The original cover concept I sent the publisher. I’m glad they over-ruled me.
Six years ago, I got a phone call from a publisher asking me to write a book. The original author had bailed due to health issues, and they wanted to know if I was interested. I wasn’t, but it got my foot in the door and I pitched them a book about travel photography that, to my great relief now, they had absolutely no interest in. My publishing career was off to a flying start! It was that failure and the knowledge deep down that no one really needed yet another generic travel photography book that made me sit down and really think about it: what would I write if I could do it my way?
When I came up for air I had an idea for the book that, with some strong editorial guidance, became Within The Frame, published 5 years ago this month and now available in over a dozen languages around the world. In hindsight it feels almost as if the book has always existed for me, but at the time it was a bunch of “what ifs” about a book that had yet to be written, by a photographer few people knew about.
It started with insulting Scott Kelby. Actually, that’s not true. It started with a comment on my blog that was made in fun about Scott Kelby’s trademark humour and to which Scott replied (to my shock) with that same humour and grace. I apologized if it had come off the wrong way, Scott said it had not, and that he liked my work. There were a few notes back and forth, and for a young guy (me) with so much respect for such a talented teacher (Scott), I had a few stars in my eyes. I’m writing that for two reasons – the first because I want to give credit where it’s due and without Scott Kelby this book never would have come to life the way it did, and the second so you understand that it wasn’t easy for me. I took a risk reaching out to someone who, to my mind, had no good reason to even take my call. But he did. And when I asked if I could fly to Tampa to take him to lunch, he not only said yes, he paid for lunch.
So now I had a lunch date with one of the best-selling photography authors on the planet. And I had an idea for a book that I wanted to pitch. But first I had to get there. Tampa is a long way away and when I went to book the flight, it was much more than I bargained for. A friend, to whom I am still indebted, said she’d like to pay for the ticket, and I will be paying that one forward, with gratitude, for the rest of my life. She sent me enough to cover a car rental and hotel too, none of which I could afford. And weeks later I was sitting nervously in front of Scott, telling him about my idea, and asking him if he’d introduce me to his editor. Scott laughed, and said he’d do one better, and he picked up his phone and made a phone call, on the spot, and told his editor to give me a chance. I got the chance, and I ran my little heart out with that chance, but none of the chances that come our way do so out of context.
5 years later I’ve done 5 books with my editor, Ted Waitt, a man that’s also become a good friend and a great collaborator. He walked me through refining that first proposal, and eventually through writing the book. I recall having a few too many drinks the day he sent my contract. Then I bought a round the world ticket that would take me to Cuba, Egypt, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam, before back to San Francisco and Vancouver with my friend, the Legendary H, who watched my back the whole time and helped me flee a fogged-in Sapa in Northern Vietnam, when my very large Cuban cigar turned on me, made me sick for days, the onset of which sickness was the cause of an unexpected re-decoration of the stairwell leading to the bar’s washroom, at which I arrived too slowly. Hotel California was playing as we fled into the night, knowing we could never, ever, return. My God, it was a fantastic trip.
And after sitting in a coffee shop for a couple months, with no idea, really, how to write a book, the book was done. I never imagined it would become what it has in my life. I had no expectations, really. I just wanted the book to matter, to add my voice to the voices out there already, in hopes it would change something, for someone. I don’t think I had any sense that the person the most changed would be me.
Still haven’t read Within The Frame? Keep reading, Peachpit’s giving us a fantastic deal.
You can pick up a copy of Within The Frame at Peachpit.com and to help us celebrate, Peachpit’s giving us a killer deal – use the coupon code DUCHEMIN and you’ll get 40% off – which means you can get the paperback for $21.59, the eBook version for $17.27, or a bundle with both the paperback and the ebook for only $29.15. That’s a deal so good I might just buy a few!
Within The Frame, The Journey of Photographic Vision, available on Amazon.com here, was published 5 years ago this month. Thanks to everyone who was a part of this amazing journey, most of all to those who’ve read it, left reviews, taken me for coffee, or sent fan mail of some kind. My life is richer because of you, and I’m deeply grateful.
Thanks for sharing the origins behind the book, David. Knowing how it was for you has made Within the Frame even more inspiring – I’d always assumed you were rich and famous even before the book 🙂
I echo what Vincent Peeters said in his comment. I wanted to shoot better photographs and didn’t know how, I had my basics of composition nailed down but just didn’t know how the photographers I admired could shoot photos which weren’t just visually compelling but emotionally arresting.
The thing is, nobody seemed to be talking about how to do it. Then I picked up Within the Frame. The first thing that caught me were the images – so full of life and humanity. And the writing – wow, it finally made sense to me. So this is how you shoot photos not just of something, but about something.
That was a major shift for me. I like to think I take better pictures now than I did years before, and I can clearly point to the change starting at the moment I read your book.
So thank you for writing it, thank you for helping me take better photos of the people and places I love, and thank you for helping me make art in my life.
Thank you for sharing the back story of how this influential book in my own photographic life came to fruition. We all know the mantra that it takes hard work to bring about something great, but what hard work is the mystery that often keeps me from going out on my own adventures. Simply knowing the basics of the history – a failed book pitch, a good contact, a flight across the US and then one around the world – opens doors for me. Thank you for sharing this insight and giving us a glimpse behind the red velvet curtain.
I have a small savings account I keep separate from my easy to reach money as my cache for photographic equipment funds. If I break a lens or a hard drive crashes, I already have the cash on hand to replace the equipment. This week I did something different with the money. I purchased a brand new set of high quality headphones. I am working on a story and photo essay about jazz music. Rather than fixate on which lens is best to express the feeling of jazz music, I am focusing on the music itself. The headphones and a trip to the library to check out some jazz CDs and a few books on the history of jazz is my version of a plane ticket to a far away place with its own language, culture, dress and people.
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Why previous post of “Study the master : Yusuf …” has been removed ?
It was mistakenly posted too soon and will be posted again on Monday. Sorry for the confusion.
That, my friend is an amazing story. Truly heartwarming…
It can be a truly wonderful world sometime. And it shows there are truly angels in the world.
I’ve always maintained that we are “Two steps above the devil and two steps below an angel, it’s up to us which direction we wish to take our lives.”
Wow, what an interesting story which I didn’t knew before. I was told by a Dutch photographer about your blog and website which really attracted my attention. In that period I had read a lot of books, websites and blogs and most of them were about the more technical site of the story. For me you are the first who was able to make me part of my own story. Or better said helped me to understand my own story. Being able to feel the moment and capture that specific moment as I experienced. This was strengthened during your workshop in Italy, Genua, Camogli the area of the famous 5 villages. Meanwhile I have all your books and to be honest read them at least twice. And every time I read a new book for my feeling. Discover new things I didn’t do reading before during the first time. So dear David, how this book changed your live is also what I would say, how your book and your books and your blogs changed my live and view on it. And on top of that when I met you during one of the Italian workshops. Really hope and am sure we will meet again!!!
I believe it was this trip and that episode (133) of Photoshop TV that I first found your blog. The little window into your life that you have shared publicly over the past 6 years has been truly interesting.
I remember that wood-slice-paneled smoking bar distinctly. I was sitting pensively, watching over your drink and cigar as you had moments before rather suddenly turned green and rushed off to find the loo, when you re-appeared not 10 seconds later. The mélange of terror, panic and relief written on your face was confusing at first, but your firm “We need to go. Now!” helped me understand our lives would soon be at risk should we tarry. The memory still makes me chuckle even these many years later.
My favorite memory, though, is another look on your face. That’s the one of pure unadulterated shock when the nice young man intimately helped you realize we’d wandered down a wrong one-way street. (Actually, that might have been Tunisia.)
Although I still can’t remember most of the city names we visited, I do remember all our talks and discussions. I’m glad you took the risk, stepped out, and made your vision happen.
Hopefully we’ll be able to connect this summer!
I purchased and start reading the book when it was released. Since then, my photography career changed forever, as I was working as a sociologist. Is that much!
Thank you David for becoming one of my “masters” in photography.
I strongly recommend this inspiring and beautiful book.
What a great story David. Thanks for sharing it!
I got a copy of Within the Frame back in ’09. Foreign photography books are expensive here in my country (Philippines) but I was intrigued by the idea of vision in photography. One of the best books I have ever read (and re-read) and always recommended to friends and students as well.
Happy for your journey David, through all the peaks and (literal) falls, you’ve been a constant source of inspiration and entertainment. May you continue chasing and living your vision.
So I guess I’ve known of you for at least 5+ years now…time flies. I remember enjoying the book. Back then I really didn’t know it was your first and looking back, you could never tell. Congrats on the success of the book and everything that came after out of hard work and perseverance (well…we’ll ignore the…uh…unfortunate parts for now)!! Here’s to many more years of success 🙂
I still remember the first time I flicked through the book, amazed by the beauty of the photographs, resonating more to me than any other set of photographs I had seen before. And when I started reading I was hooked. Immediately. The content was so clear, so wildly applicable and yet so fundamental. I learned more about photography from this book than any book, blog or podcast combined. It really marked the start of my own photography and I’m still very grateful that I had to chance to read it so early in my process of learning.
So, duChemin, Thank you.