10 Inspirational Photo Books


This is a guest post by Phil Hill, a travel photographer from the UK based in Australia. You can see more of Phil’s great work at his travel photography blog or follow him on Facebookor Twitter

Teaching yourself stuff is great and gives an overwhelming sense of achievement that you, and no one else, made it happen. The Internet of course is a brilliant vast resource of YouTube videos, photoshop actions, Lightroom presets, not forgetting the ever-increasing knowledge base that is Light Stalking.

Unfortunately it can be all to easy to get stuck in a cycle of mediocrity. Joining Flickr and Facebook photography groups and getting work critiqued by other photographers of a similar level, then to turn to friends and family who all want to see you do well, commenting ‘it’s amazing’, however not knowing what a good photograph looked like, even if Annie Liebowitzt herself turned up to shoot their wedding!

My point is that although this kind of support network has its place, it does little to elevate the craft of photography. This is not to say being self-taught is a bad thing, anyone wanting to pick up a camera for photography’s sake is a good thing. Learning to shoot on your own actually puts you in very esteemed company; many a great photographer was self-taught. What made them great wasn’t the equipment, and definitely not a pat on the back down the local Paris coffee shop. They also applied thought and context to the beautiful images they produced.

I really wanted to inspire some photographers out there with some truly great work – photography that made me pick up my first camera.

To do this I have turned to one of traditional forums for displaying photographs; the photo book. Nothing quite beats sitting quietly with a hot drink and flicking the pages of a book packed full of incredible images. There are a huge amount of fantastic books out there, an inexhaustible list in fact. I have compiled 10 of my personal favourites, books that have aided my own photographic journey.

The Americans – Robert Frank

The Americans, Robert Frank
The Americans, Robert Frank

They should hand this out with every new camera sale! A lesson in editing, Frank shot 28,000 images for the book with only 83 ending up in the published book, and every one of those is a brilliant look at 1950’s American life warts and all.

American Music – Annie Leibovitz

American Music, Annie Leibovitz
American Music, Annie Leibovitz.

Leibovitz started her iconic career photographing the Rolling Stones for Rolling Stone magazine. Years later her plan was to return to music photography with a more experienced eye, the result is this amazing book of American musicians young and old. Annie Leibovitz is the Queen of light; each page is a masterclass in lighting.

Vietnam Inc – Philip Jones Griffiths

Vietnam INC, Philip Jones Griffiths
Vietnam INC, Philip Jones Griffiths

Jones Griffiths regularly had to make the choice between new rolls of film or eating that day when shooting Vietnam Inc. The true power of the photographic image lies between these pages, literally changing the public attitude towards the Vietnam war.

Workers – Sebastiao Salgado

Workers, Sabastiao Sagado
Workers, Sabastiao Sagado

Incredibly powerful photography with total respect for the subject, showing a wider world that most westerners will never know.

Last Resort – Martin Parr

Last Resort, Martin Parr
Last Resort, Martin Parr.

Challenging the traditional view of documentary photography, Parr takes you through a surreal and very funny tour of English resort town New Brighton. Street photography at its absolute best.

In the American West – Richard Avedon

In the American West, Richard Avedon
In the American West, Richard Avedon.

Known widely as a top fashion photographer Avedon set out into his native America with an assistant and a white backdrop. The result is a brilliant set of stark yet compassionate portraits of real people, a far cry from the Vogue and Harpers Bazaar which made him famous.

Guide – William Eggleston

Guide, William Eggleston
Guide, William Eggleston

William Eggleston’s Guide was one of the first publication’s to feature colour photography. The book may almost be dismissed as a collection of snap shots, however the more you look and look, the more it makes sense. Fantastic book.

Portraits – Steve McCurry

Portraits, Steve McCurry
Portraits, Steve McCurry

Iconic, the only world possible to sum up the photographs by Steve McCurry. Along with Kodachrome, McCurry has set a legacy that can never be bested.

Uncommon Places – Stephen Shore

Uncommon Places, Stephen Shore
Uncommon Places

Along with William Eggleston, Stephen Shore was a major influencer of modern colour photographers. The images appear to be of very little; a car park, a desolate street. The images are very deliberate, a look at all those places normally overlooked. Much like the paintings of Edward Hopper.

The Photo Book

The Photo Book
The Photo book

For quick inspiration turn to the Photo book, all the greats are there. Like a beautiful yellow pages of brilliant photography.

About Author

Freelance travel and editorial photographer originally from the UK but find myself in Western Australia, Based in the amazing Scarborough, Perth, WA.

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