There is nothing like a good book to inspire you! Here are a few of my favorite books on photography, creativity, spirituality and personal growth. All have been important to me in some way on my creative journey. I share them with you in the hopes that you might also find inspiration for your personal journey.
While I have many photography books sitting on my bookshelf, most of them are seemingly interchangeable, relegated to occasional reference. The ones I list here are the ones I consider the best of the best. They have something unique to offer you on your creative journey with photography.
- Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David duChemin. This book is a wonderful read about photography beyond the technical details. We all have a unique vision of the world, and this book helps you explore yours. While Within the Frame is my favorite of duChemin’s books, maybe because it was the first I read from him and it matches my type of photography, I can also highly recommend these others:
Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images Discussing the visual language of photography and how we can use it to better effect to express our intent. This is the book David recommends you start with.
Vision & Voice: Refining Your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Using Lightroom to express your photographic vision and voice.
- The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman. This book has become my composition bible! I use this as a reference more than a read-through book, because there is just so much information packed into this one book. I look up specific topics as needed or open it occasionally for inspiration. This is my all-time favorite book on composition and design.
A related book that I often see recommended is Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography by Bryan Peterson. I enjoyed this book as a read-through but don’t refer to it nearly as much.
- Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing by Philippe L. Gross ans S.I. Shapiro. I really connected with the way this book drew parallels between a photographic practice and the Taoist philosophy. I think anyone who finds photography a spiritual practice will enjoy this book.
Zen and the Magic of Photography: Learning to See and to Be through Photography by Wayne Rowe is another related book you might want to check out. I didn’t resonate with the writing quick as much as Tao of Photography, but you might!
- The Practice of Contemplative Photography: Seeing the World with Fresh Eyes by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. This book resonates with my personal practice and experience with photography, although I find myself diverging in some areas. The book identifies and lead you through three stages of contemplative photography (my interpretations in parentheses): Connecting with the flash of perception (seeing), working with visual discernment (identifying what caught your eye) and forming the equivalent of what was seen (effective capture). There is much good in this book to help you with recognizing inspiration and creating fresh images, and the description of the technical basics of photography in Chapters 13 and 15 are simply the best I’ve ever read. I diverge from their philosophy around composition, which the authors consider manipulation, but there is so much good in this book I can overlook that little point.
- 150 Photographic Projects for Art Students by John Easterby. If you are new to photography, this is a great book to introduce you to many different aspects of photography. It touches on everything from genres to methods to presentation. I found it great read to get me thinking about the breadth and possibility for exploration of this art form, and I refer back to it for inspiration.
- How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith. I had a hard time figuring out which section to put this book in! I settle on this section because this book is about “seeing” which is critical to good photography. This is a fun, easy read and following the exercises will help you see the world around you differently. Your photography will respond accordingly!
- The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby. If you aren’t using Lightroom yet to edit your photos, why not? I think it’s the best tool around for powerful, yet intuitive photo editing. I have been thrilled with the speed, ease and options that this software provides. Not only that, but the organization functions are amazing. I have 92000+ photos in my catalog yet it still runs fast and I can actually find things within seconds. Amazing. To learn to use the software, I love Scott Kelby’s books. He includes straightforward step-by-step instructions with a dash of humor, which always makes learning easier! If you are new to Lightroom, start at the beginning of the book and follow his instructions for setting up your catalog. After that, pick and choose your topics based on what you want to learn. Want to learn how to edit black and white? Look it up and try it. Want to find out what split toning does? Flip to that section. I use this book to learn in bite-sized chunks, skipping around based on my interest rather than as a course I complete start to finish.
How can you go wrong with a good book on creativity? Regardless of the medium you create in, you can find inspiration in these books. Stepping outside of photography and learning from other mediums is a great way to improve your creativity.
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Is there a creativity book list anywhere that doesn’t include this book? This was the first book I read on my creative journey, launching me headlong into reconnecting me with something I had so desperately been missing. Cameron is pretty adamant that you must follow her requirements to have success, but I don’t agree. I considered her activities loose suggestions and played around with those that resonated with me. The result was a creative opening in my soul that was immensely powerful and a creative practice that continues today.
- The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life by Twyla Tharp. I loved this book! It was great to read a creativity book from a different perspective, dance, yet see how much it has in common with all mediums. Creativity is creativity, regardless of what raw material you create from. Twyla is strong in her opinions, formed out of years of successful creation, and that may not resonate with everyone. I really enjoyed her point of view.
- Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go by Shaun McNiff. This book discussed creativity from so many different angles. Every time I picked it up to read I was inspired and nodding my head, “Yes!” McNiff gives a lot of practical exercises sprinkled through the book, but they are so deftly woven in the text you hardly notice they are there. This book may appeal to visual artists more than either of the two above.
Spirituality and Personal Growth
For me, photography, creativity and spirituality are all so interwoven in the idea of “inspiration” it is difficult for me to separate them. These books I’ve lumped under “spirituality and personal growth” are not related to art in any way, but they were as influential, maybe more so, on my creative journey.
- A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. This is the book that started the journey for me. Even before I read The Artist’s Way, this book helped me understand and connect with my yearning for a new connection to self and a different way to live my life. It opened me for what was yet to come on my journey.
- Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. There is so much good in this book! I never read it daily, but would read several days at a time when I came to this book. There were topics that I didn’t resonate with (like the desire for a perfectly organized linen closet, ugh!) but there were many more topics that did resonate with me. There is much inspiration in this book to help you reconnect with who you are in the midst of a busy life as a modern woman.
- What to Remember When Waking: The Disciplines of an Everyday Life by David Whyte. I loved listening to Whyte’s voice on this audio CD. He weaves his poetry in with his story of embarking on a career to be a poet, and how that generalizes to all of us who are taking steps into a new unknown.
- Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live by Martha Beck. This book is a great read with practical advice on how to connect with your inner self and understand what directions you want to go with your life. While this book has lots of exercises, I didn’t do them. Similar to The Artist’s Way, I read for the concepts and took away what resonated with me.
- One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success by Marci Alboher. All of this exploration of “what to do with my life” set up a great internal conflict between the creative pursuits which fed my heart and soul and the corporate job which fed my intellectual mind and my family. This book helped me greatly with strategies and examples of people who balance multiple, disparate careers so I could create my own path. I don’t even remember how I found the book, but it came to me at a perfect time.
Note: All links to Amazon are affiliate links. I only link to books here I have read and highly recommend. I don’t really care if you buy from Amazon or not… You will likely find these books in the library, a local used bookstore, or where ever you shop for books.