No Vision Without Passion

In Rants and Sermons, Vision Is Better by David50 Comments

My friend Yves on safari in Kenya. Yves will travel with me to India this year too, and I can’t wait to hang out with him again. He’s a surgeon, but his passion for photography would humble many of the pros I know.

I think it was Zack Arias who recently said that if he hear the word “passion” one more time in connection with photography, he’d barf. I might be paraphrasing, and I might have the source wrong. So with love and respect for my friend, Zack you might want to grab the barf-bag.

I almost called this post: VisionMongers, The Short Version. It’s relevant to everyone for whom VisionMongers was written, but it’s also relevant to others because I want to talk about being a successful photographer and that word, “successful” means different things to different people. To some it will be a great business that replaces your soul-numbing day job, for others it means creating work you love even if no one ever sees it. For some it means both and then some. Whatever your definition, consider this the short course.

I’m reading a book called Crush It, by Gary Vaynerchuck. It’s not the kind of book I normally read. Gary seems cool, and I like his priorities and values, but I think if we were to go for coffee or a beer he’d tire me out in 10 minutes. He’s got a big, bold, personality. But the book already has me hooked. In part because he doesn’t come of like a huckster, in part because what he writes rings true. If you’re building a business you seriously need to consider reading this book. Seriously. But I’m digressing only because it’s this book that has reminded me again of something. And here it is:

If you want to succeed in your photography, whatever that means to you, then you need to fuel it with passion and hard work. If photography is the air you breathe, the thing that distracts you and not the thing from which you are distracted, if it’s the thing you most want to do, to talk about, to spend your spare time on, and if you work harder at it than you’ve ever worked on anything, you will make it. Why? Because passion, true passion is in short, short supply these days. As is hard work. Long ago we abandoned the idea of having a life’s work, a calling; those that still do their work from that sense of calling or vocation, will be unbeatable.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It sermon. Ugh. Your craft, skills, ability to translate your vision into the two dimensional image, these matter a great deal, and not everyone will take the time to make it happen. But if you’re passionate, and not self-deluded, you’ll seek out your weaknesses and work your ass off to bolster them. Passion, in the right machine, is a volatile fuel that burns hard and long. But more than all this, the reason I believe passion and hard work will make you successful is that passion and hard work are the end, not the means. If your passion and hard work takes you to a place that has you working hard at what you love, then you are already there. You don’t need to get anywhere else.

There’s so much pressure out there. Keep up with the latest technology, figure out how the hot new photographer does his post-production, get published, make a name for yourself. Whatever. If those are the things you’re passionate about and would do forever if money were no option, then go for it. But for most of us we picked up a camera because putting the viewfinder to our eye and expressing ourselves through the print was the most magical thing ever.  Do that with passion and hard work. And don’t mistake that for counterfeit activities. Some of us are more passionate about finding a way to get that next lens or camera body. That’s not photography. It’s acquisitions. Some of us are more passionate about arguing about the merits of Nikon over Canon. That’s not photography; it’s sales, or geek-politics.

So what is photography? It’s less talk, more making photographs. Do that, and do it hard. And then tomorrow, do it again. And as long as you love doing that more than something else, you’ll have filled your days and fed your soul with something you love. And to do that, by almost any sane definition, is to have succeeded.


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  8. Thanks David, I just read VM for the second time (seemed better). My passion is stuck at a desk today – escape will happen.

  9. David, you’re a gem! I shoot and shoot, and just can’t stop because I feel the magic! I like tingle all over when I “know” I’ve got it! I’m not making a dime, but i’ll go out and shoot all day anyway, come home stay up half the night doing the rest of the work. Photography has changed my life, and even if I’m a starving artist, I’ll just shoot some more because I love it. All the same, I’m trying to get better all the while, and I am! Even if you don’t know me from Adam (or Eve in this case) thank you for your validating!

  10. Thanks. I drop by now and then ..I’m glad I read this. At first I thought bla, bla, bla..but then I realised you meant it. 🙂

  11. Thanks, David… This is truly inspirational and good food for thought, as I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly this recently. The thing is, you might “make” it, you might not, but you’ll never know if you don’t try. And if you’re gonna try, then you better put your whole heart into it…no fear…well, OK, it can be scary, but you have to find the courage to press forward, and not let that bit of fear, that question hanging out in the back of your mind about whether you can do it or not, hold you back. Passion has to equal determination.

  12. Thanks, David. This is truly inspirational, and really strikes a chord with me, as I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly this recently… Plus, I’ve added Crush It to my reading list…

  13. Thanks for your comments and encouragement David. I feel the words passion and photography not only go hand and hand, but is of essential relevance in today’s photographic vocation. Photography is easily available to so many people with today’s technological advancements that many consider it easy to master. Passion is what separates great images from ordinary and stressing this word is of great importance.
    I am not sure who penned the following phrase but I think it is extremely relevant to the conversation.

    ” Photography is the easiest medium to become competent in, but the most difficult medium to have a distinctive vision in. If you can create something different or unique separating your work from others then you have done something really special.”

    I find this quote helps push me forth in my road to be a better photographer.

  14. Thank-you. All I can say is thank you! If you are ever in my part of Ohio David, the meal and the beer is on me…my pleasure. A timely post for me and how do I wish my passion could pay the bills.

  15. David,
    Thank you for the woderful post. After a very long day at my “soul-numbing day job”, visiting your blog always helps put things in perspective. Cheers!

  16. David – thanks for spelling “dissenting” correctly! I felt embarrassed after I left the typo…

    My point is that Gary promoted “new and groundbreaking” techniques, which I found little to none – that’s all.

    He does provide energy and motivation to many which is the most important part, as you stated.

  17. On a somewhat related note, another book that has brought more passion and change into my life lately is Andy Andrew’s The Traveler’s Gift…it’s a great read and he takes the traits from 7 amazing figures and encourages you to adopt similar traits in your own life. He’s big on passion and not letting the past get to you and to only move forward. Great post David

  18. Author

    Rob – Hey, no need to feel bad about dissenting. I think different books hit us all differently at different points in our life and where one book might contain important reminders to some, it’s re-hashed crap to others. More important than defending, or criticizing, a book is that we contribute intelligently and passionately to the conversation the book initiates. I think Gary’s book will be important to some who still don’t see the foundations of his premise as given, for others it will be a reminder of a couple things, and for still others it’ll be been-there-done-that. Thanks for contributing, Rob.

  19. David – your post itself is good – as usual.

    However, I hate to be a decenter here, but I found Gary’s book “Crush It” more regurgitated “me too” self help from the the 80’s than anything that had the nuts and bolts of using social media to crush it.

    Unfortunately, Gary’s hype online and TV allude that he has a bunch of unique and proprietary techniques to take advantage of Twitter, Facebook, Stumbler, etc. in a way that will get your big wheel turning.

    Sadly, when it comes to that, his book falls way short.

  20. Thank you David for another great short story. I have just finished Visionmongers and I for one am glad the “passion” lives on regularly here as well.

    Take care, Brad

  21. A great complement to Vision Mongers. I love this blog; it’s almost like we shouldn’t get this much encouragement for free.

    Thanks, Tom

  22. Thank you very much for this post, David, i’ve been feeling weird/slightly depressed for the last couple of days and it helped me, though I cannot say how, yet.
    Funny thing, I started reading “Crush it” last night 🙂

  23. Can’t say fairer than that!
    I’d have to agree with your initial comments about the ‘overuse’ of the word Passion within Photography; in fact I’d go so far to say as I can be seen cussing at the computer screen if I see it on a Photog’s website but when all is said and done, what other word is there?

    Being Passionate is to me something that should be taken as ‘read’; something you should be, you are so why keep plastering it in websites?

    Anyway, just my opinion…lol

    Great post David, thanks for everything you do that benefits so many of us,


  24. If your going to get off your butt & put that Passion into motion. Then yes you are going to have to spend . Don’t forget about the differences in photography. Take sports photography. Passion comes at a high price there.
    For me Passion has no rules or limits. If a new lens,light,computer will help you dream bigger stay ahead of the other guy, so your clients keep calling on you so your Passion dosen’t stay back on the couch then do it

    David would you stop flying if it started costing you say another 300 buck each way. I don’t believe you would from what Iv’e read here. You would do what ever it took to keep your Passion/job moving foward.

    I’ll agree the Nikon/Canon—Mac/PC thing is an absolute waste.

  25. this is the kind of stuff that should be read again every once in a while. it definitely helps me in taking a step back to just look at where i am and where i want to go with my er… passion. thank you very much for posting this. 🙂

  26. First, welcome back (I know I am late to the party) but we missed ya :).
    Second, thanks for saving me $45, I no longer need to read VM…just kidding. Great post, again, sometimes it’s quite hard to listen “hear” your passion amid all that pressure to “make it”, but ultimately, it is all that matters, it is the fuel that keeps you going, that makes you wake up and get out at ungodly hours and brave temperatures that would make your blood freeze. Always nice to get that reminder and put things in perspective. Thanks.

  27. Fantastic David… I’ve heard about Crush it! and then I’ve been following your blog and books, and then one of my good friend told me that I should make to sure to follow my passion and to work on what I love the most. My wife has pushing too… So here I Am living a dream. Thanks to Matt Brandon I got to hear about your blog, I think 2 years ago now; I cannot imagine photography nor my life without “vision”. Thank you for putting that in my heart!

  28. Gary V FTW! 🙂 (had to say it…I know Gary through Wine Library TV – he’s the man, when it comes to wine at least)

    Great post, as usual. Love that you don’t mind saying things like, ‘Popular photographer A said this negative thing about B…well, here’s me saying B!’ 🙂

  29. I’ve always suffered from having many interests, which has resulted in my being good at many things but not really great at one (or maybe two) things. I finally made the decision early this year that the only way I was going to be successful (as I define it) as a photographer was to channel all my energy and passion into that one area. It was only then that I noticed how prevalent Resistance (as Stephen Pressfield sees it) is in my life. All these things that seem to conspire against me. Like housework. And grocery shopping. And reading the blogs of other photographers. 😀
    Thanks for the inspiration, David.

  30. “Some of us are more passionate about finding a way to get that next lens or camera body. That’s not photography. It’s acquisitions. Some of us are more passionate about arguing about the merits of Nikon over Canon. That’s not photography; it’s sales, or geek-politics.”
    Nail-on-the-head right there my friend. If I were to grab a beer with you, I’d have to drink way too much, because you would never bore me… Thank you so much for what you do for the rest of us. I am personally indebted to you sir.

  31. I’ve been reading a lot of Seth Godin’s books and blogs recently, and he talks about how crucial (and missing) passion is to all areas of the economy if we want to get out of the doldrums. And as I’m reading, I keep thinking, “that’s what David DuChemin says about photography!” Maybe being a photographer with passion and vision isn’t some kind of alternative lifestyle, but an example of how everyone should try to live their lives.

  32. I couldn’t agree with you more, David. I wake up every day wanting to make the next image. What I’m struggling with is, will I poison that by making photographs for others who may not gave the same expectations that I do? I’d love to discuss it over foccacio and chianti (or just coffee) in Liguria.

  33. I don’t think passion can be overemphasized. Though I’d add it helps to have multiple interests so that you have something to say through your passion for photography.

  34. Well said, David! Good photography (or good anything) is fueled by vision which in turn is fueled by passion, sheer passion. Here’s to that.

    Oh, and congrats on your country’s Olympic haul.

  35. Amen!

    For me photography will always by a hobby but lately my passion for it has been growing. I love the challenge of learning something new and seeing the results. At times it has been super frustrating and I don’t get to shoot as often as I would like but I still love it.

    This is by far one of my favorite blogs and I love to hear your so called “rants”!

  36. Haven’t read Crush (yet) and Gary is way too much of an extrovert for me (INTJ here) but I admire his work ethic and vision so much. I feel like proud of him, which sounds weird because I am not his mom, lol, but I feel proud how he started humble and worked so hard to be where he is.

    I agree…at the end of the day photography is making photographs. Go figure. Some people talk passion, some talk equipment whatever but you still have to actually create photographs.

  37. Well summed up. Too bad you didn’t write vision mongers so concisely the first time ;-P

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