5 Photography Books You Will Want to Own

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The sources of education and inspiration available to photographers today are seemingly endless, thanks mainly to the digitized world in which we live. In years past, one had to actually get out and visit a gallery or attend a class/workshop; you had to go to a bookstore or library to find a photography book. Today, all these things can be done in a virtual environment online, which isn’t always a bad thing, but sometimes it’s good to have a more tangible, hands-on experience. For me, this is particularly true when it comes to photography books. Books still stand as my favorite way to experience photography. While I’ve never been one to look derisively at e-books in general, I just haven’t warmed to the idea of looking at photography books in specific on an iPad or Kindle.

Given my love of books as a source of photography information, education, and entertainment, I figured I’d share 5 of my favorites, all of which have inspired me in one way or another.

For your consideration, in no particular order.

Road to Seeing by Dan Winters

At nearly 700 pages, Dan Winters’ book is epic — but not just due to its length. It’s a work that evades easy categorization; it’s portraiture, it’s street, it’s architecture, it’s documentary. Winters writes lucidly about his personal journey as a photographer all while effortlessly acknowledging photography’s most influential forebears and talking about technique and process without ever becoming trite or overly technical. The plentiful images included (only about half of which are Winters’ work) are both inspired and inspiring. John Nemerovski from Not Another Mac Podcast suggests you “read three or four pages of it, and look at five or six pictures in the portfolio every single day for inspiration and as a way to help you stay grounded, focused, and motivated as a photographer.” I couldn’t agree more.

50 Portraits: Stories and Techniques from a Photographer's Photographer by Gregory Heisler

If you are looking for the traditional how-to book or if you are expecting the text to revolve around detailed technical info and gear recommendations, you should know this isn’t that book. Yes, Heisler includes technical info but he consigns it to the appendix. The 50 portraits included here take center stage; each portrait is accompanied by open and honest exposition — previsualization, setting up, interacting with the subject, the moments both before and after the shutter is released. The reader feels at one with Heisler as he takes you through every amazing portrait. In the end, it is Heisler’s personable writing style that is equally as effective as his style of portraiture (just take a look at his “controversial” portrait of George H. W. Bush and read about the subsequent revocation of the photographer’s White House credentials).

Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson

I’ve yet to meet a photographer that doesn’t own at least one edition of this book. In it, Peterson manages to take concepts (the exposure triangle, depth of field, lighting, etc.) that often confound beginners and simplify them without dumbing down. The book isn’t just for beginners, though; if you’re a photographer of any skill level and you find yourself feeling “stuck,” Understanding Exposure’s emphasis on simplicity and creativity will be refreshing.

Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart by The Shutter Sisters

This is a photography book centered primarily around thoughts and ideas. Of course there is plenty of imagery to absorb and much of it is excellent, but the talented ladies who are responsible for the book’s content are concerned with helping readers learn how to connect their emotions with their photography, hence the inclusion of all the enchanting prose. Accompanying each photo is a blurb outlining why the shot works; interestingly, I have found that even when my opinion is that a shot doesn’t work, there is still something of value to take away from being privy to the photographer’s thought process. Expressive Photography is a fun, insightful book bursting with good ideas.

The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum

While Barnbaum certainly covers the technical side of things in this book, his larger goal is to impart a deep appreciation for photography as an art form. Originally published in 1994, The Art of Photography naturally revolves around film photography; the updated version of the book retains a great deal of that information and serves as a means of emphasizing the idea that good photography is about so much more than gear. In short, Barnbaum succeeds at teaching the intangibles of the craft; as the photographer himself said, “Rules are foolish, arbitrary, mindless things that raise you quickly to a level of acceptable mediocrity, then prevent you from progressing further.”

I’m sure each of you reading this has book recommendations of your own. Please feel free to share them with the rest of us!

About Author

Jason Little is a photographer, author and stock shooter. You can see Jason’s photography on his Website or his Instagram feed.

Hey jason, thanks for the list of books – a couple on there I don’t have so the timing before Christmas is great. From your descriptions they look like great ‘generalist’ books rather than specific genres of photography – any chance you could produce more lists on specific genres such as portraiture? Its always great to hear other peoples reviews and recommendations, Nick

Thanks Nick, I’ll definitely get around to putting together a genre-specific list of some of my favorites.

Jason’s recommendation of Greg Heisler’s book is a GREAT one for portraiture. I own this and it really is quite good. Heisler has made some wonderful images for a number of high (and not so high!) profile individuals. If you are at all interested in portrait photography you need to own this book.

Hi Jason,

As I highly value your tips and ebooks from both Light Stalking and Photzy and since I own a copy of the first two titles mentioned here (and can highly recommend these to anyone seriously interested in Photography) I will certainly look into the other titles mentioned here.

Thanks for the books listed, as someone trying to transition from hobby photographer to professional, I am always open to learning new things. On another note did you shoot the B&W picture of the bird in this article in color and then convert it or was it originally done in B&W? I think it is a beautiful shot.

Thanks for this list. I looked up Dan Winter’s book and there is another author attached to it as well as Dan. Your recommendation only has Dan as author so is this simply a new edition I saw.

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