Some Of My Favorite Books This Year

I love to read, and so far this year I’ve read more than any other year of my life. One major reason is because I try and make sure I always have something to read wherever I am. And while I love physical books, they are no match to e-readers when it comes to convenience and access to your personal library.

My preference these days is a Kindle Fire HDX – relatively small and lightweight, and easy to carry anywhere. It has my large collection of ebooks, plus notes and highlights, which I can easily search at any time. With access to millions of free and paid books, there’s no excuse not to read more. And when it comes to personal growth, time spent reading is an investment to last a lifetime.

The following are some of my favorite reads so far in 2014.


The Creative Life in Photography (Photography and the Creative Process) by Brooks Jensen
Brooks Jensen is the publisher of Lens Work, an excellent magazine dedicated to fine art black and white photography, and highly respected in the photographic community. (By the way, if you haven’t checked out Lens Work Magazine, I highly recommend it!) This book is a compilation of his best articles from the magazine over the years, providing lots of philosophical opinions and practical advice. You won’t find any how-to’s in this book, but what you will get is inspiration to ask the big important questions about your photography. What makes art, what defines excellence, and keys to productivity are just some of the great subjects covered.

“Let go of photography and make art. By that I mean recognize the highest purpose of photography as art is to communicate and connect with your fellow human beings.”

Overall a great book for those looking to move beyond taking pictures, and exploring a deeper purpose in photography.


Mastery by Robert Greene
What did all of the great masters from today and yesterday have in common? How can we apply these common traits to our own lives. What does true mastery entail? These and many more questions are explored in this expansive and well researched book. Drawing from great masters of the past such as Mozart, Da’Vinci. Goethe, Einstein, Darwin, Coltrane, and many others, we get a behind the scenes look at how these individuals achieved greatness in their respective fields.

Robert Greene defines mastery as a sensation – the feeling that you have a greater command of reality, other people, and yourself. While you might experience this feeling for a short period, and struggle to find it again, for others—masters of their field—it becomes their way of life. And most importantly, the book describes a process that can lead to mastery for anyone of us. Three phases are defined in the book that show the progression towards excellence – Apprenticeship, Creative-Active, and Mastery. Each is thoroughly explained and lots of examples are given from those who have traveled along this path.

“Mastery is not a question of genetics or luck, but of following your natural inclinations and the deep desire that stirs you from within. Everyone has such inclinations. This desire within you is not motivated by egotism or sheer ambition for power, both of which are emotions that get in the way of mastery. It is instead a deep expression of something natural, something that marked you at birth as unique.”

I don’t think I’ve ever taken more notes from any book than this one, photography specific books included. I’ll be re-reading this one may times, and have already purchased a few copies for friends.


Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon
While the majority of how-to books focus on making art, this book is a refreshing and much needed look at getting noticed and finding an audience. Many dislike the idea of the artist who seeks out an audience, thinking instead that getting discovered purely by the greatness of your work is somehow more idealistic. But what this book addresses is not self- promotion, but rather what Austin Kleon calls becoming findable. It’s a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. And counting myself as one of those people, I found it very much in line with my own preference to earn the respect of an audience. That involves sharing your work in a way that benefits others, and brings attention to your creativity and artistry without an egocentric approach.
More importantly, it lets you become a resource for others, and in doing so lets you stay creative and gain an audience.

“Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.”

This and many other great ideas are shared in this book, and again I found myself taking lots of notes and re-thinking some of the ways I have shared my work in the past. Overall a great and easy to read book.

Have you read any books recently you’d like to share? Please let us know below!

Some Thoughts On My First Published Ebook Plus Some Useful Resources

It’s been over three months since I released my first ebook Insights From Beyond the Lens: The Art & Craft of Landscape Photography , and the feedback and response has been overwhelmingly positive to say the least.

To date it’s been downloaded over 3,500 times, with the ratio of iPad to PDF roughly 50/50. I was honestly surprised by this, but I guess that just shows how many people are buying and using iPads for reading. In fact the reason I made the iPad multi-touch version was because I think it’s a better reading and learning experience than pdf. With the release of the new iPad mini, I think this trend will continue to grow as the price point gets lower and lower for iPad’s in general. I’ve decided all of my future ebooks will be designed as a multi-touch version for iPad first, and then I’ll convert to pdf and Kindle.

It’s also been downloaded in over 20 countries, although mostly in the US as I expected. In fact, the first day I published it, someone from Belgium emailed to ask when it would be available there – incredible. It’s amazing to me that the ability to write and distribute a book all over the world from my desktop was unimaginable just 10 years ago. It has certainly opened my eyes to the tremendous potential that ebooks offer, and publishing is definitely a big part of my future as both a photographer and instructor.

Reviews

Below are a few reviews of the Insights ebook – I also recommend you check out their respective websites for some great photography and resources.

Writing Your Own Ebook

If you have any interest in writing your own ebook, there has never been a better time to self-publish. The technology and tools are readily available, and the internet is your gateway to finding your target audience regardless of where you live. Here are some of the tools I use to write my ebooks as well as some resources.

Writing

  • Byword – my prefered plain text and markdown writing app, simply great for both the desktop and mobile. I use it for the blog as well, and I’m using it right now.
  • Scrivener – simply a brilliant app available for Mac and Windows for long form writing. I use it for ebooks and other lengthy writing projects. From Scrivener, I transfer it to iBooks Author or Apple Pages depending on the final destination. It can also export epub format for the various ebook readers on the market.

Research

  • Evernote – my digital filing cabinet. Everything goes into Evernote where it syncs between my desktop and iOS devices. I maintain a dedicated notebook for each writing project, and just dump ideas, quotes, photos, and other snippets of information. When it comes time to write, I have a nice database of reference material.
  • Mr Reader – great iOS app for keeping track of all the blogs I read on a regular basis.
  • Zite – another great iPad app for discovering articles on a variety of topics

Layout and Publishing

  • iBooks Author 2 – the app that creates the magic on the iPad. Amazing multi-touch capabilities that provide interactivity, image galleries, and lots of other cool features I’m just starting to explore on my new ebook.
  • Apple Pages – When I want to layout pages for pdf or epub format, Pages is a great choice, especially if you don’t have Scrivener.

Finally, here’s a great resource with lots of info on ebook writing and publishing:
How to Write and Publish eBooks

I hope this is helpful for anyone who’s intersted in pursuing more writing or even publishing an ebook. I really think writing is a skill that complements photography extremely well, especially if you’re trying to market and sell your own work.

If you have any questions or feedback, please leave them in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for reading!

My Current Reading List on the iPad

Taking a reading break with my favorite tea - Mighty Leaf tropical green

I think it’s fair to say I have a book habit – I love collecting and reading books. While I still enjoy and buy “real” books, most of my reading has been on a tablet for the past few years. Coffee table books are great, but nothing beats the convenience of carrying a whole bookshelf worth of books in a device smaller than a magazine. You can touch any word and instantly get the definition, add notes and highlights, and change the size and color of the text or background for day or night reading. The days of having the backseat of my car layered with books are over for good.

I started on Amazon’s original Kindle, and upgraded to the Kindle 2 when it was released. However, the first iPad quickly became my reader of choice once I read my first book on it. It was in color, had a bigger screen, and had that Apple elegance and user experience that’s hard to describe until you actually experience it yourself. I even tried the Kindle Fire for a while, but I kept coming back to the iPad and its superior screen and user interface. The new generation of interactive media rich books and magazines for the iPad are great, and I’m sure we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

I enjoy reading all sorts of books that I find interesting and stimulating, and my current iPad 2 makes carrying a large library around extremely easy. I split my time between the Kindle app and Apple’s iBooks app, but prefer the iBooks app for it’s better book management and support for the epub format (the most common format for ebooks). I also like the way it handles PDF files so I use it to store and read my growing PDF library. Most books are now usually available at both Amazon or the iTunes book store, so I usually choose the better price.

While I have not upgraded to the new iPad, photographs on the new retina display look incredible, and that may tip the scales for me at some point in the future.

Anyhow, here’s a list of what I’ve been reading over the past few months, and I’ve got a pretty long que which should keep me busy for the rest of the year.

The Visual Story – Bruce Block – visual design, composition, storytelling, all great concepts explained in this book geared towards film makers, but equally applicable to photographers.


Photographically Speaking – David duChemin – a great primer for beginners and advanced photographers alike, plus many great examples and photo critiques that help understand what makes an image work.


Writing Down the Bones -Natalie Goldberg – explore the inner workings of the creative process, and so applicable to photography.


Van Gogh – Stephen Naifeh – an in-depth biography of this influential but mentally disturbed painter, lots of great insight and historical perspective on art at the end of the 19th century. I love reading biographies, and this one is one of my favorites.


Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson – amazing story of tis iconic thinker and his influence on all of our lives over the past 25 years.


No Death, No Fear - Thich Nhat Hanh –  teacher and poet examines our concepts of death, fear, and the very nature of existence.

Would love to hear your comments and feedback, or questions in general about the iPad – thanks!

 

7 Things I’m Enjoying Right Now

Inspired by a recent post on another blog, I thought it might be worthwhile to share some of the things I have been enjoying in my life over the last few months ( and some for much longer) in hope that it might inspire you in some way or another in your creative endeavors. While this is somewhat off topic of what I normally talk about, mainly the art and craft of landscape photography, it was fun to put together, especially as we come to the end of another great year and think about what waits for us in 2012.

1-Vegan Diet

I’ve written here before about physical conditioning and how it can improve your nature photography. Exercise goes hand in hand with nutrition however, and since June 1 of this year, I have been eating a mostly 95% vegan diet. I say 95% because while I have been a vegetarian for 10 years or so, I still sneak in some animal foods such as cheese and turkey on Thanksgiving. This is not an absolute issue for me, but more of a general guideline about what I eat and don’t eat. But since committing to the vegan diet, which basically means no animal products of any kind, I have definitely noticed some major improvements in how I feel and perform on and off the trail. I have more energy, sleep less and can get up earlier without feeling groggy, and just feel healthier overall than I ever have. It can be a challenge, especially when eating out, but there are plenty of resources online to find good delicious food and get plenty of protein.

Extra: Becoming Vegan: The Complete Guide to Adopting a Healthy Plant-Based Diet

2-VitaMix Blender

When I committed to a vegan diet, I decided to try having regular green smoothies that would pack a nutritional punch and make eating fruits and veggies much more appealing and palatable. I quickly discovered our run of the mill blender would not be up to the task, so I invested in a Vitamix blender. While not inexpensive, it has been well worth the money. It easily turns whole fruits and veggies into smooth and creamy smoothies that are also delicious. Most days of the week I’ll have the following smoothie for breakfast, then may follow it with another recipe for lunch. I would probably never sit down to eat this on a plate, but as a smoothie I look forward to it every morning.

  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 1 whole carrot
  • 1/2 banana
  • 1/2 avocado
  • 1 slice yellow pepper
  • 1/2 apple
  • 1 cup spinach
  • 1 broccoli floret
  • 2 teaspoons hemp protein
  • 1 cup ice

3-Kindle Fire

As many of you know I am a very avid reader, so any device that allows me to read more is definitely valuable to me. While I do have an iPad, I prefer the size and dedicated nature of the Kindle Fire when I just want to read, and not get distracted by other apps, the web, email, games, etc. It is easier to hold and carry, and it integrates seamlessly with all of Amazon’s services, ie. books, music, videos, etc. As an instructor, I am always reading photo related books to stay on top of new technology, as well as learning more about classic concepts that never age. For $199, it is a small price to pay for what I get out of it.

4-Panasonic GH2

I picked this camera up primarily for its video features, and it has not disappointed. I am in the middle of filming several projects (more info soon), and the video quality is fantastic for capturing high detailed scenes such as landscapes and nature in general.

There is also a hack available (which I have installed) , that increases the bit rate from 24mps to upwards of 88mps, and transforms this camera into a serious tool rivaling cameras costing thousands more.

5-Final Cut Pro  X

There has been ongoing debate in the world of video editing about Final Cut Pro X and whether Apple abandoned their existing user base by completely rewriting this application. Leaving that aside, in my opinion this is the best version of Final Cut Pro Apple has ever produced. My favorite features include: easy importing of digital files in several formats, the magnetic timeline, advanced keywording and metadata for managing video footage, and easy sharing to several web services and devices, ie iPad, AppleTV, Youtube, Vimeo, and Blu Ray.

Sure it creates several problems for those with a huge dependency on projects done in FCP 7, but this is the future of video editing for sure. Otherwise, this is a must have application for anyone serious abouy video editing, whether with traditional video cameras, or the latest crop of HDSLR’s. I’ll be offering a course in FCP X in the near future, stay tuned…

6-Landscape Photography Magazine

I discovered this beautifully produced  online magazine several months ago, and it is a refreshing and well produced look at landscape photography today. Short on ads and other advertising, it is packed with great photos, photographer portfolios, and in depth articles on everything from processing, camera technique, locations, and overall inspiration. Plus it looks great on the iPad. The first six issues were free, but now they are charging a very moderate subscription fee of $9.50/yr. I highly recommend it!

Landscape Photography Magazine

7-Yoga

Each time I practice yoga I learn something new about my body and mind. From increased strength, flexibility, and balance, to better concentration, mindfulness, and patience, these are all things I can apply directly to my work behind the camera. And the most incredible thing is it doesn’t really take that much effort. I started with 20 mins a day over 3 years ago, and now I am up to 45min 5 days a week. The important thing is consistency, regardless of how little you do each day. It is cumulative, just like practice is whether working in Lightroom, or with a favorite lens. The more you invest regularly, the more you get out of it.

Extra: The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Volume I

Bonus: 8-Teaching Workshops

I love to teach, and mostly because of the satisfaction I get from giving to others something that is truly worthwhile to them. Inspiring someone to see something differently, make a new image, experience a special moment in a way that they might not have noticed before. These are the reasons that keep me motivated to share what I have learned in my own journey as a nature photographer. Giving of yourself is one of the greatest gifts imaginable, and it is the basis of how I approach teaching and life in general. While I did not discover this til later in life, I am grateful nonetheless, and proves it is never too late for anything in life.

Extra: Beyond the Lens Photo Workshops

As always, thanks for reading, and I’d love to get your feedback or questions about anything I’ve mentioned above. What are you enjoying that is making a difference in your life or your photography?

My Favorite Photography Books of 2010

Reading is a huge part of my life, and has been for as long as I can remember. Every year I try to read as many books as possible on many diverse subjects, from photography, painting, and art in general, to history, health, marketing and business.

This past year I set a goal to read one book a week, and though I fell short, I managed to actually ready 35 books, plus countless magazine articles, essays, blog posts, etc. There is no question that the Amazon Kindle and later the iPad played a big part in my ability to get this much reading done. I don’t leave my home without the iPad (I gave the Kindle to my wife) knowing that at any idle moment, I can select from any number of books to read regardless of where I am.

I still purchase and enjoy traditional books, such as coffee table photo books (my favorite actually), and books I want to be able to reference and browse easily such as reference and technical books, the one downfall to digital books in my opinion. But ebooks are the future and with dedicated devices for reading them becoming more affordable, there’s no better time to take advantage of the conveniences they offer.

While many of the photography books I read were technical, my favorites were the ones I drew inspiration from and made me want to get my camera out and make images!

Here are my favorites!


1) Creative Landscape Photography (Guy Tal) – this ebook is a complete photography workshop in landscape photography, covering all aspects of the art and craft from creativity, composition, processing and presentation. Guy is a great photographer as well as a talented writer, and this combination really helps to make the concepts explained understandable both conceptually and visually. It is beautifully laid out with Guy’s images and clear, passionate writing based on real world experience, the best kind in my opinion. In addition to this book, I highly recommend Guy’s blog where he writes about many of the ideas discussed in the book.

2) William Neil’s Yosemite (Volume I) – absolutely incredible imagery from Yosemite National Park from a true master of nature photography. I have been an admirer of William’s work for quite some time, and this book really inspires with so many unique and visually powerful images that any photographer can learn much from. Living and working in Yosemite since 1977, he has managed to create a unique and unmistakable style that I turn to for ideas and creative inspiration over and over again.

3) Visual Poetry (Chris Orwig) – another great instructional book that covers a lot of ground, yet never strays from the fundamentals – principles that separate a good image from a great one. Information on everything from camera gear to shooting different styles, yet Chris never deviates far from the core message about originality, vision, and hard work as the keys to great photography – very inspirational for those times when I need a spark of new ideas.

4) Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky (Art Wolfe) – This is not a new book, but I finally purchased my own hard cover copy this year, and it is always on my living room table. Art’s photography has had a HUGE influence on me over the years, and this book is a true testament to his status as one of the greatest landscape photographers of our time.

5) From Stills To Motion (Richard Harrington & others) – If you have a DSLR that shoots video, and want to explore new creative avenues with moving images, this book is for you. This was my go to reference book when I started using DSLR’s for my own video projects, and it continues to be a great source of information for future projects I am working on.

6) The War of Art (Steven Pressfield) – not technically a photo book, but a must read for anyone who wants to understand the creative life, and what it takes to succeed. In this modern world of constant distractions and competition for your time, Steven lays out philosophical as well as practical approaches to combating resistance and getting creative work done that is so important to growing as an artist. I really enjoyed this book, and will be re-reading it again very soon – it is refreshing, edgy, and full of motivation and practical exercises – highly recommended.

Do you have any book recommendations you’d like to share? I’d love to know what you read this year that was inspirational!