5 of the Best Non-Photography Books That Shaped My Career

From modern-day yogis like Kelly Slater to Tim Ferriss, all have one piece of advice that I will paraphrase here: if you want to excel at your craft, 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 we naturally turn from producing to seeking inspiration and education. However, what many young photographers get wrong is to only source materials directly connected to their discipline, i.e., photography books. This mistake is an honest one, but I am here to tell you that technical how-to books and fancy $100 coffee table showpieces are only going to get you so far. 

Certain books from other disciplines, and even fiction, have informed me just as much as any book on photography. Think of this as cross-training for the photography Olympics. Let’s be honest, the last thing you need is another article entitled “5 Must-Read Books To Become a Succesful Photographer, Like Now!” 

Instead, I will highlight several reads from other disciplines that have shaped my career behind the camera and in business.

1) Picture This by Molly Bang

Why do horizontal lines make us feel safe and how can vertical lines make us feel lost and afraid? Why do some shapes give us one feeling in the background and an entirely different impression in the foreground? 

I picked this 25th-anniversary edition up in 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 break down the composition and build it back up with a few words and exposition as possible. Her entire process in the book, and I believe design itself is a less is more attitude. 

If you need another push to pick this book ostensibly about graphic design, read Illy Ovchar’s recent interview with Alber Watson where they touch on the importance of design literacy in the photography world.

2) How To See by George Nelson

Any architect, industrial designer, or 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, and imagery all influence how we move throughout our world, and this classic book help us understand why well-designed works work 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 will not teach you how to be empathic in your work, you have to figure that out for yourself, however, it will introduce you to see your city, airport, highways, menus, and art in 3D technicolor.

Of all the books in this list, this one has the most overlap with the craft of photography. George Nelson’s book will have you noticing relationships between the most mundane elements in everyday life. Furthermore, how those relationships…

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