying to convince my wife of it for the last year or so.

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