Learning to Learn

Good books about how to develop as a photographer can be of great inspiration and bliss. Unfortunately, they are few and far between. There are plenty of good and instructive books about technique, composition, the process of capturing beautiful photographs as well as about post-processing and workflow.

However, excellent books about the learning process itself and how to approach one’s own development as a photographer, seems to be somewhat lacking. There are a few, as far as I have discovered, but most of them out there seem to me to be either very lose and general, and not giving good enough directions how to stimulate one’s own development. Or they are too bound to one way of doing things, too detailed in their approach and following too strict the authors thought patterns.

An invigorating book about photographic development gives clear insights and ideas as well as examples, but at the same time allows for each photographer to follow his or her way into a greater understanding about how to develop one’s photographic voice.

By understanding how we learn, as I wrote about in my post The Rollercoaster of Learning last week, we are better able to choose a conscious path toward mastery. But it’s never only one path that fits all. I have always been looking for books that can help in the process and yet allow for individual adjustments. Since I teach photo workshops on a regular basis, it’s only natural that I am interested in the learning process itself. However, I think most photographers may benefit hugely by understanding how you are able to develop yourself as a photographer (and of course, that is true for all art disciplines).

Three books I really have enjoyed and as such recommend are quiet different. The Passionate Photographer by Steve Simon take a broader approach, talking not only about the learning process, but also about more practical aspects of photography. As such it’s quite a complete book. Tao of Photography by Philippe L. Gross and S.I. Shapiro has a more philosophical approach. It draws upon Taoist wisdom and photographic artistry to provide insights into creativity, spirituality and awareness training (and don’t let this discourage you, it’s a great book for any photographers). Finally, The Creative Fight by Chris Orwig is more a book about creativity in general and how to develop it. However, since Orwig is a photographer himself and use a photographic reference in the book, it’s definitely one for photographers. The book teaches you about how to discover your own creative voice. All three I highly recommend (and I am not paid to say so).

As I am always looking for new books, I have a question for you: Have you come across inspirational books about creative and photographic development that you would like to recommend? I look forward to reading your suggestions.


39 thoughts on “Learning to Learn

  1. Interesting and informative post, Otto. Creative photography from the heart…shows through, imo. and is so much more interesting than that ‘perfect’ shot without soul. You have to master one before moving on to the other though, unless y’r a natural!!

  2. Thank you for these recommendations Otto. I will certainly look out for them. As you say, good books about learning and developing one’s own photographic creativity are hard to find. I agree with you and Paula Otto, we need to photograph from the heart and as such, it helps a great deal to love what you photograph! 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing these, I will have to look into them. I would love to have a great book to help me along this journey. Maybe you should write a book?

  4. I have enjoyed Feeman Patterson. He has written 12 books – I have one at my southern home and don’t remember the name. The one I have on my northern bookshelf is Photography and the Art of Seeing. The are beautiful reads and his photography is amazing.

  5. Thanks for the recommendations, Otto. I’ve been looking for a good book to help with the way I see and approach photography, and I think The Tao of Photography might be just the thing.

    I don’t have any suggestions other than this one: Maybe you should write a book. 🙂

  6. Hi Otto, I just saw Patti Smith recently promoting her book, M Train. She was incredibly inspiring discussing her early years of creative search, her processes for writing, poetry and photography…and she sang, too, which was an added thrill. However, it was her memoir, Just Kids, that struck a chord with me about her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their artistic pursuits. Constantly studying, delving, mimicking other artists and discovering new ways of seeing. A pure dedication to art.

  7. By coincidence, I recommended a book on learning and success on my blog this week: GRIT The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth. May we all keep learning!

  8. I have two books given me by a friend that I have not read fully as yet, but have had great conversations with my friend about them, who has taken some workshops from the author(s):
    Opening the Good Eye, A Path to True Seeing by Michael Wood, edited by Julie DuBose, and the second book is The Practice of Contemplative Photography by Andy Karr and Michael Wood. Truly interesting concepts and photography.
    Thank you for the three books you list in your post.

  9. While I don’t have any knowledge of books specifically about photography, I do have two that have served as touchstones for learning to see. One is Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.” The chapter on “Seeing’ is fabulous. As it happens, the bulk of the chapter is online. You can find it here. (It’s the second chapter. A bit of scrolling will get you there, although the first chapter’s good, too.)

    The other book is a collection of essays by the naturalist John Burroughs titled “The Art of Seeing Things.” It would be good for anyone, but those interested in nature photography probably would be as enthused as I am.

    1. Thank you for the two recommendations, Linda. As I am not only interested in photography, as you may have gatherer, I am delighted to expand my view and vision. I will look up both of them. 🙂

  10. I’ve been using the internet as my main source of learning, but using a new and physical resource like a book refreshes my mind. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Some great comments and recommendations here. I too conduct photography workshops. Often I will recommend upon arrival at a shooting location for the photographers leave their gear in their vehicles, at least for the first 10 min. Too many try to just start taking pictures. And that’s just what they are doing, taking pictures. No thought, no sense of where they are, no time to really feel what is around you. No time to see…just look.

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