The Best Books I Read in 2018

The Best Books I Read in 2018


When I was a kid I hated reading. The books we had to read in school didn’t interest me. I dreaded taking the Accelerated Reader tests. In high school I started reading books and magazines about photography but still wasn’t big on reading much else. It wasn’t until well after I graduated from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 that I grew to love reading. In 2014 I started reading more, and now reading is one of my favorite hobbies. I have a very eclectic and esoteric taste in books. In 2018 I read seventy six books on topics as diverse as nootropics, minimalism, pipe smoking, Sigmund Freud, old timey medicinal practices, social awkwardness, personal finance, aesthetics, etiquette, and the scottish covenanters. As I looked thru my goodreads to see which books receiving a 5 star rating I would talk about in this blog post I was surprised that only one book I read this year dealt directly with photography. Ansel Adam’s classic The Camera: which held up surprisingly well despite its age and the advancements in technology. Here are some of my favorite books I read in 2018 on topics ranging from business to non-fiction to theology.

The Thank You Economy – Gary Vaynerchuk

The Thank You Economy is one of the best business books I’ve read in some time. Gary Vee’s books are far less crass than his podcasts and videos, which I appreciate. Some of the major themes in the book are summarized in the last chapter of the book.

“Care—about your customers, about your employees, about your brand—with everything you’ve got.

Erase any lines in the sand—don’t be afraid of what’s new or unfamiliar.

Show up first to market whenever possible, early the rest of the time.

Instill a culture of caring into your business by:

Being self-aware

Mentally committing to change

Setting the tone through your words and actions Investing in your employees

Hiring culturally compatible DNA, and spotting it within your existing team

Being authentic—whether online or offline, say what you mean, and mean what you say

Empowering your people to be forthright, creative, and generous

Speak your customers’ language.

Allow your customers to help you shape your brand or business, but never allow them to dictate the direction in which you take it.

Build a sense of community around your brand.

Arrange for traditional and social media to play Ping-Pong and extend every conversation. Direct all of your marketing initiatives toward the emotional center, and to the creative extremes.

Approach social media initiatives with good intent, aiming for quality engagements, not quantity.

Use shock and awe to blow your customers’ minds and get them talking.

If you must use tactics, use “pull” tactics that remind consumers why they should care about your brand. If you’re small, play like you’re big; if you’re big, play like you’re small.

Create a sense of community around your business or your brand.

Don’t be afraid to crawl before you run.”

Sleep Smarter:  21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to A Better Body, Better Health, and Bigger Success – Shawn Stevenson

Since graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography in 2013 I have struggled off an on with insomnia. This is primarily due to my inconsistent sleep cycle from being self employed. Sleep Smarter greatly helped me sleep better in 2018. Stevenson doesn’t just give practical things to start and stop doing but explains the science behind why these practices work. Using these techniques I was able to wean myself off of melatonin and get on a far better sleep cycle for the majority of the year.

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse In The Age Of Show Business – Neil Postman

I found a copy of Postman’s classic for ninety-nine cents at Goodwill in Mt Pleasant. Postman shows how we are headed towards the Huxleyan dystopia of Brave New World due to our obsession with entertainment and how we got to this point. Not a happy read but an eye opening one.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir Of A Family and Culture In Crisis – JD Vance

JD Vance’s autobiographical Hillbilly Elegy tells the story of the author’s impoverished upbringing in Kentucky and Ohio and how he later became a Marine then Yale graduate. Raw and vulgar at points but necessary. One of my biggest takeaways from this book was the importance of social capital.

Living In God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Approach To Christianity and Culture – David VanDrunen

My church went thru David VanDrunen’s Living In God’s Two Kingdoms during our Christian Education classes in late 2018. VanDrunen goes into detail explaining the common kingdom, rooted in the Noahic covenant, and the redemptive kingdom, rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. Learning about two kingdom theology has greatly impacted how I practically live my life and is the reason I have joined several of the organizations I am involved with.

I hope to read at least a book a week in 2019. To see more of what I am currently reading check out my Goodreads profile.

Really Don’t Mind if You Sit this One Out: My Love of Music

 

This is another personal post where you get to learn more about the man behind the camera.

Since I was fairly young I have had a love of music. I still remember as a young kid helping my dad work on his model train layout while he had the 70s progressive rock band Yes playing in the background. I think this played a major role in me later growing to love progressive rock (commonly referred to by the short hand prog).

Even though I have enjoyed listening to music from a young age I have never spent much time learning how to play music. I had a friend who could play guitar and I remember staying up late with him one night as he tried to show me how to play some basic riffs. I kept failing miserably, so he got frustrated and I eventually gave up. Since I had had approximately eight years of martial arts experience, the muscle memory in my hands has been trained to go in certain directions far different from where they need to be to play guitar (or similar instrument). I figure retaining the muscle memory for self defense is more practical than learning an instrument.

This interest (and appreciation) for music was heightened when I was in college by a lecture from my professor David Turner. DT (as we called him) gave a lecture about appreciating other craftsmen (regardless of trade). This lecture really stuck with me and helped me learn to appreciate other art forms such as music.

 

After college (when I started to become influenced by sounder theology) I was very convicted that I had let music an idol for me. I was wasting to much time listening to music and some of the things I was listening to were to vulgar. I almost cut out music from my life altogether. As C.S. Lewis wrote about in his famous book “The Screwtape Letters” the devil’s always encourage extremes. In 2015 and 2016 I was so focused on studying things and redeeming the time that even the Lord’s Day was so full of reading theological books that I never really rested. In 2017 I decided to make an active choice of incorporating rest and some leisure activities into my schedule. One of these things was music. I went thru my iTunes and looked thru the lyrics of the various albums I had on their. A few were removed due to having things I couldn’t listen to in good conscious but most got to stay. I still won’t listen to music if it has vulgar or raunchy lyrics even if it is in the style of music I like.

A lot of people who have met me more recently are surprised that I have always enjoyed music so much. Because I had made it into an idol at a young age I’m very intentional about not spending much money, time, or thought on it as I did when I was younger. I also think the obsession many people have with music (especially less aesthetically pleasing genres) helps contribute to the perpetual youth culture which plagues my generation. Therefore I keep this pastime to a minimum to prevent it from becoming an idol.

 

 

As I had stated prior my favorite genre of music is prog rock. I almost exclusively listen to this genre. There are other styles of music such as classical, jazz, and jam bands that every time I hear them I enjoy, but I have yet to delve deeply into those styles like I have with prog. I particularly like prog because it has always strived to take rock music to a higher form of art than other subgenres of rock music. Many of its albums are conceptual telling a story and has very technical virtuoso musicianship. The length of many songs (and their complexity) border on that of classical music with a few of my favorite songs being over 20 minutes long. Prog also heavily borrows from various other genres such as jazz, classical, folk, and rock creating unique musical compositions.

Even though I think he would probably deem the prog rock genre a type of pop music, a YouTube video by Roger Scruton called The Tyranny of Pop Music perfectly describes (in a far better way than I can) why I like this complex thought provoking music over the common radio friendly pop songs. Charles Spurgeon mentions in one of his sermons that there is a learning curve to appreciate art and I think that is especially true of this genre of music. It takes time to appreciate songs over 20 minutes long with extensive soloing all with a fantasy story interwoven between the various other songs on the album. For those interested in the genre this article from The American Conservative is a great start and written far better than anything I could write.

My Faith

 

This is another personal post where you get to know more about the man behind the camera.

I’m a Christian. This means that I believe that all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, and are deserving of God’s punishment. God did not leave us in despair though. He was merciful. God has sent his only begotten son into the world, who lived a perfect holy life, was crucified on the cross, died, buried, rose again, and will come again to judge the quick and the dead. I believe that all who take hold of the righteousness of Christ by faith alone will be saved. I encourage those who read this who are not Christians to repent of their sins and to believe in Christ alone as their savior. I also adhere to the ecumenical creeds of the Christian church. More specifically I adhere to the Westminster Confession of Faith which I believe to be the best summation of what scripture teaches. I am a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This post (arguably being my most personal thus far) recounts how I have came to where I am now faith wise.

When I was in elementary school I attended saint Cecilia Catholic School. At this time I had a vague understanding of God but was not yet saved. My grandparents took me to a country gospel revival festival the summer between my fifth and six grade years of school. Between the musical performances there was a gospel presentation and I believe this is where I got saved. A few months later I asked my mom if we could go to church with grandma and grandpa. She was on board. Her and I started going to the Church of Daniel’s Band (a non-denominational church with its roots in Methodism) where my grandparents attended. My dad would later start attending the church with us and both my parents would eventually become regenerate thru the preaching of the word their. The Church of Daniel’s Band reminds me much of the church Charles Spurgeon was saved at (that he recounts in his Autobiography). Its roots were in the Methodist tradition (with emphasis on Arminian soteriology and human perfectionism) but over time other influences also gained a strong hold as well. Various teachings familiar to those in independent fundamental baptist circles such as dispensationalism, King James Onlyism, and teetotaling were also evident there. The preaching was topical and usually revolved around a handful of specific topics. I attended the church throughout middle and high school and am thankful for the Godly people God had providentially put in my life at that time.

After High School I moved to Greenfield, Massachusetts to study at the Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. During the first month of living in Massachusetts I visited a variety of churches. I admitabley at this time was not very familiar with much doctrine outside the very basic tenants of the Christian faith. I eventually ended up at the Faith Baptist Church in Greenfield, Massachusetts and attended their the time I was at Hallmark. Sitting under the preaching at this church was life changing for me. This was the first time I was ever under expositional preaching (where the preacher preaches through scripture instead of just picking various topics). This was also were I first learned of the doctrines of grace or reformed soteriology (commonly referred to as “Calvinism” which is a term I’m not very fond of). This church also introduced me to some of the great theologians and preachers of the past such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon.

After graduating from the Hallmark Institute of Photography I moved back to my home town of Clare, Michigan and started attending The Church of Daniel’s Band again. About a year later I would end up in a Bible study with friends from a variety of theological backgrounds. One of them would eventually convince me of the doctrines of grace. After this I would start studying reformed theology. I came across various facebook groups and podcasts that were helpful and helped me see the importance of holding to one of the historic reformed confessions. I also read the book Fundamentalism and American Culture by George Marsden. This book helped me see how the various doctrines I grew up believing originated quite recently in church history and how the reformed churches which were confessional stayed true to the faith throughout the modernist fundamentalist controversy. In mid 2015 I decided to step down from the various positions I held at the Church of Daniel’s Band (Sunday School Superintendent, Sunday School Teacher, and maintaining the church’s website) and started looking for a confessional reformed church. Through a variety of google searches I eventually found a church finder through a website called 9marks. This lead me to Christ Covenant Church in Midland, Michigan. At this point the church was part of the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America). I started attending there. From sitting under the sound preaching at this church I started to get a better understanding of what scripture taught and what the reformed tradition was all about. At this point in my life I was considering moving but after a very convicting sermon in May 2016 about the importance of church membership I decided to stay and join the church. After membership classes in November 2016 I would join the church and become a communicant member of Christ Covenant Church. In 2017 Christ Covenant Church would change denominations to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC).

My faith is one of the reasons that I don’t work on Sunday. I believe that God’s moral law (summarized in the ten commandments) is still binding for us today. The Lord’s day is intended for works of necessity and mercy as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states. I try to set aside the Lord’s Day for attending church, reading theological books, and therefore don’t work on this day.

I am incredibly thankful for the people God has put in my life that have helped shape my faith. I am also thankful for the gift of salvation He has given to his people. I am also thankful for the ordinary means of grace in which he uses to sanctify his church and that there is a church within driving distance which remains true to the reformed faith.

 

A Day in a Life

 

I commonly get asked what a usual day is like for me owning my own photography business. The average day differs greatly depending on what types of clients I have and the time of year. There are generally two times of year for me business wise: my busy season and my off season. My off season is most of November till around May (depending on the weather) when I have less work. My busy season is May till October when the weather is nicer and I have more work (primarily seniors, families, couples, and weddings). Many people are surprised at how little of my job consists of taking photos. In addition to just shooting pictures I have to spend a great deal of time retouching, meeting with clients for pre-session consultations, sending clients photos via online galleries, networking, social media and email marketing, website upkeep, blogging, sending invoices, managing the books, continued learning about photography and business related topics, and lastly developing systems for how I approach all of the aforementioned aspects of my business. For the last year or so I’ve tried to focus on single tasking and creating consistent systems for how I get tasks done. Single tasking is the opposite of multitasking. Instead of working on a variety of tasks at once I try to do similar tasks at the same time. For example if I have several sessions to retouch I’ll spend the entire day retouching instead of switching between unrelated tasks like writing my monthly newsletter and shooting images for my blog. I’ve found this makes me more productive and efficient.

 

During my off season (when I have less clients I’m working with) I spend a great deal of time reading business and photography related books to help hone my craft. This is also a great time to make changes to my business as well. For example last year I spent a great deal of time adjusting my pricelists and the workflow for how I approach sessions and delivering photos to clients. I also use this time to write my weekly blog posts for the year which takes a great deal of time. I also spend this time creating relationships with other local business owners and networking with other professionals. I usually find enough things to work on in my off season that I’m working the same (sometimes more) hours per day in my off season than I am during my busy season. This time is primarily spend working on my business (as Michael Gerber put it in the famous business book The E-Myth Revisited) learning, making changes, and prepping for the busy season. A lot of the changes which are made come from seeing what things clients liked and what areas need improvement in my business from looking at experiences in the past year.

 

During my busy season I primarily spend my time working with clients. This involves answering questions via emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls before meeting with them for the pre-session consultation. Significantly less time is spent working on my business (making changes etc) and far more time is spend planning, shooting, retouching, and delivering client images at this time of the year.

Thinking Locally

 

When I was in my senior year of high school I couldn’t wait for it to be over with. I just wanted to be at Hallmark Institute of Photography. I was accepted to Hallmark in September 2011 and couldn’t wait for my senior year to be over with so I could be a student at Hallmark in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. When I finally got settled into Hallmark (even though I liked it there) I longed for home. I missed friends, family, and the local communities (church, local artists met thru the 515 Gallery, etc) that were waiting back in rural central Michigan. Hallmark itself was a very tight knit community. Since the school was a career college (fancy name for “trade school”) it was only a ten month long program. These ten months were very intense. Because of the strenuousness of Hallmark and the interdependence you had on one another the relationships formed at Hallmark were very close. Several of my classmates would eventually marry people they met thru Hallmark. The comradery felt amongst Hallmark alumni is unlike the closeness of any community I’ve ever been part of. Complete strangers I have met online via the Michigan Photography Network have offered to let me use their studios (anytime, free of charge) simply because I was a Hallmark alumni.

After graduating with the highest academic honor (for having the highest overall grades for the school year) I moved back to Michigan. There were few Hallmark alumni in Michigan and the few that were there were far away. As the months went on I missed the community that I had at Hallmark. I started to look into moving away from Michigan. In 2015 I started to take moving seriously. I looked for jobs in some cities I had visited, had good clients in, and liked (such as Grand Rapids, Michigan). I ultimately never found a job in my industry in these areas and decided to stay in mid Michigan.

 

The book Rich Dad, Poor Dad the author talks about how we learn not just from lectures and books but also from life experiences. Looking back now the importance of the local community seems like it was something I should have learned from longing for home when I was at Hallmark and longing for Hallmark when I was at home. This lesson didn’t stick at those points in my life. It wasn’t until I read Russell Kirk’s The Conservative mind in 2016 that the importance of community really hit me. Near the end of the book Kirk talks about the dangers of both collectivism and individualism. The antidote to both radical individualism and collectivism are healthy communities.  

In 2015-2016 I had followed politics pretty closely. I listen to several political podcasts which would usually leave me feeling annoyed and combative. In 2017 I decided to cut out most political podcasts excluding one: The Bryon McClanahan Show. A heavy emphasis of McClanahan’s show is to think locally and act locally. Author N.D. Wilson talks about how in his book Death by Living that ideas must put on flesh. It wasn’t just enough to see the importance of the local communities as I’d learned from Kirk and McClanahan but these ideas of thinking locally and acting locally needed to be practically lived out.

 

As 2017 went along I found (and sometimes stumbled into) ways of bringing thinking locally and acting locally into reality. I got closer to those at the local church I had recently joined. I also created a Facebook group called the Michigan Photography Network for networking with those connected to the photography industry in Michigan. The group has now grown to over 700 members and has had two in person meetups. I’ve started making a point of meeting with old friends (and new) on a regular basis. Lastly I’ve spend much of the past year networking with fellow business owners locally.

Focusing on the local has brought much joy to my life over the last year or so. Instead of being annoyed at following the current political kerfuffles or longing for times and friends past, becoming more ingrained in these local communities in the present has helped me appreciated these relationships and things I have right here, right now.

My Love of Reading Part 2

 

The first post of this two part series was a more personal post talking about my love of reading. This second post will deal with some of the books (and ideas within them) that have highly influenced my thinking.

How to Read a Book – Mortimer J Adler

I first read Mortimer J Adler’s How to Read a Book in 2016 after it was suggested to me by a friend in 2015. This book has greatly improved my reading ability (and comprehension) further growing my love of reading. Adler talks about the different levels of reading and how to determine which level is necessary for the type of book you are reading. Even though many of the principles in Adler’s book may seem simple it is incredibly practical and helpful for improving your reading ability and speed.

The Moment it Clicks – Joe McNally

Joe McNally’s The Moment it Clicks was hugely influential on me when I first read it when I was in my sophomore year of high school. Joe McNally is one of the most sought after portrait photographer’s working today. He has photographed many celebrities and has worked for publications including National Geographic and Life Magazine. This book is a combination of a coffee table book and a photography how to book. McNally retells the stories behind several of his images taken through his prolific career and gives the technical photographic details behind how he captured the images. Even though I may not agree with some of McNally’s views outside of photography this book was hugely influential on me pursuing professional photography and later attending Hallmark Institute of Photography (where I would befriend one of McNally’s later assistants).

 

The E-Myth Revisited – Michael Gerber

Michael Gerber’s The E-Myth Revisited was first recommended to me by a professor when I was in college. I never got around to reading the book until late 2016. It has been one of the most influential business books I have read in my life. Gerber talks about how most people who are good at a technical skill (such as photography) assume that they will be good at running a business that specializes in that technical skill. This assumption is false and is one of the reasons most small businesses fail. To run a successful business you must know more than the technical skill the business provides but also know how to run a business. Running a successful business is all about setting up systems and working on your business instead of just in it. This advice greatly impacted the changes I made to Ryan Watkins Photography during my off season in later 2016 and early 2017 (making it run smoother and more efficient). I would highly recommend The E-Myth Revisited to anyone interested in running their own business.

The Conservative Mind – Russell Kirk

Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind was recommended to me by some friends from church. This book is an extended essay in the meaning of conservatism in the line of Edmund Burke. Kirk spends over four hundred pages expounding the principles expressed by Burke and those who have followed in his tradition. Part of Kirk’s masterpiece which was especially impactful on me was near the end of the book where he talks about the dangers of both individualism and collectivism. This helped me see the importance of community (especially locally) which is something I’ve tried to cultivate and have made an active effort to be part of since reading Kirk.

 

The Westminster Confession of Faith – Westminster Assembly

When I started compiling this list I found it difficult to decide what theological books I would include on this list. Over the last few years theology has been what I’ve primarily read due to my shift from the non-denominational church I grew up in to confessional reformed theology. There are tons of books which have been incredibly impactful to my thinking in this area but I think the majority of the thinks expressed in other books get covered somewhere in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Westminster Confession of Faith is a historic confession coming out of the protestant reformation and is held to by the church I am a member of (the Orthodox Presbyterian Church). I believe this to be the best summation of the teaching of Holy scripture and would highly recommend fellow Christians or those curious about the historic Biblical Christian faith become acquainted with it.   

Ordinary – Michael Horton

Another theological book I read recently and would highly recommend is Ordinary by Michael Horton. This books focuses on what living an ordinary Christian life in an ordinary town and an ordinary family practically looks like. I found this book incredibly comforting.

If you are a fellow lover of reading check out my profile on Goodreads where I regularly update which books I’m currently reading and write reviews of books I’ve read in the past.

My Love of Reading Part 1

 

Many of my prior blog posts deal with practical things like prepping for your session, resources for getting started in photography, and short photography related how to articles. This however will be the first of several more personal blog posts where you can learn more about the man behind the camera.

I admittedly have very few hobbies. Part of this is due to my personality. I don’t dabble in things. I’m either really into something (very knowledgeable and passionate about it) or I’m not at all (very little knowledge and interest). There are plenty of things (potential hobbies) I find fascinating but have found few I’m willing to put this level of effort into. I always thought this was something kind of peculiar to me but I was relieved to see that this is something G.K. Chesterton had remarked on as well in his book “What’s Wrong with the World.” He mentions that men are good at being specialists, where as women are better at being generalists, resulting in women usually having more common sense than men. After reading this I’ve seen this principle played out in real life several times. For example I’ve been meeting with old friends from high school on a monthly basis now since fall 2017. At one of our recent get togethers (this time at O’Kelly’s in Mt Pleasant) a male friend and I were trying to get prepared for the rest of our group to arrive. My friend is the lead guitarist in a local band which is in the process of recording their first album with a famous producer in California (a good specialist). I’ve been published in several magazines and graduated with the highest academic honor (highest overall grades) from Hallmark Institute of Photography (again another good specialist). He and I tried to push two tables together so all of our expected guests could be seated together. His girlfriend tried to explain how to put the tables together. We ended up putting the tables in a T shape which resulted in a befuddled look from both his girlfriend and our waitress (both good generalists) who both had a far better understanding of how to do this common sense task than either he or I (both good specialists but both relative dunces when it came to common sense things like table placement). Eventually with his girlfriend and our waitress’ advice we were able to get the table in a place which would seat everyone.

When I was a kid I greatly disliked reading. We were forced to do “accelerated reader” tests in elementary school which I despised. In high school I read photography magazines and books but still wouldn’t have considered myself a fan of reading per say. It wasn’t until I was done with my formal education that I grew to love reading. In 2014 I started studying reformed theology due to the influence of a friend at a bible study in Clare. This was one of the major things which prompted me to start reading in 2014. As the years have went on reading has became one of my primary hobbies.  

In 2016 and 2017 I’d read over 50 books each year averaging approximately a book a week. I read primarily non fiction, but hope to read more fiction once I get more of the non-fiction books I deem a higher priority off my to read list. These books range in topics from theology to politics to business to practical skills.

 

A question I get asked regularly is “how do I have time to read so much?”. First of all, as I had mentioned prior, I don’t have many hobbies. I think this is one of the keys. As a kid I spent a decent amount of time watching TV and movies, playing video games, listening to music, and also practicing martial arts. As I took more interest in photography I left martial arts and significantly cut back on the time I spent playing video games. When I went to college I didn’t have a TV and was so swamped with school that I had very little time for other activities. After college I got used to not watching much TV or many movies, nor did I own any contemporary game consoles and still don’t to this day. In 2014 I drastically cut back on the time I spent listening to music and only recently decided to pick the hobby backup again in early 2017.

As I’ve talked with people (especially fellow millennials) I’ve realized I’m definitely the outlier when it comes to entertainment. I seldom watch TV or movies. I occasionally buy a CD from some obscure prog rock band I like and listen to it for months (usually while retouching or doing other busy work) before buying another. Even when I read it is primarily for education rather than entertainment. I seldom read a book just for fun, but instead because I want to learn something (hence why I primarily read non-fiction instead of fiction). Part of my desire to learn comes from being honest with myself and realizing there is a lot I don’t know. Many people I talk to seem as if they live for entertainment. They work just to spend the little they make on video games systems and video streaming. As I’ve grown older and see how others live their lives that more I realize that I’d much rather spend my time learning (via books, lectures,or podcasts) or doing actual things with people (fellowship with people from church, meeting up with friends over beer, going to networking events and art gallery openings, seeing a local band in concert, etc). We are social creatures and need community and fellowship with others. Many times the things I learn from books or podcasts can become interesting conversation topics at the various aforementioned community events. Sometimes I learn more from the conversations about books I’ve read than I did from the reading the book itself. This concept is echoed in the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad where the author mentioned that we don’t just learn from books and lectures but also from life experiences.  

 

Another thing which allows me to read so many books is changing how I read the book depending on the content of the book. A book I would highly recommend is Mortimer J Adler’s “How to Read a Book”. In this book he talks about the different levels of reading and how different books require a different level of reading. Most business books (for example) only require a systematic skimming (where you only need to understand the main points of the book) to get all there is out of the book. Other meatier, weightier books require analytical reading (which goes beyond just a surface level understanding of the main points of the books material). Lastly Adler talks about syntopical reading which combines things learned from several books to go beyond what any one of the authors said (this is where things get fun).

Another things which allows me to read so many books is changing the format of the book I read depending on the content. Books which I’m not taking notes on (like fiction) are best listened to in audiobook form. On the other hand if I want to take a lot of notes e-books allow me to easily copy and paste text from the book into a note. I use Evernote for all my note taking purposes. E-books can also be bought for a fraction of the cost of traditional books. Most books I purchase are from the Amazon kindle store on sale for between $0.99-$4.99. Price wise most are around $1.99-$2.99. I also frequently find traditional books at Goodwill for $0.99 before taxes.

Another reason I’m able to read so many books is much of what I read is in the public domain. Gutenberg.org and monergism.com are websites I frequently use to find classic books in e-book form. LirbriVox.org also has many public domain books in audiobook form (quality of the content can be hit or miss).

The next post in this series will talk about some of the books I have read which were highly influential on me.

P.S. My second shooter Nikki Robinson always jokes that I’m becoming a crotchety old man. After proof reading this I’m starting to become more self aware of that fact.

Flashes of Hope

 

 

An amazing organization I’ve had the privilege of working with the last three years has been Flashes of Hope. Flashes of Hope gives free portraits to children and families of children with cancer. From the last three years of working with flashes of hope they have always been prompt and professional. I would highly recommend fellow professional photographers work with them. More information about Flashes of Hope can be found on their website

The Extended About Me Page

 
I’m a portrait, wedding, commercial, and fine art photographer from Clare, Michigan. I currently own and operate Ryan Watkins Photography which caters to Clare, Midland, Mt Pleasant, and beyond.
 
Childhood
 
I grew up in the middle of the woods ten miles from either Clare or Coleman, Michigan. I was close enough to Coleman to be on their electrical grid and close enough to Clare to go to their middle and high school. I went to elementary school at St. Cecilia, which is also in Clare, and was raised by loving parents Tim and Carol Watkins. My grandparents, technically grandmother and step-grandfather but I always knew him as “grandpa”, took me to a bluegrass country gospel revival thing in-between 5th and 6th grade. Between the fiddlen’ there was a gospel presentation and I believe this is where I got saved. After a few months I mustered up the courage to ask my mom if she would take me to church where grandma and grandpa went: a non-denominational protestant church near Beaverton, Michigan. She was willing. Once my mother and I started going to church my dad started coming as well. Over time they were both saved. During a men’s breakfast at church an older friend, who was an amateur photographer, started talking about Photoshop contests on the, now defunct, website worth1000.com. I came across a cheap version of Photoshop elements and started doing Photoshop contests on worth1000. My composites were horrible and placed accordingly in the contests. I saw that worth1000 also had photography contests so I decided to give those a try. I shot an image of one of my parent’s pole barns with my mom’s Kodak easy share camera and submitted it. It did far better than the Photoshop entries so I decided to continue trying photography. 
 
As a kid I really liked video games. Classic Nintendo like Mario, Zelda, Kirby, and Pokemon being my favorites. Exploring Hyrule and Kanto later lead to my love of travel and exploring new locations in real life. Late middle school and early high school is when my passion for photography really started to kindle. I was constantly saving up money from mowing lawns, and later on from photoshoots, to invest into new photographic equipment. I bought a Samsung point and shoot camera and shot with it everywhere. I later broke it on a trampoline at a friend’s house. My other hobbies, video games, Karate, etc, started to get put on the back burner as I started dedicating more time to learning photography. 
 
It was after a trip to the Fred Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids, Michigan that  I decided I really wanted to be a photographer for a living. I was walking around with a monster metal tripod, a relic of my dad’s from the 80s which helped me briefly develop some nice biceps in ninth grade that I’ve since lost. Attached was a used and refurbished manual focus only Nikon 70-300mm lens on a Nikon D40. A fellow visitor waved at me to come over near him. A baby raccoon popped his head out of the leaves just long enough for me to focus and dial in a proper exposure. This was the first image I had taken that I was really happy with. After seeing this image I decided this is what I wanted to do for a living.   
 
As high school went along I started to photograph any creatures that would meander into my parent’s yard: deer, birds, turtles, frogs, stray cats, Amish kids, whatever. I was reading photography magazines and books constantly. I skipped my senior homecoming to go to Scott Kelby’s Light It Shoot It Retouch It conference in Lansing. 
 
In high school Kim Kliendhart, or Mrs. K, as she will always be to me, was incredibly inspiring to me. When I was in 11th and 12th grade she taught a class called art gallery management which helped teach both the business skills of running an art gallery as well as about art and art history. This really helped teach me work ethic. It probably taught me more than any of my other classes in high school. 
 
The first thing I did after turning eighteen was going to Harrison to get my DBA. On November 21st 2011 Ryan Watkins Photography officially started. At this point I’d been published in several magazines, including Audubon, Nature’s Best Photography, and the cover of Shutterbug, and had had many paying senior and wedding clients in 2010 and 2011 prior to officially starting my business. I was later published in several other magazines while still in high school including Outdoor Photographer, Digital Photo, and PDNedu. 
 
My parents and I when to Arnie’s Arts and Crafts in Houghton Lake once to get some photos framed. When we were checking out my dad mentioned that I shot the images to the cashier. The cashier happened to be a recent graduate from Hallmark Institute of Photography in Turners Falls, Massachusetts. She told me about the school, the classes, the medium format Mamiya cameras, and Profoto lights. It was an intense ten month program which taught you how to become a professional photographer. It was pretty much a trade school for photographers. In September 2011 I went for an interview and was accepted to be a student at Hallmark Institute of Photography for the 2012/2013 school year. 
 
College 
 
In August 2013 I moved to the small crunchy town of Greenfield, Massachusetts. I lived by myself in a studio apartment in Turners Falls. The first month or so took some time getting used to. Every Saturday I would go for long drives throughout Western Massachusetts and sometimes even into Vermont. Every Sunday I would visit and new church. Despite being saved at a young age I was very theologically illiterate at the time. I also started attending the Faith Baptist Church while I was out there which was the first time I had been under expository preaching. This church really helped get me on the right track theologically and I am incredibly thankful that I providentially ended up there during my ten months at Hallmark. By about a month I felt settled in. I was in a church and had started to make some friends from school. 
 
One of the major draws to going to Hallmark was being able to study under renowned portrait photographer Gregory Heisler. Heisler has photographed several presidents including George Bush, George W Bush, and Bill Clinton as well as celebrities like Bono, Bill Gates, Bruce Springsteen, Liv Tyler, Densel Washington, and Julia Roberts. I learned so many amazing things from him and the other instructors like David Turner, Rich Barnes, Tony Downer, and Braiden Chapman. Hallmark also had a ton of guest speakers come as well. I got to meet in person many of the people I had read about in magazines and books like fashion photographer Lindsey Adler, National Geographic photographer Sam Abell, Olympic photographer Rob Wyatt, celebrity photographers Gary Land, Monte Isom, and Clay Patrick McBride.
 
When I started to take interest in photography I shot primarily nature mostly due to my location. Sadly nature and landscape photography is thought of very lowly by many in the professional photography industry; because of this I shifted my main emphasis to portraiture while at Hallmark. 
 
Most people assume that art school, especially one where you just press a button all day, would be a cake walk. It certainly was not. While looking for apartments many of the potential land lords warmed me about how grueling Hallmark is. The ten month program was short but very intense. You have classes from 8am-5pm Monday-Friday and have to shoot much of your portfolio on your own time. Many who started the program don’t finish because of the high requirements. Renting equipment is also on a first come first serve basis. Because of this I once showed up at Hallmark at 3am to get in line to check out equipment to make sure I could get the necessary gear for the weekend. 
 
To graduate from Hallmark you must have your final portfolio of twenty four images accepted by a panel of guest judges. The twenty four images had to meet very specific criteria. The judges who judged my portfolio where Gregory Heisler, Gregor Halenda, Bambi Cantrell, and Lois Greenfield. Halenda is a Hasselblad Master who’s clients include Ducati, Coca-Cola, BMW, and Mercedes. Cantrell is a Nikon ambassador and former president of Hasselblad America who has photographed several celebrities. Greenfield is a dance photographer who’s clients include The New York Times, Pepsi, NFL, Rolex, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair.  Each student was called to the front of the auditorium where their portfolio was projected in front of the rest of the students and teachers while the judges mercilessly critiqued them. I was the very last student from my class to have their portfolio judged. A week after the portfolio we had our graduation ceremony where I was awarded the highest academic honor award. This award was for having the highest over all grades throughout the year. 
 
One of the best things about going to Hallmark was the relationships I developed while I was there. The community of Hallmark alumni is very close knit. I recently found a fellow alumni in Michigan who offered to let me use his studio any time I want. To this day I still regularly bounce business and photo shoot ideas off of friends made at Hallmark. I’ve went on long road trips just to spend a few hours in person again with Hallmark friends. 
 
Post-College 
 
After graduating from Hallmark I moved back to Clare, Michigan and started running Ryan Watkins Photography full time. I continue to to this day. I have also done freelance retouching for various companies like Sugarjets Studios in Maine since graduating.
 
I have a lot of exciting things in store for Ryan Watkins Photography in 2017. I’ve now expanded out to doing not only portraits but also wedding, commercial, and fine art photography. I’ve gotten back to my roots and have started photographing nature photography again and sell prints online at ryanwatkinsphotography.com/fine-art. I hire fellow freelance photographer Nikki Robinson to second shoot weddings with me as well as assisting me on portrait and commercial shoots requiring a bigger production. Lastly I’m reaching out to others to start a local community of photographers in Michigan. This communities official Facebook group is titled Michigan Photography Network. 
 
In the little spare time I have I enjoy reading books on theology, politics, business, and anything else that seems to interest me at the time. I usually prefer non fiction to fiction. It seems like every conversation with someone at the amazing confessional reformed church I joined in 2016, Christ Covenant Church (OPC) in Midland, Michigan, leads to a recommendation for a another book. I also greatly enjoy podcasts. A few of my favorites being The PetaPixel Photography Podcast with Sharky James and The Reformed Pubcast. I also love traveling whether it be for work or to visit friends from Hallmark while listening to audiobooks, podcasts, or prog rock along the way.