David duChemin is a photographer, author, and nomad. These are his photographs, words, and adventures. Welcome.

Last updated Sept. 17, 2018, 3 p.m.

Photography

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Your Worst Images Might Be Your Most Important

No one nails it on the first shot.

No one.

I know: you have this one friend who got lucky back in 1986. One shot. Nailed it. You might have done so, too—that one time you raised the camera to your face, made one frame and it’s now your absolute favourite photograph and it hangs on your wall to this day so take that, duChemin. I know. I have a couple like that as well. Two or three images that defied the odds.

The others, the hundreds or thousands of images that are my best work, all were made after sketching them out. Every photographer you look up to has a process, and almost every iconic image you love is a result of that process, flanked on the contact sheets or Lightroom libraries by many others that never made the cut.

I call my own process “sketching.”

Sketch images are the photographs I make to see what it looks like. I try different angles, make the photograph and see what it feels like. I change the angles until I get it feeling the way I want it to. Along the way, I might change a lens because it wasn’t my perspective at all, but the lens that wasn’t really working the way I had hoped. And I wait for moments, sometimes realizing my subject is better expressed with a slower shutter speed, so I try that, and I evaluate the results. I do it quickly, but I let those images give me feedback. And slowly, bit by bit, I get closer to the magic. Bad images slowly get stronger and lead to good images.

Other people just bang off a bunch of shots until they get it right and they look back at those first frames and think they suck. And they might. But they aren’t crap. They aren’t garbage. They’re necessary steps to get to the better frames. Sometimes I need only 2 or 3 of them to get myself firing on all cylinders. Sometimes I need 20. And sometimes I sketch something out for a year or more, returning, never quite getting it but getting closer.

This shift in perspective, from seeing your preliminary images as junk to seeing them as important and valuable, allows you to be more playful with them. It allows you to be less critical of them and instead to let them lead you. What do you like about one particular frame? What could you do differently? What doesn’t work for you and how can you exclude those things? What changes can you make to give your subject its best expression? Do you need to wait for better light? Better moments? Do you need to change your perspective, your lens, your shutter speed?

See the difference in approach? One, the “everything I’m shooting is crap” approach, leads to frustration. The other, the “everything I’m making is getting me closer to a better final image” approach, leads to creativity, play, experimentation, and—ultimately—to stronger photographs.

It also makes me a happier person. I have terabytes of sketch images. They are the grease that got me to my growing handful of photographs I do love, the ones for which I am proud. They show me my progress in ways terabytes of “mistakes” or “crap” would not. I am progressing. So are you. And you’ll do so faster if you learn from your early efforts.

No writer sits down and writes a novel or a screenplay or even an article in one easy draft. They make plenty of false starts and unreadable first drafts. But those drafts are necessary stepping stones. They are way stations without which the final book or play never happens. That’s how I see sketch images. I do not mean pray and spray—I do not mean mindlessly mashing down the shutter button. But most of you are not in that category.

I don’t worry you’re making too many images; I worry you aren’t making enough images.

I worry you’re stopping at a couple frames, shrugging and putting your camera down because “it’s just not working.” I worry you think it’s a lack of talent or you just don’t have “the eye” that others do. Nonsense. You’re just not working the process. You’re giving up too soon.

I came home from Varanasi this spring with 9800 sketch images that I will never show the world. But I needed to make them in order to get to the 24 that I love. The screen shot at the top of this post? I made 335 sketches to get to the one I love. I’m not trying to make myself feel better about the ones that didn’t work; I feel great about them because without my sketches I never would have arrived at my final photographs.

Your so-called failure rate doesn’t matter. Mine gets worse over time as I loosen up and become more willing to experiment and try new things, caring less about each individual frame and more about where they might lead me.

There is no badge of honour for the artist with the cleanest, tidiest process. There is no reward for using fewer memory cards. No one will judge you for the images you’ll never show them.

The only thing that matters is that you make your best work and that you trust whatever process—messy or otherwise—that gets you there.


Earlier this month I launched The Traveling Lens course, and there were many of you who emailed me to say you were hoping I would open my composition course, The Compelling Frame. I will be doing just that next month, but only for four days and ONLY to those on the waitlists for either The Compelling Frame or Master Your Craft. On October 03, I will email everyone on those lists and invite them to enroll. No Facebook marketing, no inflatable gorillas: just an invitation. 

This will be the last chance to get either course for the 2018 pricing ($295 for The Compelling Frame, and $249 for Master Your Craft). If you aren't sure you're on the list(s) and you want to enroll in either course, or you want more information, go to TheCompellingFrame.com or MasterYourCraftCourse.com and be sure your name is on one or both of these mailing lists. 


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2018-09-17T15:00:52Z
Everyone’s A F*cking Photographer

(A Labour-Day Weekend Rant for you, with apologies to those who cringe when I cuss.)

Last time I was in Venice I saw a camera-ladened photographer, a huge tripod slung over his shoulder, turn to a friend and gesture to the crowds of people happily making photographs with their mobile phones, as he sneered, “now everybody thinks they’re a f*cking photographer.”

I wish he’d said it to me. I wish I’d had the chance to ask him: So?

It’s true. With more cameras in the world than ever before, and most of those in mobile phones, many of us don’t go anywhere without one. More than ever our lives are recorded. We’re cranking out, and sharing, photographs at a rate that would make George Eastman twitch. We are, certainly, the most photographed, and the most photographing, generation ever.

Why the photographer struggling under all his gear in Venice is so bent out of shape about it is anyone’s guess. Perhaps his cappuccino made him gassy and bloated. But it’s likely this: when he bought his first camera there was a mystique to the archetype of the traveling photographer, already well-worn and covered in dust from foreign lands. He probably scrimped and saved for that first camera, and it took him a long time to master his craft. The word “photographer” conjured something for him. Something important. It was a badge of honour. A trophy. And it probably became a golden calf.

None of us likes to see our golden calf trampled by the masses. Of course, that’s not really what’s happening, but it’s how these particular photographers see the mass-adoption of the craft that once made them so special and self-important. Like pearls before the swine, they think, which is of course ridiculous because the very democratic nature of this craft that is causing such mass-adoption is what allowed them entry too.

They cringe because it’s not about photography to them. It’s about them. It’s about ego. And that’s a shame because one of the gifts of this craft is the opening of our eyes to a world that is so much bigger than ourselves. The gift of photography, and that we can – yes, all of us – be photographers, is that it is a way of seeing the world and being more alive in the world and the more of us that have our eyes open, the better.

When the words, “everyone is a photographer!” are muttered we show our true cards. We reveal first that we believe the very word “photographer” has intrinsic merit. We believe, mistakenly, that it implies something precious, not unlike our use of the word “artist.” For the record, I think our use of the word “artist” has become too precious as well. We say it with misplaced reverence. To be an artist simply means we make art. Some of it will be good, some will be garbage, and many will be the arguments about which is which. Oddly, the photographers who would never deign to call themselves “artists” for fear of being called out as a snob, will happily exclude others from their ranks as “a photographer.” It’s time to call this what it is: elitism, snobbery, and small-heartedness.

More worryingly, when we bemoan the new reality, that so many people are in fact becoming photographers, we show an unwillingness to share the thing that has given us such pleasure.

Photography opens eyes and minds and hearts.

Photography is a means of interacting.

It is a means of flexing our much needed creativity.

It’s a means of holding time still and cherishing our moments in a way we might not otherwise do.

It’s a way of asking questions and seeking and honouring beauty.

It can be a way of challenging our assumptions and discovering worlds beyond what we previously knew.

Photography has made my life richer.

It has given me tremendous freedom.

It has allowed this introverted kid to emerge from a shell I might have been trapped in forever.

And yes, it’s given me over the last dozen years or so, a means by which I make a living.

All of these are gifts I cherish. And I fear for the kid in Piazza San Marco who overhears the petty comments of the fearful and the jealous and puts his camera away, cutting himself off from such gifts just because some guy carries a large tripod to compensate for his small…heart, and can’t stand to share a pie he believes ought to be his alone. Why?

Because he got there first?

Because his camera is bigger or better?

Because his credit card has a larger limit or he’s read more articles on PetaPixel and knows what an anti-aliasing filter is or how to spell “Fibonacci” without Googling it as I just had to?

On behalf of every kid, young or old, who picks up the camera for the first time and finds in it joy and wonder and experiences the thrill of making their first photographs, no matter how bad they are, to hell with your judgements and elitism.

The rest of us love being photographers, some still very wet behind the ears, some making their first print sales, some walking a little bit terrified into their first gig and wondering if they can pull it off, some just doing it to see what the world looks like when photographed, even after all these years. Remember what that felt like? We do. And there’s room in that wonder for all of us.

To all of you who still chase the magic, keep going. Keep learning, playing, chasing the wonder and the magic. Remember there’s a vast difference between exposing your film or your sensor, and exposing your souls, and that those who do the former without doing the later, won’t – no matter what they call themselves – experience the freedom and joy of this craft that way you do.

Everyone is a f*cking photographer?

Sure.

And it’s about f*cking time.


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2018-09-02T16:50:35Z
Travel Photography: What If I Bring The Wrong Gear?

 

I’ve been to some of the more dangerous places on this Earth, and each time, my friends and family sent me off with a warning and a plea to be careful.

No one ever warned me about Tuscany. Yet it was there—and not the slums in Haiti or the backstreets of the Congo—that I fell off a wall and narrowly escaped death. I shattered my feet and cracked my pelvis. Three others fell from that wall in the months before I did—I was the only one who lived.

I feel very safe when I travel. The more time I spend in the remote corners of the planet, the more I find that people are people, the food isn’t as scary as it looks, and that life kind of just goes on the same way there as it does here—wherever here is. That it was Tuscany, Italy, that almost did me in and not one of the places everyone’s always scared about amuses me tremendously.

It points to the fact that our fears are mostly a smokescreen. They’re unhelpful and they can blind us—and that applies no matter where we travel or even if we travel at all.

Fear is the biggest obstacle in our creative lives, and it often causes us to react in ways that sabotage the best potential outcome.

I just posted a new video in the series I created for you. But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear? is a look at three of the more common worries of photographers, particularly those who travel and want to come home with More Than Snapshots and Postcards. If you didn’t see the second video or the first one, Have Camera Will Travel, you still can.

But take a moment and watch the latest video, because I think if we can re-calibrate our relationship to these three fears and react differently to them, we can prevent them from totally derailing our creative efforts.

Watch But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear? now

In another couple days, enrollment opens for my new MentorClass course, The Traveling Lens. I’ll send you a quick email to let you know it’s open and give you a few more details, but if you’re curious (or impatient), you can see it all now on TheTravelingLensCourse.com.

My most robust MentorClass yet, The Traveling Lens is dedicated to the passionate photography of place. Filmed in Varanasi, India, this course is everything I know about traveling with my cameras and making the strongest possible photographs while doing so. The Traveling Lens focuses not just on single images, but on making intentional and powerful bodies of work.

When The Traveling Lens opens on Tuesday, August 28, there are some excellent reasons to be among the first to sign up.

The first five people to enroll will get a one-on-one mentoring session with me on Skype. That’s a $500 value, and the course isn’t close to that much.

The second five each get one of only 500 copies of my latest limited edition book, Pilgrims and Nomads.

And if you sign up within the first 24 hours, you’ll get a PDF copy of The Print & The Process, a book about the way I created four different bodies of work in Kenya, Venice, Iceland, and Antarctica. It’s out of print now, so the only way to get your hands on it is with this digital edition.

But wait, there’s more! In celebration of the wonder of travel, everyone who enrolls will be entered into a draw and one lucky photographer gets to go anywhere in the world with a brand new Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens. No fine print. We’ll send you a ticket for anywhere USD$1500 will take you (that’s just about anywhere!) and give you a new camera to take with you.

If you’re eager, you can see all the details now at TheTravelingLensCourse.com, but enrollment doesn’t open until 9 am EDT (New York time) on Tuesday, August 28.

If you want to be first in line, don’t wait for the email; just set your alarm. At 9 am EDT, the enrollment buttons will magically appear and they’ll be there for one week only, until the end of the day on September 04.

Take a moment to watch But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear? and then check out the details at TheTravelingLensCourse.com.

 

 


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2018-08-24T15:00:55Z
Travel Photography: More Than Snapshots & Postcards

On my recent trip to India, not everything went to plan.

Bad wiring in the hotel room meant things kept blowing up. We were trying to film videos like the one I posted last week, Have Camera Will Travel, and if I wasn’t being interrupted by noisy packs of wild dogs, I was being shit on by birds, or having to stop the filming because someone had walked into the frame behind me to relieve themselves. One day I spent the whole day on my bed dying. Turns out it was a kidney stone, and I lived. But while it was happening, I was definitely dying. The week we spent filming was a rough week.

I have yet to be on a trip where everything goes off without a hitch. And when I do, it kind of feels like I’m cheating. But you roll with it, you know? The best travelers are those who are flexible and willing to improvise, and the best photographers share those qualities. I’ve said it before: making photographs, especially in new places, can be tough. I wish it were as easy as just showing up in an amazing place with an amazing camera that resulted in amazing photographs. But it never is.

So here are three more ways you can approach your photography, no matter where you are, to make stronger photographs when you travel. More Than Snapshots and Postcards is a five-minute, to-the-point video. I filmed it between escapades and fiascos in India, on a boat in the middle of the Ganges River.

Watch More Than Snapshots and Postcards now.

If you missed the first video, Have Camera Will Travel, you can watch that here.

If you’ve been down this road with me before, you know these videos mean that in a week or so I’ll be introducing you to a new training resource—and that’s one of the reasons I was in India in the first place. I’ve been teaching my MentorSeries workshops for years in places like India, and I’ve wanted a way to make that teaching and some of that experience available for people who can’t go all that way or take the time (or the money) to do so. I wanted to create something to help you get deeper on your photographs of places, and all that entails.

It took a little longer than expected to create this new course, but in part, that’s because it just kept getting bigger and bigger. I’ll introduce it to you in a few days, but I’ve got another video for you first. I’ll drop you a quick note in a couple days when I post the next video, But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear?

Watch More Than Snapshots and Postcards now.


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2018-08-21T14:00:04Z
Travel Photography: If It’s Not Muggers, It’s Monkeys

On my first (and to this point, only) trip to Russia, I was mugged. Rather, it was an attempted mugging.

A man approached my friend and me in a small underpass in St. Petersburg and asked for money. When I repeatedly told him I had none, he flashed a small safety razor blade at me and growled, “Your money or your life,” a line I never imagined I would hear outside of a dime-store novel. At the time, I was well-protected against the Russian winter and getting to flesh with his small blade would have required an act of extraordinary compliance on my part. I didn’t have that much time.

So somewhat rudely, we told him to direct his entrepreneurial energies elsewhere. Then he walked over to a wall against which artists had their art displayed, looked both ways, snatched a small painting, and stuck it under his coat. Walking back to where we stood, he flashed it at us and said, “You want to buy painting?”

What can I say? It was 1991, the Iron Curtain had just fallen, and the finer points of working in a free market were still a bit foggy in the former Soviet Union. You have to give the guy credit for not giving up easily!

That’s what I love about travel. No matter what happens, things go sideways, and that’s when the adventure begins. On the best trips, you come home with more than a few souvenirs; you come home with memories. Stories.

Like the time the monkeys got into my tent in Kenya and trashed the place. Or the time a very angry monkey chased me down the street in Old Delhi while I swung my camera bag at him. Or the time I tried to remove a monkey from my head in Peru and it bit me and I thought I was going to die of Ebola or something equally horrific. Come to think of it, many of my stories involve monkeys. The only thing I love as much as coming home with the stories is coming home with the photographs.

Whether it’s around the world or around the corner, exploring new places with my camera is one of my life’s great joys. I’ve seen so much of this wonderful planet through my lens, and the more I travel, the thirstier I become for the stories and the photographs.

On my last trip to India, I wanted to bring you with me by making some videos for you. The first, Have Camera Will Travel, is nine minutes long and explores three no-nonsense, no-gimmicks, no-BS pieces of advice for making the best possible photographs as you travel, no matter where that is. These are the important things. They’re harder than choosing the perfect camera bag or travel tripod, but they also affect your photographs much more.

Watch Have Camera Will Travel now.

 

If you love exploring new places and you want to make stronger, more intentional photographs as you travel, take a few minutes to watch Have Camera Will Travel. There’s a place to leave comments on that page, and I’d love to have a discussion about any of these ideas or, for that matter, any questions you have about travel photography.

The second video, More Than Snapshots and Postcards, will be released in a couple of days.  I’ll let you know when this and the third video, But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear?, are posted.

Travel is expensive for most of us; a trip to that magical place is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. You’ll bring home amazing stories if you’re open to them, but if you want to bring home amazing photographs, it takes a little more than just bringing a camera with you. Let’s talk about it. Watch Have Camera Will Travel now.


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2018-08-16T16:10:02Z
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