Welcome to our pick of the best books for photographers. One of the real pleasures of being a photography enthusiast is that there are so many books out there to get stuck into.
Whether you’re just starting your journey and need a guide to the basics, or you have a handle on exposure and want to start learning advanced techniques, or you’re a bona fide expert and you just want to see some fantastic imagery, there will be a book out there for you. There will be several, in fact.
There’s no shortage of choice in all areas of photo publishing, including the best photo editing software (see how to download Photoshop here), which begs the question – which are the best books for photographers?
We’ve compiled a list of the photography books we feel stand out above the crowd and offer something truly exceptional. We’ve included a range of books from across the board, from practical guides to inspirational photo collections. So, if you’ve picked up one of the best cameras around and are looking for guidance and inspiration, read on as we take you through the best books for photographers...
The best books for photographers: Beginners
There’s a reason that experts and beginners alike will recommend Bryan Peterson to you. He has considerable talent for breaking down the key concepts of photography and communicating them in a way that’s easy to understand. I’ve spoken to multiple amateur photographers who said that reading this book was the moment when things started to “click” and they began to get what this was all about.
Understanding Exposure is an excellent primer to the fundamentals of light, teaching you how to get the best results in all situations, how to freeze action and more, covering both film and digital shooting.
All the technical knowledge in the world is worthless if you don’t have any ideas for how to put it to use. One of the best books for photographers, Lee Frost’s 50 Photo Projects is just the thing, full to the brim with suggestions for breaking out of your comfort zone and creating some exciting new images.
With impressive verve and energy, Frost leaps from topic-to-topic – one minute he’s full of ideas for architecture, the next he’s discussing ways to freeze fast-moving action. He also discusses scanning techniques, black and white conversion and many other aspects of photography you may not have given much thought to. By the time you finish, you’ll be bursting with ideas and eager to get shooting.
Photography isn’t just about going to incredible places and clicking the shutter button – no matter where you live, there’s a world of incredible imagery to be created on your doorstep. Extraordinary Everyday Photography teaches you to see the potential wherever you are, and no matter what you’re using. There are tips and exercises in the book that work just as well whether you’re on a DSLR or an iPhone, and the authors supply plenty of their own imagery taken on all sorts of different devices just to make the point.
If you’re the type to spend time in large bookshops, you’ve likely spotted this one shelved along with its sequels, with their immediately identifiable typography. For a primer, you can’t beat this general overview of the art of photography, a jargon-free whistlestop tour through the main concepts of taking pictures that does a great job of both educating and inspiring. The book is generously illustrated and a breeze to read – it’s entirely possible you’ll dash through it in an afternoon then head straight out with your camera. It can be picked up for a great price nowadays too, so you’ve really no excuse.
This remarkable volume is in its 10th edition for a reason. Since the 1960s, Langford’s work has been one of the foremost authorities on the art and practice of photography, and this latest edition brings it all bang up to date.
Practically everything you could wish for is covered here, and while this does mean the tome is a hefty one and you won’t be carrying it in your backpack for quick inspiration, it makes for an engaging read and an invaluable point of reference. Expertise positively bleeds from each page as the authors take you through all of photography’s core concepts. When it comes to the best books for photographers, you'd be hard pushed to find better than this.
The best books for photographers: Advanced skills and industry insights
Learning to control light, and flash in particular, is the moment for many photographers when they take the step up and become serious about their craft. This field guide to using flash and controlling it to achieve the effects you want is a useful tool and worth picking up even if you’re already familiar with the basics, as Duckworth provides examples and guidance for all sorts of different shooting situations.
It’s a very small book – with text perhaps a little too small if you struggle with your eyesight – but this does mean it’s easy to bring on a shoot with you as a handy reference point.
Michael Freeman is the author of many photography books and is well-regarded in the community for his formidable expertise. This book on the art of composition is one of his seminal works – it assumes a level of familiarity with core concepts and gets right into the good stuff, pulling apart photographic compositions to analyse how and why they work.
It gets into theory too, discussing more philosophical approaches to composition, as well as famous schools like the Bauhaus movement. Freeman’s knowledgeable and accessible style makes this a book that even highly experienced photographers should find space for on their bookshelves.
If you’re much more comfortable behind a camera than you are behind a computer, this book from Adobe’s own publishing arm will help you get to grips with the most powerful photo-editing tool in the world. The authors do a good job of working up from the basics to more advanced concepts, and there are plenty of hands-on exercises to allow you to put what you’ve learned into practice (though be aware that some of these require file downloads, which can be a bit fiddly). Get stuck in and add another string to your professional bow – you’ll be glad you did.
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Going it alone is tough, and the unfortunate truth is that simply being a good or even great photographer isn’t necessarily enough. You have to know the business, and this book is the perfect way to shore up your knowledge. Harrington covers everything from paperwork to tax audits, using his own extensive knowledge to prepare you for the realities of running your own photography business. He’s got absolutely loads of experience running his own photography business, and always seems to have just the right example for every major point. If you go for it in the photography business, you’ll find yourself returning to this book again and again.
Professional photographers need a head for business, but it’s important not to neglect the artistic side either. Bruce Barnbaum’s book is a wonder – an exploration of the life of a photographer and artist, and a blueprint for finding the art in your own work. Covering colour and black and white (with a shade more of the latter, reflecting Barnbaum’s own interests), it ranges in focus from the “why” of taking pictures to the practical “how” of making prints, and is all the better for all of it. If you feel you’re in danger of falling out of love with photography, this is the book to reignite your passion.
The best books for photographers: Inspiration
The great critic John Berger produced some of the twentieth century’s most enduring and considered photographic criticism. This collection brings together more than 20 of his essays, in which Berger turns his critical lens to images of Che Guevara, the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, August Sander's image of three peasants going to a dance, and much more. Deeply political, and shot through with Berger’s signature laconic wit, it should be considered essential reading for anyone who considers themselves interested in photography. It’s a book you’ll find yourself dipping in and out of, again and again.
Out of print and all-but-unobtainable for many years, The Decisive Moment was recently reprinted and is an essential buy for anyone with any interest at all in street photography, or indeed just good photography. Cartier-Bresson’s unfailing eye for, well, the decisive moment gave his images practically unparalleled cultural endurance and longevity, and this book reproduces them in glorious quality. They are images you don’t so much see as experience, and having words of introduction from Cartier-Bresson himself immediately bumps the book up from desirable to essential.
Originally published serially in the New York Review of Books, Susan Sontag’s On Photography is a collection of essays that may make you want to pick up your camera right away – or make you want to never touch it again. It’s a passionate, outspoken and forthright book, aggressively interrogating the meaning and purpose of a photograph. If you like to keep your books pristine, don’t read this while you’re anywhere near a pencil, because you won’t be able to stop yourself from underlining practically half the sentences as Sontag makes insight after insight. Every photographer should read this.
Though she’s now revered as one of street photography’s all-time greats, when Vivian Maier died in 2009, no one had any idea of the archive she had amassed containing more than 150,000 photographs. They’ve since been discovered of course, and Maier has taken her deserved place in the canon, with exhibitions of her work showing regularly and books like this fabulous tome being published. Focusing on her work in colour, this gorgeous collection sheds just a little light on one of photography’s most fascinating mysteries. Like it or not, Maier can now only speak to us through her work – it’s worth listening to what she has to say.
And finally, here’s an efficient way to fill your bookshelves with great photography. Spanning hundreds of years of photography, all the way from the first photographic milestones right up to the present day, this collection will no doubt include many images your recognise as well as a fair few you don’t. It’s endlessly enjoyable to leaf through, and makes an irrefutable case for how much photography has shaped the world we live in. Inspire yourself in the company of the greats – there’s no better way to do it.