Build your photography book collection.
“If you find yourself uninspired with your work, put yourself in front of more interesting stuff.” – Joe McNally.
As an author of fiction and nonfiction, it would correctly be assumed that I love reading and writing. I love all books, both physical and digital.
Reading and being sucked into what other humans have imagined and created still leaves me in absolute awe. Transposing the imagination into the printed word for storytelling is wonderous evolution for us, the naked ape. I love both the creativity it produces and the sheer bloody-mindedness it summons to get it out there into people’s hands. Creativity always requires work – there’s no magic pill that makes you creative.
Photography books are even more inspiring to me because they showcase an artist’s view of the world, whether it’s a single piece or an extensive body of work.
What photography books have I read over time?
“Don’t buy photography books unless you intend to read them more than once.” – Eric Kim.
A Wild World
So, I was a bit of a geek in my youth. Books about wildlife and action adventures formed the early part of my reading list. I discovered photography in 1981 when I stumbled onto a South African wildlife magazine called Custos. It was my eureka moment.
The photos produced by some of my early photography heroes opened my eyes to capturing all the wild things I was so passionate about. It was these photos in books and magazines that taught me composition within the animal and bird kingdoms, without ever realising composition was a thing.
This led to a long period as a photographer of all things wild – reading and studying ever more photography books. Remember, this was before the internet, so there were no websites or social media platforms for photography. Unimaginable now for many, but it taught me a valuable lesson in taking photos – study the complete works of the masters, not just isolated pieces of work. Don’t judge or critique an individual image without understanding their intent or context – something I apply to many of my student’s work.
A Change of Genre
Throughout my wildlife career (which was selling work to agencies as opposed to selling prints or leading wildlife tours), I loved the travel aspect alongside the wild beasties.
Growing up as a wide-eyed farm boy, I was always fascinated and intrigued by cities. The cold and cynical urban spaces where humanity, at all costs, strives to hold back the ever-encroaching natural world. The fascination of going into the cities is hard to describe and would probably fill up another entire post. I get as excited going into a big city as I did going into a large wilderness area.
So, I found myself travelling to far-off cities and loving the urban spaces filled with people so very different from me. It inevitably led to a genre switch (Read about that here) from photographing wildlife to urban spaces with all the human idiosyncrasies and mysteries. Within this Urban genre, my love of street, travel, abstract and architectural photography grew exponentially. How did someone with thirty-plus years of holding a camera re-educate themselves – I got my hands on as many photography books covering those four areas as possible.
This is an incredible part of your journey.
Books, books, books. Get them wherever you can. Digital ones are fine if that’s your thing. I just like paging through other people’s work because I spend enough time in the digital realm running my business.
Scour flea markets and boot and garage sales because, over time, you’ll find so many treasures at very affordable prices. Mix this with buying new books from your favourite photographers in your genre. Supporting them allows you to study their work and gives them the means to go out and produce more.
Whenever you feel in a bit of a photography funk and can’t seem to inspire or motivate yourself to go out and shoot, grab a book, a hot beverage and page through a book.
“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”– Sir Isaac Newton.
I’ve always loved this quote. We can learn knowledge by studying others. I believe wisdom comes from connecting several knowledge points for yourself to gain your own.
That’s one of the great values of reading photography books – reading them over and over again gives us knowledge points that inspire us to try and connect for ourselves as we are out taking photos.
- Experiences strung together give you knowledge.
- Knowledge points strung together give you wisdom
Get you there and experience as many photo opportunities as you can.
List of some of my favourite photography books
There are simply too many to list or add a link to. Below are some of the books I’ve found myself paging through more often over the last three years.
Urban / Street / Travel / General Photography
Any Photography book by David DuChemin
Where I find myself – Joel Meyerowitz
Bystander – Collin Westerbrook and Joel Meyerowitz
Street Photography: A history in 100 iconic images – David Gibson
Urban photographer – Tim Cornhill
Street photography Manual – David Gibson
Streetwise by Magnum – edited by Stephen Mclaren
Wildlife / Nature Photography
The Art of Adventure – Galen Rowell
The art of bird photography – Art Morris
Face to face with wild Africa – Neil Aldridge
Untamed – Steve Bloom
As long as there are animals – David Lloyd
The art of wildlife photography – Fritz Polking
Wildlife Photographer of the year (every one of the issued books) – National History Museum
Lovers and Strangers -Jack Vetriano
Portraits of America – Edward Hopper
Start your own photography book collection that spans several genres of photography (including artists and their art – also masters of compositions and element placement.)
Don’t be lured into only following photographers’ social media accounts because you won’t always see their projects or themes grouped together. Everyone uses social media for several different reasons, e.g., marketing, selling, hunting for likes, and driving traffic to their own websites. By all means, check out their social media, but also go to their websites and look for galleries that group the work into projects.
I have a few projects on my site to give you an example. Click here to see them.
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