I dislike the term “self-help” as it implies we’re a bit pathetic, and need an american style motivation tape to get us out of bed in the mornings. “Personal growth”, I feel is much more appropriate, as we’re all essentially OK, but a little direction here and there can make a world of difference. As my tutor from college used to put it, as we progress through life we can’t hope to become completely different people, but we can hope to become better versions of ourselves. Maybe some of us need to spend time working on self-discipline, whilst others need to confront their fears about shooting creative work as opposed to just commercial. Either way, I feel that being embarrassed about reading such books is a little old-fashioned. Mind you, I still don’t read them on the bus!
One important caveat I should add is that none of these books will change your life on their own. In many cases the problems/issues they are addressing are deep-seated personal habits, and in a similar way to giving up something like smoking, they won’t change overnight. If you expect to simply read through each book like a novel, and then magically to be cured of your fear/lack of self-discipline/insert your problem here, you’ll be disappointed. What these books will do is kind of guide your way for you, and provide you with tools and methods to lead a fuller life – it’s up to you whether you use the tools or not.
“Art and Fear”, by David Bayles and Ted Orland. A superb little tome (you’ll finish it in a day or so.) Concerns itself with the inherent fears involved in producing work that is different, and how we deal with it. If you’re trying to move your career on, or feel like your photography is stuck in a rut, start here. At left brain, turn right, by Anthony Meindl. A superb course in rediscovering your creativity. The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp. Along the same lines as the Meindl book above, but with some distinctly individual twists. Her emphasis on “scratching” should ring a lot of bells for those of us trained in the art of “sourcebanking“. “Feel the Fear and do it Anyway”, by Susan Jeffers. Something of a classic this, and rightly so, as it deals with all the ares of your life where you may be held back by fear. We’re not talking about the “swimming with sharks” kind of fear, but the ultimately irrational “can’t pick up the phone and get new work” kind of fear. Highly recommended. “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron. Similar to “Art and Fear” this is essential reading for those who feel they’ve strayed off the path a little bit. If, for example you were full of ideas and inspiration at college, and destined to be the next Nick Knight, and yet you currently find yourself shooting pack shots of shampoo bottles, then I’d recommend reading this book! Scarcity, by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir. Strictly speaking, a book about economics, but like most good economics books, it’s really about human behaviour. Has some fascinating explanations as to how we behave when under pressure – when we’re suffering from “Scarcity” – either of time or money.
Any book you like, by Richard Wiseman. I’ve read several – The Luck Factor, 59 Seconds, and Quirkology, off the top of my head. At times, like many psychology/self-help authors, it can feel a bit gimmicky, but there’s so much useful stuff I’m more than willing to tolerate that. “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. The original success manual, first written in 1937, and it probably inspired more people than all the rest put together. Essential reading really, if you can ignore the slightly materialistic approach it often takes, and his obsession with huge business magnates. If you read between the lines just a little a much better title would be “Think and become abundant” because essentially the methods he espouses can be applied to success/riches in the broadest sense, something that he only alludes to briefly. This link goes to the original text – apparently there’s a whole heap of different versions out there, some of which differ enormously from this version. The 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss. Bit of a marmite one here – I know people who really hate Mr Ferriss, but you can probably guess I don’t count myself amongst them. He’s written 4 bestselling books, and has one of the most popular podcasts in the world. Lots of his stuff is great, but it’s the sections in 4 Hour Work Week that focus on concentration and achieving your dreams that I’d suggest you start with
From the same “stable” as Tim Ferriss, get stuck into Chase Jarvis – both his own blog, and many of the resources on Creative Live. Whilst you’re at it, check out Ramit Sethi, who, if nothing else, taught me a superb mental trick that has allowed me to sleep much better for the past couple of years!
Business and Finance.
“The Elephant and the Flea” by Charles Handy. Some of this book may seem a little large scale for someone who runs a one-man business, but if you read it closely you’ll find a superb analysis of how to make your way as a “Flea” in a world of “Elephants”. “My Mamiya made me a Million”, by Keith Cogman. What can I say? This book, and this bloke’s attitude towards photography and learning is one of the reasons this site exists. His approach is wonderfully accessible, he hides nothing from the reader about how a photographic business is run, and whilst some of the info may now be a little out of date, chapters such as “Meeting People and Caring” will never lose their relevance, and are applicable to every branch of professional photography. “Beyond the Lens”, By the Association of Photographers. Should be compulsory reading for any student of photography who is actually serious about making a living, and most photographers keep a copy by them for reference purposes. Includes information on copyright, licensing, codes of practice, contracts, working ethics, insurance, tax and financial matters, as well as an appendix with template forms for model releases, licences, invoices etc. It’s also being continually updated. This link goes to the online version where you can buy one outright, or buy it chapter by chapter – how very clever. “Financial Management for the Small Business”, by Colin Barrow. Does exactly what it says on the tin, but in a very accessible and approachable way, given that most of us hide under the duvet when anyone mentions finance. “Best Business Practices for Photographers”, by John Harrington. John is a very successful commercial photographer over in America, and what this book does is detail all the nitty gritty bits that go into running a business as a photographer – something I’m having my own crack at with this blog. If you’re working America this should be a compulsory purchase, and even if you’re not all the sections about psychology, professional presentation, dealing with clients and so on are essential reading. For those of us outside the US the finance sections are a little irrelevant, but only because they are so specific and tax laws vary so much from country to country. How to be a Graphic Designer without losing your soul, by Adrian Shaughnessy. Obviously not strictly about photography, but ignoring a few of the “design” specifics, a huge amount of what he has to say is relevant to any freelance creative.
This post forms part of my suggested reading list for photographers. Other posts in the series are: