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Why you Should be Reading These Photography Books

I started writing this blog because I found it hard to learn a lot from the internet – it’s hard to find good, reliable content and you end up looking at a glaring screen covered in ads.

Books cost money but the content is excellent and you can take it anywhere. All of the information and photos in the books below have been written/taken by professionals who provide insight into their work – the internet just can’t compete.

Basics

Start at the beginning.

Excellent photography requires strong foundations. These books will ensure that you know exactly how to use your camera properly. If you struggle to do this, read these books. I assure you that the speed at which you learn will vastly increase.

Complete Digital Photography – Ben Long

This book guides you through every aspect of digital photography, from shooting through postproduction and printing, helping you to master the theory and technical skills required of a great photographer.

In an easy-to-understand format, it’s the complete package. There’s also a bonus chapter to help you choose the right digital camera, so it’s a great place to start before you’ve even bought one!

Langford’s Basic Photography: The guide for serious photographers – Michael Langford

In this book you’ll learn how images are formed and how to control what you capture; the best camera and lens type for your work; the principles and equipment of lighting; how to organize the picture and measure exposure; how to edit, organise and store digital images; how to print, finish and present your photographs; and how to get your work noticed.

An excellent package in my opinion.

LIFE Guide to Digital Photography – Joe McNally

‘Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros’ is the subtitle of this book and pretty much sums it up.

Joe explains in this book how best to take advantage of what your camera was designed to do and when it is wise to outthink your camera or push it to it’s limits. What I found really useful was the little caption under each photo with the f-stop, shutter speed and ISO used – it clearly explains how to take the photos pictured.

Understanding Exposure – Bryan Peterson

With more than 350,000 copies sold, Understanding Exposure has demystified the complex concepts of exposure for countless photographers.

In his trademark easy-to-understand style, author Bryan Peterson explains the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, including how to achieve successful exposures in seemingly difficult situations.

With new information on white balance, flash, HDR, and more, this updated classic will inspire you to stop guessing and take control of your settings for better photos anytime, anywhere, with any camera.

Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital – Todd Gustavson

I found this book particularly fascinating. It’s a history not of iconic images but, rather, of the machines that made them possible.

Major developments are discussed from the earliest wet plate cameras to the camera NASA used on the moon. Detailed captions provide both the technical information to satisfy enthusiasts and glimpses into the personalities of those who created the cameras, with over 350 colour illustrations. 

Composition & Technique

Once you know what you’re doing, this is the next step towards taking amazing photos.

Learn what makes photos great, then how to implement that information into your own photos. I’ve learnt a lot from these books and, although it can be a lot of information to take in at once, when you’ve mastered it, your photos will improve dramatically.

The Photographer’s Eye – Michael Freeman

Michael Freeman is on this list twice and with good reason: I love the way he writes.

Design is the single most important factor in creating a successful photograph. The ability to see the potential for a strong picture, then organize the graphic elements into an effective, compelling composition has always been one of the key skills in making photographs.

The Photographer’s Mind – Michael Freeman

The nature of photography demands that the viewer be constantly intrigued and surprised by new imagery and different interpretations – more so than in any other art form.

The aim of this book is to answer the question “what makes a photograph great?” It explores the ways in which top photographers achieve this goal time and time again.

As you delve deeper into this subject, The Photographer’s Mind will provide you with invaluable knowledge on avoiding cliché; the cyclical nature of fashion, style and mannerism; light; and even how to handle the unexpected.

The Moment it Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world’s top shooters – Joe McNally

In this book, you’ll see Joe’s brilliant images that perfectly illustrate different techniques (you’ll recognize many of his photos from magazine covers).

You’ll gain insight into the story of how that shot was taken, including which equipment he used (lens, f/stop, lighting, accessories, etc.), the challenges that each type of project brings and how to set up a similar shot of your own.

Creative Black and White – Harold Davis

Black-and-white photography poses unique challenges: when the eye can’t be guided by color, the contrast, lighting, and composition take on more importance.

Renowned photographer Harold Davis explains these elements and demonstrates the basic rules of black and white photography as well as when and how to break them. He breaks through the complexity of this photographic medium, explores opportunities for black-and-white imagery, and shows how to capitalize on every one.

Lighting

Lighting is an intrinsic component of photography and takes years to master – much longer than getting to grips with, for example, the right exposure settings. This process can be sped up by learning from the pros.

Good lighting is rarely achieved by amateurs so, by learning the techniques laid out in these books, you’re already separating yourself from the rest.

Speedliter’s Handbook – Sly Arena

This is a book aimed towards Canon users but I’ve still included it. Having read it, the majority of the information can be crossed over to other brands.

For those new to flash photography—or for anyone who has previously given up out of frustration—Speedliter’s Handbook is a revelation. Whether you want to create a classical portrait, shoot an event, or simply add a little fill light to a product shot, Speedliter’s Handbook will show you how.

The Hot Shoe Diaries – Joe McNally

In The Hot Shoe Diaries, Joe brings you behind the scenes to candidly share his lighting solutions for a ton of great images.

Using Nikon Speedlights, Joe lets you in on his uncensored thought process to demonstrate how he makes his pictures with these small flashes. Whether he’s photographing a gymnast on the Great Wall, an alligator in a swamp, or a fire truck careening through Times Square, Joe uses these flashes to create great light that makes his pictures sing.

Photography

It’s hard to choose a photographer in particular to add to this list because, for every photographer I add, I will invariably leave 100 out.

I’ve mainly chosen the work of many over the work on one, with some of my favourite collections of photos ever published. You can learn a lot by just looking at other people’s photos – that’s what makes these books as important as a book on the basics.

Decade – Aemmon McCabe

This was a recent birthday present and I’ve been picking it up daily ever since.

It’s a collection of famous photos of memorable events from the past 10 years, coupled with a brief description of what the photo’s about. It really helps to jog your memory and remind you of what’s going on in the world. I personally find it a good source of inspiration but it’s just as good a coffee table book or conversation piece. 

The Americans – Robert Frank

A very famous collection of photos from Robert Frank shot during 1955-1956. In a nutshell, it’s an amazing collection of photos seen through one photographers viewfinder.

He saw the roiling racial tension, glamour and beauty and, perhaps because Frank himself was on the road, he was particularly attuned to Americans’ love for cars. It’s a great reminder of America’s past with some fantastic photography.

National Geographic Image Collection – National Geographic

Behind National Geographic’s worldwide reputation as a powerhouse of photography lies one of the finest, extensive, and most unique graphic resources on Earth: the National Geographic image Collection.

It’s an archive from the earliest photographs collected in the late 19th century to the cutting-edge work of today. Both iconic and never-before-seen images from virtually every corner of the globe; every species of wildlife; and amazing human achievements in exploration, adventure, science; and more are showcased and placed in historic, artistic, technical, and journalistic context.

Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs – Ansel Adams

Truly some of the best black and white photography I’ve ever seen.
Each of Adams 40 photographs presented here is accompanied by an engaging narrative that explores the technical and aesthetic problems presented by the subject, including reminiscences of the places and people involved. The man is an artist.

Life: The Platinum Anniversary Collection: 70 Years of Extraordinary Photography

70 years of photography from one of the most influential publications of the 20th century. Similar to decade and National Geographic, LiFE presents a history in photos, highlighting the most famous, moving and beautiful pictures from the magazine. 

Reuters: Our World Now 4 (Fourth Edition)

The fourth edition of Our World Now captures the key events from 2010 in more than 350 powerful photographs.

Organized into four sections that represent the four quarters of the year, the images cover the full range of global reporting: politics, commerce, conflict, the environment, natural disasters, faith and festivities, entertainment, celebrity and lifestyle.

The photos offer a fresh take on the year’s most memorable events as well as plenty of less-familiar stories.

Post Processing

When you’ve been out taking photos all day, there are always going to be a few that require extra work; if you’re shooting in RAW, there’s going to be a lot. Below are the best books on the three most popular post-processing software.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book – Scott Kelby

In the latest version of the #1 best-selling book for Lightroom 3, Scott uses his same step-by-step, plain-English style and layout to make learning Lightroom easy and fun.

Scott doesn’t just show you which sliders do what. Instead, by using the following three simple, yet brilliant, techniques that make it just an incredible learning tool, this book shows you how to create your own photography workflow using Lightroom.

Apple Pro Training Series: Aperture 3 – Dion Scoppettuolo

This Apple-certified guide to Aperture 3 starts with the basics of image management and takes you step by step through Aperture’s powerful editing, retouching, proofing, publishing, and archiving features.

It delivers comprehensive training – the equivalent of a three-day course – in one project-based book.

The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book – Scott Kelby

This book does something for digital photographers that’s never been done before—it cuts through the bull and shows you exactly “how to do it.”
It’s not a bunch of theory: it doesn’t challenge you to come up with your own settings or figure it out on your own. Instead, Scott shows you, step by step, the exact techniques used by today’s cutting-edge digital photographers. Best of all, he shows you flat-out exactly which settings to use, when to use them and why.

Bonus

Your Camera Manual!

Please read it.

There is so much information in there, not just irrelevant facts specific to your camera as you might think.

The day I got my first DSLR, I got out the manual and began reading. I must have read it, while playing with my camera, for two weeks. It always frustrates me when friends don’t know how to do something on their camera because that’s holding them back – if they just knew how to work the damn things, they’d be much better photographers.

Have I missed one of your favourites? Almost certainly. Leave a comment to let us and everyone else reading this know what you think is worth reading.

Top 20 Photography Books to Improve Your Skills

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Josh

I'm a self taught photographer from Brighton, England. I take a lot of photos and enjoy teaching my methods to anyone willing to learn- this is my blog, check out my video training & Google.

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