Modern yogis like Kelly Slater to Tim Ferriss all have one piece of advice that I’m going to paraphrase here: if you want to excel at your craft, you must always be the student, not the master, and immerse yourself in your discipline. always.
As creative professionals, we cannot always paint, cook, photograph, etc., so we naturally shift from production to seeking inspiration and education. However, what many young photographers are wrong is to source only materials directly related to their discipline, i.e. photography books. This is an honest mistake, but I’m here to tell you that tech manuals and $ 100 coffee table centerpieces won’t get you far.
Some books from other disciplines, even fiction, have taught me as much as any book on photography. Think of this as cross training for the Olympic Games in photography. Let’s be honest, the last thing you need is another article titled “5 Must-Read Books to Become a Successful Photographer, Like Now!”
Instead, I’ll highlight several readings from other disciplines that have shaped my career behind the camera and in business.
1) Picture this by Molly Bang
Why horizontal lines make us feel safe and how can vertical lines make us feel lost and scared? Why do some shapes give us a feeling in the background and an entirely different feeling in the foreground?
I bought this 25th anniversary edition at a museum gift shop about two years ago. It has the deceptive look and feel of a children’s book, and I believe that is the intention. The genius behind Molly Bang’s book is her approach to breaking down the composition and reconstructing it with as few words and exposure as possible. Its whole process in the book, and I think the design itself is a less is more attitude.
If you need another boost in choosing this ostensibly graphic design book, read Illy Ovchar’s recent interview with Alber Watson where they discuss the importance of mastery of design in the world of photography.
2) How to see George Nelson
Any architect, industrial designer, or engineer has probably read this book in their first year in college. This is a book about visual learning about the world around us. Design, typography, and imagery all influence the way we move around our world, and this classic book helps us understand why well-crafted works work so well on us. Good design, signage, typeface and, of course, a photograph, it all starts with understanding your audience. It starts with empathy. This book will not teach you how to be empathetic in your work, you have to find out for yourself, however, it will introduce you to your city, airport, highways, menus and technicolor 3D art.
Of all the books on this list, this one has the most overlap with the photography profession. George Nelson’s book will point out the relationships between the most mundane elements of everyday life. Further, how these relationships influence, and sometimes dictate, behavior.
What the first two books have in common is their connection to the discipline of design. I promise you that the next book on my list might surprise you because it has no obvious connection to anything in the creative industry.
3) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
This right. Ender’s Game, a classic sci-fi adventure from 1985 that will always hold a special place in my heart. There is no photo because I let someone “borrow” my copy five years ago!
The truth is, there are so many little lessons to be extrapolated from this classic hero story. I see this book as a modern day “Art of War” because I see it filled with many similar lessons on business, relationships, politics, etc. For our conversation, I want to point out that this book helps me understand the value of competition, embrace it and even welcome it.
The main character, Ender, is a mix of Harry Potter and Walter White. An unlikely and lonely hero who fights for his life. The two heroes only begin to thrive once they take their place in this world, accepting uncomfortable challenges and failure as the only way to grow. Like I said there is a lot more to the book than that, and if you read it you will probably come away with a different take on it, but I can tell you that this story motivated me to embrace the change and the changes. difficulties on my own road. .
A word of warning, dear reader, Enders Game has been adapted for film, and like so many great works from my childhood, the Hollywood version is terrible, so don’t worry.
4) The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair
Why are western wedding dresses white? When did the magenta start to turn pink? Why did the ancient Greeks describe water and blood as being the same color? What do colors subliminally communicate to us, and is it culture or biology?
This book reorganizes the history of the world, the history of art and the history of fashion through the prism of color theory. Each chapter is short and sweet and covers one color at a time. I now use this shiny little book as a reference and it sits next to my desk whenever I think of a new concept for a test shoot or create a color scheme during post-production.
5) It’s Marketing (You Can’t Be Seen Until You Learn To See) By Seth Godin
If there’s a book on this list that you’re reading, it should be this one.
At least a dozen different friends have recommended this book to me over the years, and I’ve been wrong to ignore them – so badly.
The book is as much about business as it is about influencing change. No matter what you’re selling, there are ethical tangles that come with selling it, so you better know that by now.
Anyone looking for a change in the performance of their business, their professional status or in their community (and therefore everyone) will have their eyes open to the wisdom of Godin.
I “read” the audio version, which is nice because it is easy to listen to because Godin tells it himself; however, this is a book where you’ll want to go back and forth to take notes. Reading the pocket version and taking notes in the margins might be a better solution, but it’s up to you.
If you have any non-photographic books to recommend that have helped you see your craft a little differently, please leave a comment below as I’m always on the lookout.