As a photographer, it’s both inspiring and maddening to see a beautiful photograph and wonder just how the photographer did it.
There are photographs that are really good, with excellent composition and beautiful light. And then there are photos that transcend the really good; you don’t just appreciate them with your eyes alone but respond to them with your heart. Those are the photographs I wanted to learn how to take.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a single book that talked about that. There were a lot of books about composition, technique, and gear – which were great, but nothing about how to distil moments of feeling into a single frame.
Until I found Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David duChemin. To be honest, I’ve wanted to write about this book for the longest time, but I kept putting it off because I have no idea how to summarize a book which I’ve learned so much from. This book changed my game.
It helped me move up from taking photos like these of Japan in 2008:
To photos like these in 2009:
I’m not sure if the difference is as obvious to you, but it sure is to me. Without having read Within the Frame just before I left for Japan in 2009, I couldn’t have improved as much as I did. I’m pretty sure of that, as I purposely set out to apply what I’d learned from the book.
duChemin is probably best known now as the “gear is good, vision is better” guy, and he lays out that idea in Within the Frame. It doesn’t read so much as a “how to shoot” book as a “how to think about what you shoot” book. How do you shoot what moves you? How do you use universal themes and conflict to tell a story within a frame? How do you shoot people, places, and cultures in ways that are specifically your own?
In short, Within the Frame is a gem. I didn’t just learn how to tell stories within a frame – to make a photograph not of something but about something – but also how to sharpen, express and chase a personal photographic vision. Highly recommended.
David duChemin has two sequels to Within the Frame; VisionMongers: Making a Life and a Living in Photography, which I’m reading now, and Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, which was just published and I’m eagerly waiting for. He also runs an insightful blog and an ebook store Craft & Vision, which sells great photography ebooks at very low prices.