Book Review: The Heart of the Photograph by David duChemin

Question your choices, think more deeply before pressing the shutter button

By Andy Strote – subscribe to ExploreDiscoverShoot on YouTube

I came to David duChemin’s books late, but I’m happy that I found my way here.

The Heart of the Photograph: 100 Questions for Making Stronger, More Expressive Photographs is his most recent of more than a dozen books on various aspects of photography.

As the sub-title suggests, the book is based on asking yourself questions about the possibilities for any photograph you’re about to take. In a sense, it follows a Socratic method – ask a question, then a follow-up question and yet another related question until you’re clear about the photo you’re taking. Why are you taking it, what do you want it to communicate, does the light help you to communicate, and what about the colours, lines, etc.?

Not a Technical Photography Book, but a Very Practical One

To be clear, this is not a technical book. You won’t learn which f-stop to use when. But, and this may seem like a contradiction, it is still a very practical book. DuChemin has the unique ability to ask philosophical questions that can trigger you to think more deeply about your work and make useful decisions when you’re about to take a photograph.

For example, he asks you to question where you’re standing when you’re about to take a photo. Perhaps a different position or point of view might make a stronger photograph. Would it improve the photo if you moved six inches to one side? How about six feet? Or sixty feet back? What if you raised your camera to a higher vantage point? Or set it on the ground?

When I first read this I thought, well if I asked myself all those questions, I’ll never get around to taking the photograph, or I’ll certainly miss the moment if there was one. But I believe the real point is to ask yourself these questions so that with practice, you learn to anticipate these moments and will instinctively gravitate to the strongest perspective to capture the shot.

He summarizes the “where to stand” question by saying, “Nothing but you has moved, but in the photograph, everything has changed.”

Yes, There are Pictures, But it’s Not a Picture Book

Throughout the book you’ll find groups of photos that are somewhat related to the surrounding text, but they are not there to teach you how to take any similar pictures. It’s also not an overview of duChemin’s oeuvre.

Most of the images are black and white. Some sections, notably a series taken in Venice are in colour. They’re in a section that questions the use of colour. One of the questions that duChemin encourages us to ask ourselves is whether an image should be in black and white or colour. Does the colour contribute to what you’re trying to communicate, or does it get in the way? Are we so hard-wired to respond to colour that it detracts from the subject matter? Is it important to know that a person in the picture is wearing a red jacket, or is the red such an eye magnet that it takes away from the rest of the image?

Now that he’s asked those questions, this is where I have differences in some of his choices. At heart, it’s obvious duChemin prefers black and white. His strong compositions, captivating subject matter and ability to freeze just the right moment gives his shots strong bones that support black and white.

But, but, but… there were so many interesting images that he chose to edit in black and white, where it’s obvious that they were colourful and I felt the colour would have added to what the image communicated. This is particularly so with a series shot in India and another underwater off the coast of Mexico. But, his choices.

The Philosopher Priest of Photography

This is a book to be read slowly. I found myself re-reading sentences and paragraphs, thinking about how I might apply these questions next time I have a camera in my hand.

It comes as no surprise to learn that David once studied to be a priest. It shows in the nature of the questions which go beyond strictly photography but encourage a deeper engagement with the world and those around you.

In that respect, The Heart of the Photograph falls in line with some of his previous books, most notably The Soul of a Camera and his first book, Within the Frame.

Who is This Book For? Maybe Everyone, but Maybe Not

I’m sure that every photographer, from beginner to seasoned pro will find something to like in this book.

But, I do think that beginners will find some aspects frustrating. At that stage, you’re likely eager to learn the technical aspects of picture taking and this book might seem boring and too slow paced.

For me, the inherent slowness is the point. DuChemin wants us to slow down, to question our choices, to make photographs that are uniquely our own.

I’m still re-reading sections of the book. In the meantime, I’ve ordered his first one Within the Frame. It’s the 10th anniversary of that book, and he’s offered signed copies on his website. I couldn’t resist.

Here’s David’s author bio on Amazon to give you a better idea of the man.

David duChemin is a world and humanitarian assignment photographer, best-selling author, and international workshop leader whose spirit of adventure fuels his fire to create and share.

 

Based in Vancouver, Canada, David chases compelling images on all seven continents. When on assignment, David creates powerful photographs that convey the hope and dignity of children, the vulnerable, and the oppressed for the international NGO community. When creating the art he so passionately shares, David strives to capture the beauty of the natural world. Find David online at davidduchemin.com.

 

The Heart of the Photograph: 100 Questions for Making Stronger, More Expressive Photographs

By David duChemin

296pp, Rocky Nook Inc., $55 USD

Andy Strote

In Andy’s career as a copywriter and creative director in advertising and marketing, he has created numerous campaigns for corporate clients in all media. On these projects, he worked closely with leading photographers and commercial directors.

Along the way, Andy was the co-founder of two successful marketing agencies. The first, which he started in partnership with Simon, often featured Simon’s photography and videography in our campaigns. We grew that company to 30 people before it was acquired by a multi-national IT firm.

Sixteen years after starting his second marketing firm, Andy sold his interest and now has more time to devote to travel which fuels his photography.

Today, our love of photography, filmmaking and the creative communities that surround these passions has brought us together in ExploreDiscoverShoot.

There has never been a better time to be a photographer or filmmaker. Now the onus is on you to grab your camera and go!

Andy Strote


In Andy’s career as a copywriter and creative director in advertising and marketing, he has created numerous campaigns for corporate clients in all media. On these projects, he worked closely with leading photographers and commercial directors.

Along the way, Andy was the co-founder of two successful marketing agencies. The first, which he started in partnership with Simon, often featured Simon’s photography and videography in our campaigns. We grew that company to 30 people before it was acquired by a multi-national IT firm.

Sixteen years after starting his second marketing firm, Andy sold his interest and now has more time to devote to travel which fuels his photography.

Today, our love of photography, filmmaking and the creative communities that surround these passions has brought us together in ExploreDiscoverShoot.

There has never been a better time to be a photographer or filmmaker. Now the onus is on you to grab your camera and go!

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