There are two primary exercises in maintaining a healthy creative side; produce and consume. First, to produce is pretty self-explanatory, this is the process of actually doing something (in our case, photography). To consume, for the purposes of this article is the process in which you intake new information. Any and all information is viable for feeding ones creative self, whether visual, audible, or mind melding with your Vulcan friends. For the purposes of this article we are going to focus on
mind melding the visual (unless you plan on buying the audio version of one of these books…).
Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.
Harry S. Truman
Now, in past articles I have talked a little about how I’ll sometimes spend months and months producing and then take an entire week or month (sometimes several months) off and consume. I’ll read every photography book I can get my hands on, websites, blogs, magazines, listen to podcasts, watch YouTube tutorials, read classic literature, watch a great movie, listen to a song that moves me, it really doesn’t matter so long as it inspires me in some way. The books I’m mentioning below have helped me to improve as a photographer and I strongly recommend you get your hands on one or all of them and consume whatever you can from them. I also suggest you take some time off from producing and consume to top off your inspiration tank.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
The first book I’ll mention is probably the book that has had the most influence on my photography business without actually being a photography book (my full review here). Big Magic is one of those books you’ll read a few times and want to force your creative friends to read it as well. Isn’t it funny how when we read books we really like we make it our mission to force everyone we meet to read it as well? Our friends probably hate that. Ask my wife, she is probably sick of hearing about this book.
What I love about this book is the authors no bull approach to being a productive and creative person. She gives some simple, no-nonsense tips for how to push through the inevitable creative plateau and shines a light on some of the excuses we use. The book is written by an author (obviously) for other authors but almost all of the information parallels photographers creative struggles as well. If I taught a photography course I would have this book as one of my required readings.
La Calle by Alex Webb
Alex Webb is one of the best street photographers of our time (or ever). Bold statement, I know. But look, his work is incredibly complex and I’ve never seen light mastered in such a way. His images are sometimes chaotic but never busy. I’ve been studying his work for the past few years and I continue to learn from him. Light, color, composition, these are just a few of the things that you’ll learn while studying La Calle.
Though this book teaches a whole lot, it doesn’t actually say much… Though, I believe his images speak clearly enough. To be honest, I’ve read interviews and some of his writings and they are a bit more philosophical rather than instructional (I’m sure this has something to do with the way he sees the world and creates his images). You can pick this book up new or used on Amazon (link above) but I’d recommend a new copy, if you’re anything like me you’ll likely wear it out by flipping through the pages so often. You can check out his and his wife’s blog here.
Much of my color street photography, like the image above, is directly influenced by my study of Alex Webb’s work
Guy Bourdin by Alison Gingeras
Whether you are into fashion photography, fine art photography, street photography, or travel photography, Guy Bourdin is a book you’ll want to get your hands on. The book is about the size of a CD case (remember those?) but it’s well worth the investment. After I began studying Guy Bourdin’s work I began to feel more comfortable creating some of my more off the wall images and eventually had one picked up by Vogue Italia (below).
This is one of many fine art images I created after studying Guy Bourdin’s work and getting more comfortable about expressing my inner (somewhat unique, often strange) voice. You can see more from this series in another article here.
Studying Guy’s work is what also precipitated my use of a flash in some of my fine art work. His images are often taken in what most would consider harsh light, often created by his flash. I really like the way it makes the color pop in his images. This has also impacted my street photography and how I see the world around me.
The images above were all influenced by Guy Bourdin’s after studying his work.
Any photographer who can have that much influence over my work and so many others is someone worth studying. As I mentioned above, it really doesn’t matter what genre of photography your main focus is, I’d recommend immersing yourself in Guy’s work and pulling out any and all inspiration you can (there is a lot to pull from).
A Message For You by Guy Bourdin
This book, in contrast to the first Guy Bourdin book I recommended, is a giant of a book. The images are huge and the book contains over 300 pages, mostly containing Bourdin’s work. This book is much different from the first in that it gives us a glimpse into who Guy was, the path his creativity took, and allows the reader to get behind the scenes a bit. What I enjoyed about his book was that the images, especially in the second half of the book, seemingly take one on a journey through his creative growth. This book is truly inspirational for any photographer.
Something I didn’t mention above, and just now occurs to me, is that wedding photographers ought to study Guy Bourdin’s work like it’s their manual. To me, when a wedding photographer advertises “street photography approach” they should deliver a style similar to Bourdin’s.
Early Color by Saul Leiter
Early Color was introduced to me by an art consultant who thought some of my work resembled Saul’s… A huge compliment if ever I had one. I love this book because of Leiter’s unique perspective and the freedom it imparted on me. After studying his work began to feel more liberated in my creative endeavors. I began to create images that conveyed more of what I was thinking rather than what I wanted others to see. I especially enjoy the abstract nature of many of his photographs, the shots through windows and out of focus are some of my favorite.
These are just a few of the images that I feel studying Saul Leiter’s work influenced.
American Color 2 by Constantine Manos
Constantine Manos is another phenomenal street photographer whose work transcends street photography, in regards to inspiring and educating, into other genres of photography. The cover of American Color 2 really captures the theme of the images throughout the book I think. The shadows, bright colors, and interesting subject matter. What always interests me about this book is the way Manos’s images make him seem invisible. His subjects are captured with their guard down and interacting with their environments without the pretense that cameras usually encourage.
Images inspired by Constantine Manos’s book American Color 2
Van Life: Your Home On The Road by Foster Huntington
Van Life is one of those books that doesn’t really speak of photography or particularly exhibit any photographic expertise… But it inspires one to get off of the beaten path and search out adventure. I particularly like that each image is captioned with where in the world the photograph was taken (this is sometimes how I plan a trip). I was drawn to this book from the moment I saw the cover, it beckoned me with its simplicity and film like imagery. I’d encourage you to check out a copy, whether you’re interested in old camper van travel or not. Van Life is sure to spark the desire to have a little adventure and what stokes the fires of creativity more than an adventure? No, not drugs. That was a rhetorical question, Mary Jane.
Interestingly enough, books like Van Life inspire me to make images like the fine art photograph above.
At the end of the day, my goal is not to emulate any of the photographers I read about, I simply want to pull whatever inspiration and skill I can from their hard work and apply it to my own. I would like to have a creative voice all my own. I highly recommend getting your hands on one or all of the books above, they have inspired me to create some of my best images.
Have you got a photography book that has inspired you to create something amazing? Please share it with us in the comments section below. You can follow me on Instagram @PhotolisticLife.