If you want to read this post then keep scrolling down, or if you'd prefer (and if you have headphones) click play below to hear me talk about the 3 photography books I've recommended right here in this post. If you're reading this in your mailbox you'll need to open this in your browser to list
All over Facebook I see posts with quotes that I imagine are trying to be inspirational and thought provoking. Whilst some of these I believe are rules to live your life by: "You must be the change you want to see in the world", others I've pretty much got into the habit of skipping past. These inspirational quotes are becoming so common now that it's just my instant reaction to keep on scrolling past them.
However, one did jump out at me recently: "Reading books is the way humans upgrade their firmware". Whilst to some this may just be another one of those quotes you skip past, it did make me think for just a second that when it comes to education and learning (especially with photography) some of the best lessons I've picked up over the years have came from books.
Sure, blog posts (like this one I hope) can provide all sorts of useful and Interesting information, books still tend to contain some of the best and most thoughtfully curated information. I guess if they didn't they wouldn't go to print!
The other advantages of reading books are huge - of course there is the benefit of learning from the actual content, but the act of reading improves your memory, reduces stress and can improve your language skills. We should all be reading more.
So, with that in mind I wanted to share with you some of the books and eBooks that really have stood out for me over the past few years. Some of these books I'll read every few months to remind myself of technical information. Others I thumb through when seeking inspiration, whilst others are fantastic motivators and are almost, to an extent, self-help books that have the ability to help you coach yourself through slumps in creativity and confidence.
There are thousands of photography and art related books out there, but here are my top three books to inspire, educate and motivate you for the year ahead:
1. Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits
I've mentioned a few times that I love this book. Visually this book is awe-inspiring. The portrait photographs made by Gregory Heisler are incredible: engaging, amazing use of light and composition and need no words to tell a story. Despite that though this isn't just some coffee table book packed with images: it's a fantastic read too: Great stories surround each set of images and Heisler also provides us with an insight into the thought process behind each image.
This book actually contains more than just 50 portraits. For example the portraits of legendary basketball player Shaquille O'neal actually include photographs of his hands (sounds odd, but you have to read the book to see how incredible the photographs are). His hands are of course his tools as a basketball player and through images like this Heisler thought about more than just a head and shoulders-type portrait in great light, he sought to tell a story through his images.
This is a book that is not only a great read for the stories and what is written if you have the time, but as a book you can thumb through simply to look at the photographs themselves this is a book that will inspire you to raise your game to reach a new level and think more creatively.
Well worth a read. This is first on my list for a reason and is, at this point in time, my favourite photography book.
It's available both as an eBook (on Kindle) and a Hard Back. I bought the Kindle Edition with some vouchers I was gifted, but was then given the hard back as a present from my wife. The print version of this book does it far more justice and so I would recommend you pick up a hard copy and get away from a screen to enjoy this book in the format that it was intended to be read in. Print.
2. The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
Personally, (and fortunately) I'm not someone who has yet struggled with a serious creative slump or had any sort of crisis of confidence. That's not me showing off, some people in life are like that. I do occasionally feel criticism getting to me when it's venomous or not constructive but then I remind myself that people are going to hate on you and your work in the world of photography. So I move on. That's life!
Having said that, when I started out making photographs I felt quite alone. Like I was the first person to be walking the path of frustration. Most of us experience that same learning curve where when we start out we believe we're close to learning everything we need to know (or with some people they think they already know it all). But, the more we learn, we realise how little we know and how much farther we have to go to get to the heady heights of those sitting atop the photography industry; those famous and legendary photographers that win plaudits & Pulitzer Prizes and accolades that many photographers aspire to.
Well, If I had known about Steven Pressfield's 'The War Of Art' when I first started, I'd have realised as I do now that this process is very, very common place indeed and that nearly all of us go through these stages at various times and that we all, in our own ways, battle with ourselves and our own creativity. Pressfield's book is about our internal battles. How we are truly the only ones who can both motivate ourselves to achieve the incredible, all the while being more capable than anyone else of being the person to completely destroy our own motivation and give in to resistance. Having known about this book and possibly had I been more willing to acknowledge what I could learn from books at a younger age / earlier stage, it would have made me realise it was okay and natural to believe that wanting more and better gear was the key to becoming better. (which I'll talk about more with my next book recommendation). Although this book, in my opinion, is perhaps more aimed at those in the literary arts, this makes it no-less relevant to us photographers. Upon reading this book I have no doubt you'll immediately identify yourself as the person that Steven Pressfield is talking to.
On page 63 of The War of Art, Steven writes (about being professional):
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes", he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine O'Clock sharp."
As soon as you pick up The War Of Art that passage will have more context. This book is full of gems and reads like a massive, entertaining kick up the backside to motivate you.
It's not a huge book either. I've read this book a few times now and each time it's taken just two evenings from one cover to another.
Just be sure to have a notepad to hand (or a highlighter if you're that way inclined and pick up the hardcover version)
3. Ten Ways to Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear by David DuChemin (Free to download)
If you read any sort of photography books, then I'm sure that you've heard of Craft & Vision. A fantastic company that has pulled together some of the most talented photographer / writer / educators / business people to produce a variety of photography books. Some are aimed to educate us on the technical aspects of photography, whether it be lighting, getting sharper shots or even post processing, whilst other books are more business-oriented, like 'Ten Ways To Improve Your Craft Without Buying Gear By David DuChemin'
The author of this great book; David DuChemin has a saying: "Gear is great. Vision is better". I asked David DuChemin about this when I interviewed him for the Ready Steady Pro Photography Podcast, and the premise is not to discount what better quality or even different gear can bring to your work, but instead to realise that your own vision and creativity is what will make the most difference and that that should come first. It's ourselves we should look to constantly educate, rather than looking to upgrade our cameras every six months for the latest and greatest.
'Ten' is a concise eBook of just 18 pages. This book more than makes up for quantity with quality. In 'Ten' DuChemin provides us with 10 exercises to practise to improve our photography without the need to go out and buy more gear.
Yes, with each image in this fantastic eBook David shares with us his settings and gear used; this is to help educate. As the years roll on and this book becomes older and older the lessons here only become more relevant as the camera used is a Canon 5D (mark 1). By today's standards many photographers would turn their nose up at such a camera, citing it to have not enough focus points or not enough megapixels. But the fact is, it's the photographer that makes an amazing photograph, not the camera.
An easy read and one that you can pick up and put down after each of the 10 exercises to be consumed in bite-size chapters. This is a book not to be overlooked, especially considering it's FREE!
Ready Steady Pro Members Recommend
I'm only one person and can only read so many books at a time and so I reached out to the members of the Ready Steady Pro community and asked them what books they think you should be reading too. Here's what they said:
Chris Szulwach: 'Personal Best' by Elliott Erwitt
"Inspires me to be concentrating on moments, looking for the out of the ordinary that happens every day and not worry so much about technical perfection."
Paul Griffiths: 'The Decisive Moment' by Henri Cartier-Bresson
"A wonderful book that comes with an insightful commentary on his work and career"
Rob Dodsworth: 'Early Colour' By Saul Leiter
"The subject matter would otherwise be relatively mundane but the interplay between subject, his eye (his framing, composition) and the use of colour is often otherworldly! You find something new each time you revisit a frame!"
Simon Dewey: 'Minutes to Midnight' By Trent Park
"I don't know anyone who uses light as dramatically - the grainy black and white pictures have an otherworldly feel, yet are classified as Street. It's also beautifully bound - so a wonderful item to hold. Really looking forward to his next project"
What do you think?
Know any great photography, art or business books that you think we should all be reading? Drop a link in the comments below, I'd love to know what you have on your book shelves, saved on your KIndles & eBook Readers etc.