Photographically Speaking

In Books, Photographically Speaking, Within The Frame by David49 Comments

A friend just alerted me to the fact that the book I am this very moment writing has been posted to for pre-orders. Which means I need to get my butt out of the Land Rover and into a chair where I can finish the writing. It also means I can tell you about it a little more freely.

Photographically Speaking is the fourth in a the Vision Trilogy and before y’all get on my case about the mathematical impossibilities of a 4/3, I direct you to the recent trend in Four-Thirds cameras. Same deal. 🙂 Regardless, it’s the logical follow up to Within The Frame and Vision & Voice. Where Within The Frame was about the role of vision in our work, Photographically Speaking is about the way we express that vision. The subtitle you see on the cover above is still being tweaked but reflects the core of the book – this is a book about how we express ourselves through the language of the photograph. Here’s a somewhat lengthy clip from the Introduction (ok, it’s pretty much the whole Introduction) that explains it better:

The notion of communication and expression are key to this book. If in the past I’ve overused the word Vision too much, this book runs the risk of overusing the word expression. As important as our intent for a photograph is, it remains only inside, unrealized, until it is externalized. Poets, songwriters, painters, dancers, jazz pianists, comics, and countless others, all have their own ways of getting the inner stuff out. We have the photograph. Not the camera; the photograph. The camera is merely the tool. The photograph is the very expression of that inner thing bursting to get out. How we make that photograph, with the tools at our disposal, and how close it comes to expressing what we hope, determines how successful that image is. To do that well, we turn to the language spoken by the photograph.

It’s like this with all art. The cellist uses the cello, but it’s only her tool. Her language is music, with which she expresses herself, through the skilled use of the instument. The mournful adaggio echoes in our soul and brings us to tears because she knows the language of music so well she can wield it with the nuance and subtlety needed to strike our deepest parts. She knows what she wants to say (vision/intent) and the music lets her do that right up to the limits of her own ability to wield her tool. The poet uses language in the same way; the broader his vocabulary, the greater command he has over grammar, and the more creative he is in juxtaposing one word with another to create new meanings and implications, the more clearly he can express himself.

Photographers, too, have a language. It is awareness and use of that language that allows us to move on from merely having vision to being able to express it. That language is unique to us alone, though not unconnected to the language employed by painters and graphic artists. What we share is the frame and the constraint of two-dimensionality.  The better we know the language, the greater our expression. It is in this sense that this book is called Photographically Speaking.

But there’s another sense too, and that sense is what first suggested this book. I often teach photography in the context of workshop tours in places like India, Nepal, or Kenya. I don’t usually lecture or even hold formal classroom sessions during these times because I mostly assume that anyone coming that far already knows the basics of their craft. If you show up for a workshop with a musician you respect and want to learn from, they aren’t likely to have you doing scales all week. You can do that on your own time. What we do, instead, aside from spending hours making photographs, is talk about photographs. Almost every day I ask my students to each submit one image that we can talk about. We have certain rules, but mostly it’s a free-for-all with the goal of learning to speak about what we see within the frame, what elements are there and what decisions the photographer made that led to this particular photograph, and what it says.

What first surprised me when I started  teaching this way is how universally hard it is for photographers to talk about photographs. To some degree, I get it. If we were all good with words we wouldn’t likey have turned to the camera to interpret for us. We don’t always have the words. However, I think the situation is more dire than a lack of words; it’s a lack of understanding. We simply don’t know how to think – and therefore to speak – about photographs.

It is always amazing to watch my students become comfortable with this process, begin to work through this stuff and become able to think about photographs. Without exception that process helps them create stronger photographs that more closely align with their vision, their original intent. So that’s the second meaning of the title, Photographically Speaking. Greater awareness of the language leads to an expanded and refined ability to use that language to express ourselves. We’ll use the process of speaking about photographs to teach us about the language of the photograph, and in turn to make us stronger photographers. In part this book is an effort to re-create those teaching times that I’ve seen so many times in places like Venice or Kathmandu, opening the eyes of students to the power of a photograph when the visual language is wielded well.

In a sense, this book is the logical follow up to Within The Frame, and the one out of which Vision & Voice would have more naturally flowed. Both books are different conversations about similar things, all of them connected by the idea that a mindful approach to our photographic process – being conscious of what we want to say and how we want to say it- will lead to images that are more able to express that unique inner voice that seems to prefer the camera as a means to getting those words out and onto paper. In our case the words are the elements around us, the paper is the print. We’re left with arranging those elements within the frame. Vision isn’t the goal. Expression is the goal. That’s where the visual language comes in.

This book is meant to simply introduce some key concepts in language that is as accessible as I can make it. It’s not meant to be a substitute for more academic books about composition and visual literacy, if your interests eventually run in that direction. I do, however, believe that you can understand visual language, that you can create expressive and compelling photographs without diving into academics and million-dollar words. I believe that a grasp of what’s going on within the frame, and a mindful approach to creating photographs that speak this language, is enough to create powerful photographs that express or communicates something within us.

So there it is. I’ll talk more about it in the coming weeks and months. Despite the jokes, I am well into the writing and have most of the words down, and am meeting my deadlines. At this point the book is slated to be released at end of August this year. Click the image above to go to the page. There’s not much there just yet, but I assume it’s coming soon. Thanks to all of you who’ve read the past books and thereby made this one possible. I hope this one’s as helpful in your journey as the past ones have been.


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  2. maybe we should quit it here,

    i got attracted by Mr. duChemin way of thoughts and appoaches, but i get completely distracted by the comments i get here by his followers.

    anyway, I’ll read the books, …

  3. @Thomas: perhaps you didn’t get my point because I have more than one, ..sorry!
    1. There’s rather a lot to be cynical about in the way books are marketed and sold. Writers themselves aren’t always comfortable with the process, but for better or worse, it is what it is. Authors can fight it or embrace it. I think as a community, we’ve helped David embrace it.
    2. While this blog is one of the finest examples of relational selling you’ll find anywhere on the planet, David doesn’t just show up here to sell stuff.
    3. We all learn in different ways. You might not find value in this post, but I had a great takeaway. That also happens for me in reverse. Sometimes when I think I haven’t learned anything new from a post, I read the comments and find someone else’s insight that greatly changes my perspective. I deeply value the sharing that happens here and the way it challenges my thinking and expands my worldview.
    4. We usually find out about David’s books before Amazon does. (but David has been a bit pre-occupied with his packing list ..and Jessie).

    Hope this is a little more clear. Didn’t mean to hijack the comments.
    Have a great week everyone!

    P.S. – 7 is a very lucky number. 😉

  4. Excellent point Jessica…just another example of David proving there are no rules in art…or publishing for that matter! 🙂 I’d be fine if his “trilogy” extended far past 5! Just sayin…

  5. I’d like to remind you that Douglas Adams’s famed Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a trilogy in FIVE parts. So I think you need to write at least one more to continue that tradition.

  6. Hi David, I started out by watching your pod casts “Within the Frame”, which eventually led me to purchasing your book, “Within the Frame – The Journey of Photographic Vision.” I must admit that I enjoy your writing style, the content, and your methods of conveying your knowledge; and the book was fantastic. Now that book, through chapter 8 has led me to your blog and the PeachPit site, only to discover you had yet another book already published and this new one in the works. I must say it has been an enjoyable journey and I look forward to what is around the next bend! Should you ever make it to Germany and our schedules should align, I could play the role of interpreter during your visit or at least provide answers to some questions you may have about this wonderful country; just drop me an email.
    Michael Sloan

  7. David,
    We love to joke about how the Vision Trilogy is fast becoming the Vision-trilogy Trilogy, but I really appreciate how you’ve right-sized the books. I like that it allows me to consider one piece of the puzzle at a time. Thanks. 🙂

    ..wait, how many pieces are there?? 😉

  8. Hi Thomas,

    If you need more food for cynicism, consider that pre-selling is a tactic that can help books begin life at the top of the best-seller lists. It also helps create “buzz.” David (and Jessie) can now discuss it all along the way during the American Tour. 🙂 (..this makes us VERY happy).

    Pre-ordered books are also shipped first. 🙂 ..this makes impatient people very happy.

    Pre-ordering gives us something to do while we wait months for a book to come out. 😉 It might make you laugh to know that I accidentally pre-ordered 2 copies of David’s last book.

    Thanks for sharing your non-US perspective. The sharing that happens here make us all rich. David has created an extraordinary community based around the idea of having something to say and figuring out how to say it.
    We’re glad that you have joined us.

    ..we promise not to laugh if you accidentally pre-order the book! 😉

  9. hi david,

    i am still with you, and i like your way of doing things and communicate with everyone, which shows me, you are taking people serious.

    You showed up the positive effects, i saw the nagative options for a moment.

    If its working out for everyone I totally agree with you, if the “friendly” competition is doing such a thing I totally disagree.

    Anyway believe me, that i am also thinking behind my words and views, money isnt important anyway, you cant take it away because learning news insights is definetely a lot more worth than 5$ US.

    Last word, i live on the other way of the pond, eg germany and your ways of credit card culture, get now pay later, pre-order isnt everyday like in the US. But i am learning with every comment here.

    I will wait for the new one, and as you might know, i joined here quite recently, then buy the parts 1-3 as well.

    Keep the good work going.
    And “yes”, I had a project busted due to friendly competition.


  10. You’re as great a writer as you are a photographer, David. A powerful combination, which I’m sure we’ll see more evidence in your upcoming book. Congratulations (where do you find the time?!) and looking forward to reading it.

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  12. I am afraid it will take some time to be published in Poland. Do you have idea, David, when it can be. I am IMPATIENT once it concerns to have your new books, always ! greetings from Cracow !

  13. pre-order pressure, – interesting way for a publisher to get a roving author to be sure and meet a deadline. 😉

    August. sigh. I’ve become spoiled by the immediacy of the ebooks, although I suppose August will be here before we know it. Perhaps you have some ebooks lined up to tide us over?
    Travel well. ..and don’t forget to write!

  14. Author

    Thomas – I consider most of my readers, yourself included, to be friends. My blog is not always about information; it’s not a journalist’s blog. I was attempting to communicate:

    1. I’m excited about the new book,
    2. I’m excited to announce it for the first time and openly talk about it.
    3. Given that it’s a new book I’ve not talked about it seems telling people what the books is actually about might be a good idea and,
    4. Since so many readers here have enjoyed my previous books, letting them know that the option to pre-order it now which allows them to be among the first to receive it, might just be a nice thiing to do.

    So relax, no one is trying to steal your un-earned money. 🙂 There are many things in this life that might warrant being deadly serious about, an author excited to announce the his new book – one he’s spent a good deal of time and effort on – is not one of them. 🙂

  15. hi david,

    cynical side of the sleeping bag maybe ?

    not at all 🙂

    i was just taking a step back and musing about the content of information (e.g. facts) i get through this post.

    not too much. i can order a book which isnt written yet, so many i can pay some advance with cash i havent earned yet ?

    is this ok for you ?


    besides i will stop making fun now, deadly serious :-/

  16. If you care about a “trilogy in four volumes” you might want to check out Douglas Adams 😉

  17. Looking forward to reading your book. If it’s still not out by the time you hit Utah I’ll just give you my external drive and you can download it onto that. 🙂

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  19. Like all the others, I’m eagerly awaiting the release of your next book. I just got back from Peoria and spending the day listening to you. Your presentation was beyond fantastic. My wife and I can’t begin to say how much we enjoyed the day and how much we learned. Just wish St. Louis was on your itinerary!

  20. David, I just cannot wait to read this book. You say so many of the things I feel and do not know how to communicate sometimes. Enjoying your journey, loving your vision, can’t wait to read your newest expression.

  21. Funny, there always need to be someone that tells that I know that you are trying to sell me something, and don’t accept it. I think usually writers want that books to sell, and for me. I have read all three of your books and I have no reason to belive that this fourth one is good as well(David, don’t let me down). I just don’t want to figure when it comes to sale. I know that now I will get it as soon is ready.

  22. Author

    Thomas – Sounds like someone woke up on the cynical side of the bed. 🙂 This is just the way the publishing world works and I’ve no hand in it. I just write the books and tell those that read the blog where and when they can get them. But did it truly happen this way? Not sure what you mean, but if it’s on my blog then yes, it did. I don’t fabricate things to sell books. Pre-order or not, I trust there’s something in the book for you.


  23. ?

    and now you ‘re creating even more PR-Orders.

    Is this just an PR related post or did it truly happen this way ?

    Anyway nice topic, hope to catch it when it releases, but dont wait for my pre-order


  24. great idea david. i enjoyed within the frame very much, and many of your e books. looking forward to this next one. i guess you’re getting it all proof read – couple of typos: “adagios” and “likely” misspelt – hey, send the whole thing to me and i’ll proof
    read it for you !! :-))
    cheers, sarah

  25. Hi David,

    It sounds like a fantastic book I can’t wait for it to be released, I’ll be first in line to buy it! You always speak straight from the heart in your books, there is such an honesty that is a uniting theme a across all your books and online writings, you are truly inspirational. I have gotten more value from your collected advice than the thousands I have spent on equipment over the years. If I could turn back the clock I would have spent far less on gear and more on learning and travel!

    Best wishes in your travels

    Take care


  26. David,

    You’re an inspiration not only for our vision in photography but also for our vision of life.
    Can ‘t wait to read your new book.
    All the best.

  27. I always enjoy reading your articles Daivd……it is fun, inspiring and motivating!
    Lot of Love from Nepal

  28. My pre-order is in at, now sit on your butt and get writing!

  29. Just pre-ordered it..can’t travels David…again we so enjoyed Wed night it was the best ever!!!!! Your welcome to come back anytime. I hope to take one of your workshops one day soon…:)

  30. Oh I’ll be pre-ordering that sucker for sure! It’s funny, I decided to go back to school, to finish a degree and I switched it to graphic communications (graphic design) – I thought it would actually lend to some creative work I’m interested in pursuing in conjunction with my photography. I’m currently in an accelerated illustration class, and one book we are reading right now is Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. It talks about discussing drawing, but more fundamentally, accessing the right side (creative side) of our brain, which will help not only with drawing, but with seeing things in a different light that can be applied to photography, or any aspect of our lives. I can see a similarity with that book and your book, only yours will be more eloquently written and obviously focused on photography! Can’t wait to read it!

  31. Ooooooh! I love it! Looking forward to reading it, David! :c) I already have your previous two and really liked it! All the best as you finish this one! :c)

  32. Sounds interesting. And hey look! Amazon says it comes out on my b-day! Hmmm… could make a nice present!

  33. It’s actually very annoying when Amazon posts pre-orders when the book hasn’t even been written yet. The last pre-order I made took mine months to make it to print. Amazon kept pushing it back and pushing it back. This is very frustrating for the buyer, and has put me off ever going down the pre-order route again regardless of the book.

    This is not to suggest that there will be delays with your book, but be aware that Amazon pre-orders can back fire big time.

  34. David,
    Sounds beautiful.
    Just wanted you to know, I have taken much in from you posts and have worked extra jobs and saved and will be going to China and Tibet this summer. Can’t wait.
    Continued blessings to you.
    Oh, and you and I will share a pint someday!

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