Getting to the Heart of the Photograph

In Books, Creativity and Inspiration, Resources, The Craft, The Life Creative by David16 Comments


Have you ever stood in front of something so beautiful it takes your breath away, or some moment so amazing that you think, “I couldn’t take a bad photograph of this if I tried!” only to, well, make a photograph that’s less than what you hoped for?

I have hard drives full of images like these. And it’s not because I’m a lousy photographer (most days) or that I have lousy gear (I don’t). It’s because translating the magic of what we see and perceive and react to as amazing or beautiful, into the flattened image, is an audacious effort that sometimes feels impossible. Sure, the thing you’re photographing is incredible, but does that come through in the photograph?

We photographers are a funny bunch. We hold in our hands a tool of incredible complexity, that offers us thousands of possible combinations of shutter speeds and f/stops and ISO, not to mention where we focus, and which focal length we use, and we look out at a scene that we could photograph from thousands of different angles, choosing one of what might be millions of moments (never mind the compositional choices) and we cross our fingers and hope that those choices will give the subject it’s best expression in the photograph we make. That the amazingness will come through. And when it doesn’t, we assume that’s just as good as it gets. Sharp, and well exposed, our images are often perfectly correct but not compelling.


So how do we do it? How do we give our subjects their best and strongest expression in the final image?


Well, that’s the question isn’t it? The challenge for us lies in the reality that there are a million possible answers to that question, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Some subjects need a longer lens, shallow depth of field, stunning colour, and a slow shutter speed.

Some will need wide angle lenses, monochrome, and a very particular sense of timing. Still others will need you to make very specific choices about where you place the camera, and how you compose the scene.

And all of them will require you to think it through, to ask yourself the questions: should I do this or that? What am I trying to accomplish? Which tools are best to make this image feel the way I want it to feel?

This is what it means to think like a photographer. And not only is it not easy, but very few people are talking about it.

When I do lectures or show my work, the most common questions I get are: “which camera did you use?” and “what were your settings?”

Of all the questions we could learn something from, of all the questions that would get us closer to understanding what it took to make that one particular image, these are the least helpful, right behind “what did you eat for breakfast?”

We can do better.

I want to help you ask better questions.

I want to help you think like a photographer.

I want to help you get past the question “is it good?” and get to “is it mine?”

I want to introduce you to questions much stronger than “which aperture should I use?” and encourage you to think first, “what am I trying to accomplish and do I need more or less depth of field to do so?” And then to try it out, and ask “did it work? Does this do what I wanted it to?” I want to nudge you toward asking questions about every decision you make about settings and optics and lines and light, as well as all the other tangible things that make our photographs what they are. I want to help you get to the heart of the photograph faster

I spent last year writing a new book for you, and it’s about exactly this. It’s about how to think like a photographer.

It’s about creative freedom and possibility.

It’s about how we get beyond images that are merely “good”, whatever that means, to photographs that are distinctly ours, that look and feel the way we want them to.

It’s about asking the stronger questions needed to get to photographs that give our subject, whatever they are, the expression we hope for in our photograph.

That book is called The Heart of the Photograph; 100 Questions for Making Stronger, More Expressive Photographs, and it became available today. If I try really hard I still can’t imagine a less auspicious time to launch a new book, but I’m hoping it gives some of you something to distract you or focus you on other things.


Having a camera and knowing how to use it is necessary, but it’s insufficient.

The Heart of the Photograph is a book written to teach you to think more creatively about all the technical choices we’ve got, not just asking how we should use our camera in this moment, but to what end. Asking what we want the photograph to look like, and to feel like. If you want to make better photographs, images that are more powerful, more expressive, more your own, you need to think like a photographer. We all do.

The Heart of the Photograph is a beautiful hard-cover book like the one before it, The Soul of the Camera. It’s about 300 pages, gorgeously printed and bound. But most importantly, it’s pragmatic. It will change the way you think about your craft, and the photographs you make. Here’s what a few early readers had to say about it:


“After reading The Heart of the Photograph, one word is stuck in my head: finally! After decades of making unsatisfactory images, I finally know the right questions to ask myself when making photographs. Which has lead me to finally making the images I’ve wanted to make all along! This book was truly mind-opening for me and got me passionate about picking up my camera once again–finally! It’s been a while.”

~ Melissa Gordon


“The Heart of the Photograph is a wonderful book packed with wisdom rooted in experience. David articulates some complex ideas, distilling them into clear writings and poignant questions, and prompting readers to consider what makes photography not only a means of making images, but also a means to a richer life, self discovery, and deeper engagement with the world.”

~ Guy Tal, Author of More Than a Rock

“DuChemin really gets to the heart of what photography is about, and that’s not ƒ stops and mechanics (there are plenty of other books about those, though largely un-needed). He invites you not just to think about the reasons for shooting and how to make the image work graphically, but to question all these decisions. To be your own critic, which seems to me an essential that is usually missed.”

~ Michael Freeman, Author of The Photographer’s Eye


The Heart of the Photograph is (finally!) available today at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or wherever you choose to get your hands on great books.

Find The Heart of the Photograph now on Amazon.com
Find The Heart of the Photograph on BarnesandNoble.com

For you Canucks, it’s available here on Amazon.ca

For the Love of the Photograph,
David

Comments

  1. Hi David. Love all your books, Have them all in PDF (Going to buy the newest ones ‘start ugly’ and ‘the problem with muses’ as well). I have only one rant about “The heart of the photograph” which I have in a hardcover: The font is extremely small. I don’t need reading glassed, But I find it difficult to read.
    I wonder whether there is an option to buy a PDF version of it, So I could magnify the fonts and also read it on the go?

    Thanks again!
    Sharon

    1. Hi Sharon, I’ve sent you an email with more details, but you can get an eBook (PDF) version from the publisher at RockyNook.com – thanks so much for the feedback!

  2. This is not a coffee table book. This book is thought provoking and requires a quiet place and reading and rereading and mental reference when out with the camera. It’s a bugger because I can’t stop thinking about it and all its damned questions. If I can’t start to get it right after reading this book I’ll never get my photos to express what I want. To not buy this book is to shortchange your aspirations.

  3. David,

    Já tenho “A Foto em Foco”, em português. Melhor livro de fotografia que já li!

    “O Coração da Fotografia” já tem tradução para o português??

    Deus te abençõe.

    Abraço,

    1. Author

      Obrigado por perguntar. Sim, espero que O Coração da Fotografia esteja em português, mas não sei quando isso pode acontecer.

  4. I just ordered The Heart of the Photograph and am about to dive in (via Amazon Kindle as I’m living in Thailand0. I saw another of your books, Within The Frame, and was curious as to how the two flow…should one be read before the other? I’m starting into Photography late att 65 so am trying to do my best to make up for “lost time & light”.

  5. My book arrived in Saturday’s mail (28Mar2020). Today I began reading during lunch. I cried over page vii. This is going to be some ride. Thank you.

  6. I was wondering, what are the similarities/differences between this new book and “The Soul of the Camera”? Are there complementary to one another? Does one need to be read before the other? Thanks for your feedback!!!

    1. Bonjour Renaud, Thanks for asking. No, there really is no overlap between the 2 books. They were intended to work together. If you read Soul of the Camera, you can read Heart of the Photograph next, and vice versa. Soul of the Camera is about who we are as photographers, and the Heart of the Photograph is more about the decisions we make about the photograph itself. I hope this helps. Thanks!

  7. David. It would be a comforting nod to your fellow Canadians if you could also link to Amazon.ca. I’d be happy for you to get the pennies Amazon pays you

    1. Thanks, Nancy. You’re right. I guess I don’t usually do that because the .com is so well used and my audience is so international that if I were to list all the sites it would get messy. It’s also usually the case that new books available through .com aren’t available in Canada for a week or so more. But I’ll add a link. Thanks for the nudge!

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