Five Books That Changed My Life as a Professional Photographer

Five Books That Changed My Life as a Professional Photographer

We live in the Information Age. There is no doubt a ton of information on the Internet about photography and just about any other subject you’d care to know about. While the Internet is a great place to learn and e-books are convenient, there’s still something special about holding a printed book in your hand. I have e-books and printed books alike. For me personally, I notice that I’m more inclined to actually read a book if I’m not reading it on a screen. I prefer to put away my backlit digital devices in favor of reading a printed page. With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about five books that have helped shape my business as a professional photographer.

1. “Vision Mongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography” by David duChemin

Whether you're just getting started on your photographic journey as a hobbyist or you’re already a working pro, “Vision Mongers” is a fantastic and inspiring read. To me, this book isn't necessarily a “how to” book, but rather a unique psychological insight into a career as an image maker that focuses more on the “why” of what we do. duChemin walks you through the mindset of being an image maker and you subconsciously start to think why you started making images in the first place. duChemin speaks openly as he shares the knowledge he’s acquired through his experiences as a working professional specializing in humanitarian projects and world photography. In the first half of the book, he talks about many aspects of what image makers go through from a mental standpoint, like anxiety and comparing yourself to others. Towards the end of the book he touches on marketing, branding business, and finances. This book also features the stories of other photographers like Chase Jarvis, Zack Arias, Kevin Clark, and Grace Chon to name a few. Through reading this book, you’ll realize that photography is not a destination, it’s a journey and everyone’s photographic path is different.

2. “Photography Q&A” by Zack Arias

Arias' book, "Photography Q&A," is a really great read. He shares real-world advice from experiences he’s had in his career as a working commercial photographer. This 300-page book is packed full of information from Arias' unique point of view. Not only is this book an inspiring read, but the way it came together is equally as inspiring. Years ago, Arias started a Tumblr page that allowed you to ask him any questions you’d like about photography, a Q&A project of sorts. People asked questions about business, gear, creativity, creative burnout, and so on. After putting in hours of time, and thoroughly answering in depth 1,500 plus questions online for free, in true Arias fashion he turned this Q&A session into a beautifully crafted book. From an entrepreneur’s perspective, this idea is truly inspiring. Whether you buy the book or not, this photography Q&A lives online for free as an archive. Personally though, I prefer the beautifully printed book because it’s well designed, feels good in the hand, and Arias' images are inspiring to look at.

3. “The Copyright Zone: A Legal Guide for Artists in the Digital Age - 2nd Edition” by Edward Greenberg and Jack Reznicki

The Copyright Zone” is one of the most well written books I’ve ever seen on U.S. copyright law, period. Greenberg and Reznicki have a very unique approach to explaining the ins and outs of U.S. copyright law and what it means for artists in the digital age. This book is packed full of real life case studies and historical briefs. Sounds fun right? Well it is, because they make it that way. There are a ton of humorous illustrations to go along with these true life stories and is not only informative but entertaining at the same time. On top of all that, there is a step-by-step guide that walks you through the entire copyright process. So if you want to learn how to actually register the copyright to your work and receive the benefits of registration, this book is for you. Let me just put it this way, if you’re an artist of any kind, whether you write and compose music, create sculptures, make video content, or create photographic imagery, you need to learn how to properly protect your intellectual property if you’re going to survive as an artist.

4. ”The Designers Guide to Marketing and Pricing” by Ilise Benun and Peleg Top

You may take notice to the fact that the book has “designers” in the title. Don’t let that fool you. “The Designers Guide to Marketing and Pricing” is a great resource and these principles apply to nearly any creative business. This book covers many topics including how to define your market, how to talk about money, what you should charge, proposals, contracts, and other steps in growing your creative business. I bought this book about 10 years ago and the information in it today is still valuable.

5. “ASMP: Professional Business Practices in Photography”

The thing about business books is that there are so many of them. I think at the core of any business, the foundations are pretty similar. That said, you can easily learn something helpful that will apply to your business by reading nearly any book on business. However, as you dive deeper into your particular industry, you’ll start to learn best practices for that industry. For example, if you’re looking to start a restaurant business, the core foundations are likely the same as any other business. However, as you dive deeper into the food industry, you’ll realize that there are all of these intricacies involving food sanitation, employee wages, efficiency processes, and other standard practices for the food industry. The photography industry is no different. It has it’s own set of standard practices.

If you’re looking to build a career in photography, it’s in your best interest to have an understanding of standard practices within the photography industry. About 10 years ago, the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) put together a comprehensive book outlining professional business practices in the photography industry. “ASMP: Professional Business Practices In Photography” serves as a guide to understanding how different genres of photography operate. Hint: they are not all the same. I think this book is a real eye-opener as to the value of what we create as image makers, whether it’s for commercial, editorial, or retail use. You’ll realize that the value of an image can be completely different depending on how it’s used. This book gives you an idea of how licensing works, talks about the importance of copyright, the importance of releases, marketing, negotiating, and customer service to highlight a few.

The More You Know: Support Your Public Library

Don’t have the cash to buy these books? Then maybe step into your local public library. Yes, they still exist. With the Internet available at your fingertips, I think most people forget about their public library as being a resource for higher education. I bet you’d be surprised just how many new books they have on hand. It’s a great place to escape and get some quiet time in your hectic life as well as gather your thoughts. Plus, reading makes you smarter. Let’s face it, we as photographers spend enough time in front of our screens as it is. Give your eyes a break once in a while and enjoy a tangible, printed book.

So What About You?

What books have helped you throughout your journey as a creative professional?

Interested in Learning More About the Business of Photography?

In addition to the books that I’ve mentioned above, if you’re interested in learning more about the business of photography, I highly recommend checking out Monte Isom’s tutorial on the business of photography. I had the privilege of meeting Isom over a nice dinner this past fall, and not only is he a great storyteller, he’s extremely well versed on all things business. Check out Isom's tutorial on the Fstoppers store.

My Full-Length Tutorial on Product Photography

Fstoppers and I have collaborated to produce an in-depth tutorial on commercial product photography and post-processing. If you're interested in product photography, be sure to check out my tutorial The Hero Shot - How To Light And Composite Product Photography.

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11 Comments

Stas F's picture

Actually real books all fun and stuff until you gotta move.
Thanks for copyright one, will check it out.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

I agree, it's definitely no fun moving a ton of books around. They get heavy and take up a ton of room. But I still prefer actual books over e-books. That said, I know some of these books are available in a digital format.

Peter Nord's picture

I'm an old guy with some eye problems. I find reading a book on a phone, iPad, computer screen using white text on a black background so much easier that a paper book. Higher contrast helps a lot.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Hey Peter, I can definitely see where you're coming from here. For me personally, I just spend so much time in front of a screen, that actually prefer to read off of printed paper when possible.

Gabrielle Colton's picture

Love that you shared these, it really helps me get inspired by reading or exploring other forms of art and hearing others stories

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Excellent! Glad to hear that Gabrielle :)

Thanks for including The Copyright Zone. Ed and I appreciate it. And I totally agree with your support of public libraries. Use 'em.

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Absolutely Jack! You and Ed did a phenomenal job on this book. It's extremely well written, easy to follow and makes learning about copyright a lot of fun. Side note, I bought the original book and left a review on Amazon. Fast forward a few years, your publisher contacted me to see if I would be interested in providing my thoughts and feedback for a second edition of the book and I have to say the 2nd edition was even better! I'm glad you and Ed took the time to write that book, it's been invaluable. Cheers!

Dana Goldstein's picture

Great list, most of which I also have. Additional suggestions: Twyla Tharp's "The Creative Habit" and any of David duChemin's other books especially "The Visual Toolbox."

Brian Rodgers Jr.'s picture

Awesome! Thanks Dana, I'll be sure to check these out :)