Non-Photography Books That Every Photographer Should Read.

Modern-day yogi’s from Kelly Slater to Tim Ferries have one piece of advice in-common that I will paraphrase here; if you want to really excel at your craft, then you must always be the student, not a master, and immerse yourself into your discipline at all times.
As creative professionals we can’t always be painting, cooking, shooting etc so what we naturally do is turn from producing to seeking out inspiration and education. What many young photographers get wrong however is to only source materials that are directly connected to their discipline i.e; photography books. This is a natural mistake but I am here to tell you that technical how-to books and fancy $80 coffee table showpieces are only going to get you so far. In my experience, books from other disciplines and even fiction have informed by just as much in honing my craft as any book on photography. And since there is no shortage of recommendations out there for photography books that “YOU MUST READ LIKE NOW TO BE A SUCCESSFUL PHOTOGRAPHER” I am going to recommend three books that have nothing to do with photography but have informed me immensely on how to shoot and how to run a business.

1)Picture This

I picked this 25th-anniversary edition up in a museum gift shop about two months ago. It has a deceptive look and feel of a children’s book and I believe that is the intention. The genius behind Molly Bang’s book is her approach to break down composition and build it back up with as little words and exposition as possible. Her entire approach to the book and I believe design itself is a less is more attitude. Why do some shapes give us one feeling in the background and an entirely different impression in the foreground? Why do horizontal lines make us feel safe, and how can vertical lines make us feel lost and afraid?

2) George Nelson: How To See

Any architect, industrial designer, an engineer probably read this book as a freshman in college. This is a book about becoming visually literate in the world around us. Design, typography, imagery all influence how we move throughout our world and this classic book help us understand why well-designed works, work on us so well on us. Good design, signage, type treatment and of course photography all begin with understanding your audience. It begins with empathy. This book is not going to teach you how to be empathic in your work, you have to figure that out for yourself, however, it will teach you to see your city, airport, highways, menus, and art in 3d technicolor.

What the first two books have in common is their connection with the design field, but I promise you that the next book on my list may surprise you as it has zero obvious links to anything in the creative industry.

3) Ender’s Game

That right. Ender’s Game. The classic science fiction adventure that will always hold a special place in my heart. The truth is that there are so many little lessons to extrapolate from this classic hero story. I do see this book as a modern day “Art Of War” as I see it filled with many lessons that are analogous to business, relationships, politics etc. For the purposes of our conversation, I want to point out that this book helps me not only understand the value of competition but embrace it and at times even welcome it. The main character, Ender, is a blend of Harry Potter and Walter White. The unlikely reclusive hero who is fighting for his life. Both heroes only begin to thrive once they take ownership of their lot in life, accept uncomfortable challenges and failure is the only way to grow. Like I said, there a lot more to the book than that and if you read it, you will likely walk away with a different interpretation but I can tell you that this story really motivated me to embrace change and hardships along my road to success. Side note, Enders Game was made in a movie, and like so many great works of my childhood, the Hollywood version is absolutely terrible so don’t bother.

4) The Secret Lives Of Colour

This is the book that inspired this post. In truth, I am only halfway through. This book rearranges world history, art history and the history of fashion through the lens of color theory. Each chapter is short and sweet and covers one color at a time. Why are western wedding dresses white? When did magenta start becoming pink? Why did ancient Greeks describe water and blood with the same color? What are colors communicating to us subliminally and is that culture or biology? Just brilliant.

  • Alex Martinez
  • Photosophic, Inc ©2019

Connectivity & Authenticity

Most photographs you will see in your lifetime are of strangers. Individuals whom you have never met or will never see again can feel familiar when a photographer can translate something personal to and even intimate about the subject. The master stroke is when you can learn something about yourself while caught in the trance of a great portrait but thats another topic.

A trademark of a good portrait makes you forget that your are looking at photograph. You know when you are looking at a great portrait when that stranger looking back at you feels familiar. If the photograph sparks an emotional connection, recalls memories or seems to suspend time because it caught you and turned what otherwise would be a quick glance, into a long lasting vacant stare.

It is for this reason I find the pursuit of the perfect portrait one of the most rewarding challenges in photography. It is analogous to the surfer’s lifelong hung for the perfect wave. That is my personal philosophy behind it. My methods of this pursuit are under constant evolution but there are some techniques that I have come to understand very well.

An authentic connection between you and your subject will inherently translate to an authentic connection between your subject and your audience. This is not a photographic technique, its a human trait. Empathy is rarely mimicked successfully from a non-sociopath. To help inspire a connection, as a photographer how you control the set is key. Think of what it must be like to have your photo taken for hours a day. Despite you being a professional photographer, you are still a stranger. Having your photo taken by a stranger, in a room full of strangers inspires a bit of anxiety so you need to do everything you can to curb the anxiety. A calm, clean fun atmosphere is a good first step. Music, friendly atmosphere and a lack of chaos on your set are key elements. To achieve a real rapport and connection once you begin shooting I rely on a proper lens choice. My 85mm, compared to other portrait lens’ is my lens of choice as it allows a closer proximity between me and whomever is in front of me. Other portrait lens’ though may have unique light and bokhen qualities, they can require upto 20’ of distance and a detachment to person in-front of your camera. It is a simple element but one of the most important. Do not take it for granted.

Along with this post are a few shots an impromptu shoot at my studio with Nalani Ravelo and Candice Hynson.

  • Alejandro Martinez - Photography
  • Nalani Ravelo - Modeling / Wilhelmina International
  • Candice Hynson - Wardrobe Styling

Testing 1-2-1-2

Since I was in my early twenties I have always been envious of musicians ability to just pick up their instruments and jam together. As a student of standup comedy, I also harbor jealously of the value that open-mic nights have to a comedian in effort to prepare for their Netflix special. In that regard it is not unlike athletes who come together up to 7 days a week to practice for the upcoming game. Their are few other crafts that have a build-in paths & routines to help it’s community network and pursue perfection. For us in what I like to call a “set-life”, we have only one avenue to workout ideas, learn techniques and strengthen professional bonds but all to often the test-shoot slips further down the list of priorities as our business grows.

Testing is something models, hair & makeup artists, wardrobe stylists & photographers all do early on in their careers but seldom keep up the practice as their business grows. Let’s be clear, time becomes more & more precious as your career advances and I often struggle to make time to test on a regular basis. Every-time I begin a test-shoot though, I am immediately thrilled that I made time as soon as I begin composing the first photograph. What test-shoots really are, are an arena where creative professionals can practice, experiment, network and hone their craft. These shoots are instrumental to grow as an artist and thus further the medium itself. However as the artist begins to gain success, these shoots fall off our calendar.

To help illustrate my point of the immense value that test-shoots can have, I would like give you some backstory to my recent test-shoot. The original concept was to create conceptual portraiture on-location at a newly redesigned mansion in Northern California. Big flowy gowns, color, unique lighting all with grand staircases & great halls as a backdrop. Between myself and the team, it took about a month of coordinated schedules and flushing out ideas until we all committed to one plan and date that made sense with our sensibilities as artists and equally important, our schedules. And wouldn’t you know it, the night before the shoot the location falls through. Everything is thrown up in the air and I for one almost had defeatist reaction. But after a few moments I pinged the group with something along the lines of “Lets shoot anyways. Everyone just meet at my place with whatever you would like to bring to the table to lets just do it.” Within a few minuets we had rough outline of a new concept with wardrobe and a new beauty approach to compliment it. We could have backed out. We could have tried to rescheduled with the property owner most likely a month later. We could have come up with any number of excuses of why not to try something but the point was to get together and shoot. The concept was secondary.

We abandoned the original concept for simple, clean, portraiture that balances natural & artificial light. A more personal and less conceptual target. A complete 180º from our initial idea. Look 1 & 2 is all natural light as I like the challenge of restraining my self to a few tools. I worked hard to bend and cut available light indoors to obtain proper exposure.

My only talent is surrounding myself with individuals more talented than I. Thank you to Hannah Tokuno, Camille Moniquie and Shannon Yen.

Have a happy & productive week. Thank you.

  • Alejandro Martinez - Photography
  • Hannah Tokuno - Modeling / Stars Management
  • Camille Moniquie - Beauty
  • Shannon Yen - Wardrobe Styling

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