Non-Photography Books That Every Photographer Should Read.

Modern-day yogi’s from Kelly Slater to Tim Ferries have one piece of advice in-common that I will paraphrase here; if you want to really excel at your craft, then you must always be the student, not a master, and immerse yourself into your discipline at all times.

As creative professionals we can’t always be painting, cooking, shooting etc so what we naturally do is turn from producing to seeking out inspiration and education. What many young photographers get wrong however is to only source materials that are directly connected to their discipline i.e; photography books. This is a natural mistake but I am here to tell you that technical how-to books and fancy $80 coffee table showpieces are only going to get you so far. In my experience, books from other disciplines and even fiction have informed by just as much in honing my craft as any book on photography. And since there is no shortage of recommendations out there for photography books that “YOU MUST READ LIKE NOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHER” I am going to recommend four books that have nothing to do with photography but have informed me immensely on how to shoot and how to run a business.


1)Picture This

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I picked this 25th-anniversary edition up in a museum gift shop about two months ago. It has a deceptive look and feel of a childerns book and I believe that is the intention. The genius behind Molly Bang’s book is her approach to break down composition and build it back up with as little words and exposition as possible. Her entire approach to the book and I believe design itself is a less is more attitude. Why do some shapes give us one feeling in the background and an entirely different impression in the foreground? Why do horizontal lines make us feel safe, and how can vertical lines make us fee lost and afraid?


2)George Nelson: How To See

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Any architect, industrial designer, an engineer probably read this book as a freshman in college. This is a book about becoming visually literate in the world around us. Design, typography, imagery all influence how we move throughout our world and this classic book helps us understand why well-designed works, work on us so well on us. Good design, signage, type treatment and of course photography all begin with understanding your audience. It begins with empathy. This book is not going to teach you how to be empathic in your work, you have to figure that out for yourself, however, it will teach you to see your city, airport, highways, menus, and art in 3d technicolor.

What the first two books have in common is their connection with the design field, but I promise you that the next book on my list may surprise you as it has zero obvious links to anything in the creative industry.


3) Ender's Game

That right. Ender's Game. The classic science fiction adventure that will always hold a special place in my heart. The truth is that there are so many little lessons to extrapolate from this classic hero story. I do see this book as a modern day “Art Of War”as it filled with many lessons that are analogous to business, relationships, politics etc. For the purposes of our conversation, I want to point out that this book helps me not only understand the value of competition but embrace it and at times even welcome it. The main character, Ender, is a blend of Harry Potter and Walter White from Breaking Bad. The unlikely reclusive hero who is fighting for his life. Both heroes only begin to thrive once they take ownership of their lot in life, accept uncomfortable challenges and failure is the only way to grow. Like I said, there a lot more to the book than that and if you read it, you will likely walk away with a different interpretation but I can tell you that this story really motivated me to embrace change and hardships along my road to success. Side note, Enders Game was made into a movie, and like so many great works of my childhood, the Hollywood version is absolutely terrible so don’t bother.

4) The Secret Lives Of Colour

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This is the book that inspired this post. In truth, I am only halfway through. This book rearranges world history, art history and the history of fashion through the lens of color theory. Each chapter is short and sweet and covers one color at a time. Why are western wedding dresses white? When did magenta start becoming pink? Why did ancient Greeks describe water and blood with the same color? What are colors communicating to us subliminally and is that culture or biology? Just brilliant.

-Alex M. www.photosophic.com