5 Must-Read Books for Creatives & Photographers

5 Must-Read Books for Creatives & Photographers

My 5 Favourite Books for Creators

Over the past few years, I’ve read many books that have helped me along in my pursuit of photography (and also some that really haven’t).

Here I want to share my favourites –  5 books that have helped me most to progress in my career and in my hobby.

Some are to do with personal development, some are about the creative process itself, and some are about the business of being a creative. All of them have provided so much inspiration and guidance as well as the confidence to go and do the thing that I want to do.

I often return to these books, and several of them I’ve read multiple times. They’ve been and continue to be a great resource for me, which is why I really encourage any creative person, and in particular photographers, to take a look at these – I hope you get as much from them as I have.

1. Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon (2012)

This is a book that I can recommend to someone who doesn’t really like to “read”.  Austin Kleon’s style of writing is fast, to the point and funny, with lots of drawings. 

It’s a short book with 10 powerful ideas and stories with quotes to back them up.

What I love about it is that it totally challenges the idea of original ideas, and kind of gives you permission to borrow inspiration from others.

Every artist gets asked the question,

“Where do you get your ideas from?”

The honest artist answers,

“I steal them.”

This isn’t a book that tells you to find someone you like and copy them in everything they do and end up a clone of them in an attempt to be successful.

It’s about finding yourself as a creative and take inspiration from lots of different genres and mishmash it into your own style.

“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from” -David Bowie

One of the ideas I like best from the book is to find one thinker, writer, artist, photographer – any role model that you really love.

Study everything there is to know about his person and then find three people who inspired that person and repeat the cycle over and over again.

Then it’s time to start your own brand of that idea.

2. Creative Calling, Chase Jarvis (2019)

As Chase is a photographer himself, this is a book you can learn a lot from. 

From how he broke into the business without ‘paying his dues’ in the traditional way, to the creative process and how being creative can be beneficial to us in having a meaningful and fulfilling life.

This is a very practical book, which is why I like it. There’s a lot of ‘how to’, which  reminds me a bit of his friend Tim Ferris’s style of writing and experimentation with what works for himself as a creative. 

Chase draws from personal experiences and from many of the inspiring people he has invited on to his learning platform Creative Live, and his podcast, so the book is filled with wisdom and calls to action.

I got this one as an audio book as he recorded it himself and I’m used to listening to Chase on his podcast anyway.

Audio books are so convenient,  as I like to listen to them while I’m driving, or passing time, sitting the hide. It’s also a great way to really connect more with the author.

You can get it as an audiobook book for free if you sign-up with Audible 30-day free trial.

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the un-lived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” – Steven Pressfield

In this classic, Steven Pressfield talks a lot about the Resistance. Like it’s its own force that stops us from doing our work and what we now we should do or what we really want to do.  For Steven it shows up before sitting down to write.

Resistance is pretty painful – and it’s such a common experience among creatives.

For me, resistance can show up before sitting down to edit a video I’ve filmed, or it can show up when I know I should plan and research, recce and go out to really create an amazing photo of a wild animal.

Instead, resistance can strike, and I end up choosing the easy thing –  I either don’t go, or I’ll take my camera and go out for a nature walk and end up taking another average photo.

Thanks a bunch, Resistance.

I got a lot from this book because it gives me ideas and encouragement for winning those inner creative battles.

And if you’re prepared to do the work, it works.

(The Resistance also showed up before sitting down to write this blog post, FYI.)

You can get it as an audiobook book for free if you sign-up with Audible 30-day free trial.

4. The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday (2014)

“Think progress, not perfection.”

I think anyone can do with a bit of Stoic wisdom in their life, but especially creatives, who, much like a professional poker player, are doomed to ‘lose’ a lot of the time. 

We can’t expect to go out and create an award-winning photo every time we go into the field. Living up to that expectation would destroy us. Rather than striving for the ideal experience, the key lies in choosing how we feel about the experiences we have.

Choosing how we perceive events and what we focus on is much of what Stoicism is about, and I know of no better introduction to these concepts than the works of Ryan Holiday.

Holiday is very much into his philosophy, what we can learn from it and apply in everyday life. This particular book is all about learning to change how we see our challenges – learning the tools to shift our mindset to view our challenges instead as opportunities for growth.

This is a great book for anyone who gets stuck, feels held back, or just gets caught up in personal struggles. Ryan Holiday sets out a framework to turn this around – and then it’s just a matter of practising it, easier said than done, but remember it’s about the progress.

A really interesting and easy book to read.

“We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.”  – Ryan Holiday

If you want to dive a bit more into Stoicism here’s a blog post I wrote in 2018 on Introducing Stoic Philosophy to your photography!

You can get it as an audiobook book for free if you sign-up with Audible 30-day free trial.

5. Show Your Work! Austin Kleon (2014)

And it’s back to Austin Kleon!  I really like his work, and that’s why he has appeared in this list twice. This book is about something so essential to the creative, but also really overlooked and often avoided. It is about the importance of showing your work. 

Again, this is a simple book with 10 great ideas backed up by stories, quotes and drawings.

Think Process Not Product!

Sharing our work is essential as creatives.

It’s a way to get feedback and learn, and to maybe even be ‘discovered’ if our work is good enough. 

Obviously not all of our work is great, and to share it can feel really vulnerable, and high pressured – especially in the fast world of social media where we’re told or advised to share every day, if not several times a day.

Comparing ourselves to others can often really impede our ability or our enthusiasm to share what we are working on.

But this is where showing the process comes in. 

We don’t always have to share the best of the best, but we can share the process, share behind the scenes, document what we do. 

IG stories, FB stories and snaps are ideal for this and it’s the idea behind my YouTube Channel.

It’s not that I’m showing any kind of perfect product, butI am sharing the process, my process, and I hope that it inspires others.

It can be very uncomfortable – and so many people feel too shy or too exposed to do it. But this book is great for explaining the rationale, and giving you the confidence to just go out and do it.

“Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.”

And I have to stop at 5 books, otherwise, I’ll be here all day!

I think that reading and learning from others is so important to the creative process  No one finds it easy, and that’s why it’s so inspiring to hear these stories, and learn about the techniques or tricks that other people use to their success.

It helps you get out of your head and along your path.

It’s not about perfection  – it’s about progress.

None of these books will “make” you a creative, or do it for you. At the end of the day, you do still have to do the work  – and that’s what these books have really helped me to do.

If you haven’t read them – I do encourage you to try them. And if you have a favourite book or something you think I should try – leave me a comment and let me know!

“Too Many Books? I think What you mean is not enough bookshelves.”

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