The Art of (Avoiding) Seduction

In Jessie and I, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, Travel by David63 Comments

I’m in Pensacola, Florida. This dune was in Galveston, Texas. I’m a few days behind on importing new images.

Woke up early this morning and went walking with my camera, tripod and a thermos of coffee to shoot the lagoon in the morning mist. I was churning something over in my mind and it struck me as something that might be worth sharing.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by your subject matter. A beautiful scene isn’t necessarily a beautiful photograph.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by how hard you worked to get that photograph. You can climb Everest and still make a photograph that illicits only apathy.

Don’t allow yourself to be seduced by the gear you made the photograph with. Your new 24 megapixel camera or 600mm lens wonn’t make it a great photograph, they just create the potential for filling a really big frame with stuff that didn’t look great at 80, 200, or 400mm.

Instead allow yourself to be seduced by, and fall in love with the light, the moment, and the geometry of the frame. Fall in love with those things, and then work hard with the gear you have, be it an iPhone or Leica, to show us something beautiful (or unjust or funny or ironic or…)


  1. soo true and liberating, am an aspiring landscape photographer, and have kept struggling with that, I look at my photographs and think they dont measure up…Now I know!

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  3. Ok, I am a few weeks late to the party, I know. Great advice, thanks a lot! I keep thinking about: “A beautiful scene isn’t necessarily a beautiful photograph.” Many times I have asked myself why a beautiful scene doesn’t make it properly to the photo. Thinking about what I find beautiful about it and how to compose the frame to represent that beauty has advanced my photographic eye. With the time, I developed an understanding of light and the right time of the day to take the shot. So if you really are in love with a scene, also don’t give up just because your first couple fo shots don’t make an amazing photo.

  4. Great article, we completely agree with your insights. Last we week we had a post on a similar subject, which I think what Annie above was referring to. On a side note, “Within the frame” has been a huge source of inspiration to us, we love this book as it shows the wear of heavy use! Thank you!

  5. I am so glad you found something beautiful in Galveston. I AM VERY remorseful that I bashed the beach so much that night you camped there… I’m afraid I my have needlessly worried you.

    Again… it was delightful to meet you in person… that was a fun night.

    One last thing… very clever to find the one square meter of interestingness in a sea of trashy beach. (Oh… shoot… there I did again with the beach bashing… my bad.)

  6. David, great stuff here. And a needed reminder to me. Ansel Adams says very much the same thing in “Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs.” As he is describing his experiences in various parts of the U.S., he often mentions that although he saw many beautiful things in a particular place, he “saw no photographs.” Check out “Examples” — I think it would dovetail well with your current travels.

  7. sells an iPhone telephoto lens. It’s pretty cool – I bought one and it’s amazing – I got some great shots & video at the Robert Plant show last night – and I’m so glad I had it b/c I was in the balcony, and if I didn’t have that little accessory, I wouldn’t have been able to get such great video and shots. It looks a little goofy, but sooo much fun. I may have to bust it out when I am in the audience at Letterman on Thursday…
    Hope all is well David! I have family in Pensicola. Just got back from FL myself the beginning of the month!

  8. This is so true! I have a taken a number of beautiful images with my Iphone because it was the only camera I had with me at the time 🙂

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  10. All well and good David, but what settings did you use???? By that I mean, what settings should I use if I want to engage my audience with some home truths with clarity and honesty.

  11. Right on..

    Given I shot most of my self described “fine art” last summer with “just” a Canon 30D…it did have some Zeiss glass on top of it, I couldn’t agree with you more.

    Some of my 5D buddies in town can’t figure out why I don’t get a real camera…maybe someday…just not excited about it.

    Many here in this forum and real-live “pros” talk about “alternative” forms of capture, ie, Holga (not a fan), 35 mm slr, etc., but rarely put there money where there mouth is and present it as their “final” work for the client.

    I was thrilled to find out that Terry Richardson shot a fashion job with a Yashica T4. That takes some stones to show up for a high priced gig with something that is barely bigger than your hand.

  12. Did you see Gabin G’s recent post “Embracing Imperfection”?

    I have continued to contemplate your comment, “A beautiful scene is not necessarily a beautiful photograph”. Gavin talks about finding beauty in those “imperfect” images we shoot. Yet, if i think you are raising the point that sometimes photos are just NOT beautiful, or truthfully just plain bad.

    And we miss the mark by focusing on the wrong things: subject matter, gear, sweat and tears.

    Gavin’s examples of imperfection show he may have not focused sharply at times or even followed standard rules of geometry. However, his “bloopers” show his sensitivity to the mood created by light and
    color, and they are poetic impressions of the moment.

    Yup, you nailed it, David. You’ve helped define where we wander off course and end up with images that are even less than imperfect!

  13. Love the insight!
    Last week I also realized that, sometimes, I am so focus on taking pictures, that I forget to live life!

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  15. Hey David…my late Dad used to tell me that those pictures that you are blogging about were “pictures for the mind’s eye”
    Stay Safe, Barb

  16. Hey David..Glad to hear your in my neck of the woods..If you make it down to St Pete be sure to check out Tierra Verde Island(Fort Desoto).Best in the Bay area for Sunrise/Sunset Photography..Best Wishes,Travel Safe..Mike.

  17. Why is this pix not blue? just kidding 😉 interesting points to chew on.

  18. Um, dude, it just did. 🙂 Hope you’re doing well man. Been a while since we connected. Makes me smile to see you drop in once in a while. Thanks.

  19. I like the “relaxed” DuChemin. The relaxed website, and travelling visionary, seems to settle into more joy for you.
    I think you are really talking about distraction, not seduction.
    I think we are all interested in the geometry of the frame. In Bresson’s day, and now, geometry is as important/ more important than moment. As you well know, the GOTF is another way to say “where the photographer stands.”

    Cheers, and enjoy the relaxed coast of FL> j

  20. This really strikes a chord, the more so as I am currently exploring a little bit of Italy on my way to Liguria… The friend I’m travelling with jokes about my three cameras (SLR, compact, iPhone). I’m having a wonderful time. But my favourite images so far are ones I took with the Hipstamatic iPhone app. No great surprise — they just seem to suit the subject matter. Or my idea of the subject matter 🙂 And the mood, of course. Especially the ones taken from the moving train…

  21. Anna – I have no idea. Too much coffee? I suspect it’s because I’m currently writing the next book and there are thoughts that come up that don’t fit in the book but still somehow force my brain to think them through. That’s what the blog is – the place I dump all the stuff not currently fitting into a book! 😛

    Carolina – By “the geometry of the frame” I mean the way that points, lines and shapes interact within the frame of the photograph in order to lead the eye and create balance or tension.

  22. Point taken – thank you – just wondering how that thought came to you during that morning walk?

  23. Thanks for the advice! I’m interested in photography and sometimes I have this feeling that is the gear what makes the difference! But I’m learning from you a lot!
    Could I ask you a question? What is the geometry of the frame?

  24. I use both, the iPhone & a Leica, and I’m rarely satisfied with either because as I edit my photos I realize I could have done better regardless of the camera. But this is also what keeps me shooting — the desire to improve. Thank you for your posts & tweets!

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  26. So refreshing to hear this. I agree wholeheartedly. It is especially useful for those I meet that say they want to play with photography more but don’t have a fancy camera. BTW – I have a link to your blog on my website under Resources. I appreciate all the great info you share.

  27. Great post! Thanks for making me think yet again. Also liked Richard’s comment “Linda will often suggest to me that to shoot it might reduce a vision of beauty into a snapshot and I WILL lose the moment forever.” Something definitely to consider with travel photography.

  28. Well said. I now know the value of a iPhone being a “sketch pad”. It doesn’t matter what powers the “frame”. It’s what that is in it that counts. The frame is an empty canvas waiting to capture things such as geometry, colour, texture, or emotion.

  29. Whew, at least it was a short one. I know how you can get David. 😉

    I always love your sermons. Even the long ones are like a Mahler symphony; even after a solid hour and a half (or more), it’s still over all too soon.

  30. Such a great point. as I look back on the last 6 years of my photographic journey, the first 4 were all about gear. ‘If only I had x’, ‘I need y to be better’. Then it became about location: ‘my town is so boring’ – ‘if only I were abroad’.

    But it really comes down to the vision and the moment. Some of my favorite images were taken with a phone. Or in the back seat of a cab. Or somewhere ‘boring’. Jay Maisel has been an amazing inspiration along these lines. Glad to see the message coming up from other photographers I admire and respect.

    Great reminder of what matters!


  31. Along those lines I was mulling over the shots I chose NOT to take. Lost are the moments that caught my eye yet I chose to rush past, too focused on getting somewhere, sticking to a plan that in retrospect was just plain shortsighted. Yet, by paying attention to those emotions of regret I had the chance to learning how to move closer towards recognizing my own unique vision of the world.

    Listening to my inner voice perhaps will show me ways of shooting that reflect my own vision rather
    than being seduced by others’ beautiful imagery.

  32. Author

    Duncan – Don’t tempt me my friend, I am only ever a few inches away from publishing just those kinds of photographs. But I am also conscious of the fact that I may be one of only, say, oh, 2 people that want to see more of these posts. (did I take a knife along? Phhhh! You mean how many and how large!?) 🙂

  33. Never mind your insightful, profound, revealing and uncomfortably close to home epiphanies – show us more pictures of the rig! YEAH! And of camp fires! YEAH! And did you take a knife along? YEAH! Rig next to camp fire while you brandish a big knife! YEAH!

  34. “A beautiful scene isn’t necessarily a beautiful photograph.” I will make this my mantra when I visit Utah 4 Corners in May

  35. Hey David, Just a general comment here: I love this project! Aside from the thoughts and photographs, I’m also getting a kick from how I hit a lot of the same places on my own cross-country trip last summer. There’s nothing like a coast-to-coaster.

  36. While traveling with my camera, I’ll want to stop and photograph a scene that is strikingly beautiful so that I don’t lose the moment.

    Linda will often suggest to me that to shoot it might reduce a vision of beauty into a snapshot and I WILL lose the moment forever.

  37. So true David – I have quite a few photographs that I’ve worked hard to get but, in the end, just don’t elicit any true emotion from me. Sometimes I’d like to think that new gear would help me in my endeavors but if the light and situation aren’t right, it doesn’t really matter to me.

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