10 books every photographer should read

First published:
November 16, 2022
February 5, 2024

10 books every photographer should read

First published:
November 16, 2022
February 5, 2024

Woman hands holding teacup by Luigi Morbidelli

No matter how long you’ve been practicing photography, it’s always great to find inspiration and learn something new from another photographer's own experience and perspective.

Photography books have been around for decades, long before the internet and YouTube tutorials existed, and solidify the foundations of what we know about the complex medium. Many of the best books on photography were intended to pave the way for earlier practitioners to build upon, providing essential first-hand knowledge and areas of study to determine the best and most practical methods of photography.

With that said, not all photography books have to be educational, and some recently published books are designed purely to provide inspiration in the way of a photographer’s vibrant portfolio, and to enjoy as a delightful coffee table book for easy browsing. Perceiving images in a physical format is traditional, sentimental, and definitely not a thing of the past, despite print media beginning to lose the battle over digital and video content.

Owning a photography book can be crucial not only for students to understand how print differs from digital photography, but also to decipher the importance of understanding your area of interest in photography and finding your own style through influence. Whether you prefer analog over digital, or documentary over fashion, there’s a photography book out there written just for you. But to get you started, here’s a summary of books that we think every photographer should read.  

1 Photographers on Photography by Henry Carroll

Image credit: Beth Nicholls

The most qualified people to provide an opinion on photography are photographers themselves, right? This book from author Henry Carroll compiles quotes and interviews from up to 50 leading and renowned professional photographers, and masters of the medium, interpreted by Carroll to understand how these artists have developed their core visual styles and what this art form and creative process mean to them.

The book while taking a different approach could be viewed as an extension of his earlier and immensely popular series, titled Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs. Photographers on Photography: How they See, Think, and Shoot, however, features commentary and quotes from the likes of Alec Soth, Man Ray, Esther Teichman, Maisie Cousins, Ralph Gibson,  Daidō Moriyama, William Henry Fox Talbot, and Dorothea Lange.

Intended for the critically curious minds of photographers, this book provides not only thought-provoking statements that make us question why we take photographs, but also inspires dexterity in learning how these individuals found their calling. A great book for curing the dreaded creative block, it can be picked up and put down frequently for inspiration.

2 Smart Photos by Jo Bradford

Image credit:  Jo Bradford / Smart Photos

The rise of smartphone photography and advanced upgrades to mobile imaging sensors enable us to be creative at times where we don’t always carry our “proper” cameras around and makes the art of photography much more accessible and affordable for those who don’t necessarily need or want to invest in the latest gear and expensive lenses.

This book from photographer, author, and masterclass educator, Jo Bradford, is the perfect guide for those looking to up their smartphone photography game, containing 52 practical exercises and creative ideas that will have you shooting on your phone like a pro in no time.

Smart photos has tutorials and advice on everything from nighttime astrophotography using just your smartphone, to light painting, image stacking, time-lapse landscapes, and how to create a mirror pool image, with post-processing tips, unlocking your phone's potential.

3 Henri Cartier-Bresson (New Horizons) by Clément Chéroux

Image credit: Henri Cartier-Bresson / Amazon

One of the most famous photographers and visual artists in the world, everyone should be familiar with the name Henri Cartier-Bresson. His images not only defined the early twentieth century but his entire life. Known most distinctively for his desire to capture what he called ‘The decisive Moment’, also the title of his original 1952 photography book, Cartier-Bresson had a profound influence in particular as a pioneer of early street photography and is credited as a founding member of Paris’ Magnum photos.

This is a book not so much about photography, but about the dedicated life of an extraordinary photographer. Author Clément Chéroux provides an in-depth look at the formative years of Cartier-Bresson’s highly influential collection of early work, and his life experiences from involvement in the second world war, as well as his work on film.

A super informative book for those wanting to get up to speed on the phenomenal work and life of one of the world’s most influential and leading photographers, this comprehensive retrospective contains interviews with Cartier-Bresson himself, and selected quotes and input from other photographers to contextualize his impact. You can’t go wrong with this pocket-sized paperback.

4 The dramatic portrait by Chris Knight

Image credit: Beth Nicholls

For those who could do with some improvement and guidance on their studio lighting setups, this is the book for you. Chris Knight is an instructor at the New York film academy, and his work has sported the cover of Vogue, People, and GQ magazines. The art of crafting light and shadow is explained in this informative guide that covers everything from the history of portraiture, technical lighting, shaping the face, color, styling, and post-production.

The book is illustrated by beautiful examples of Knight’s work in portraiture, harnessed by the perfect studio lighting setups, as well as images from other photographers that perfectly demonstrate the skill and technique that the author is describing. Terms are explained to the reader in a very consumable and jargon-free manner, with quotes, diagrams, and collages.

This book is a must-have for those who want to know everything about how to correctly light a subject for a specific environment, scene, or mood. This level of expertise can’t be found via a quick Google search or video tutorial, and at an extremely reasonable price, there’s no excuse for a portrait photographer not to know their stuff after reading this excellent book. 

5 Old School Photography by Kai Man Wong

Image credit: Kai Man Wong / Amazon

Speaking of knowing your stuff, many photographers in this digital age have never used film cameras or experienced analog darkroom processes such as printing with enlargers or developing film. Those new to analog photography and part of the 35mm film resurgence often find themselves understandably lost on where to begin. If you can relate, then this handy modern manual paperback by Kai Man Wong is an essential study.

Titled Old School Photography: 100 Things You Must Know to Take Fantastic Film Photos, this book does exactly what it says on the tin. The book offers invaluable tips on the first steps such as selecting a film camera, and the various lenses that go along with it, shooting film for beginners, and specific techniques to ensure great results.

Kai is very present on YouTube, with a channel amassing 933k subscribers, all digital and film photography fanatics. Kai uploads a mixture of the latest flagship camera reviews, lens comparisons, drone footage, and expert tutorials on all things photography. You’re in great hands with this Old School Photography guide, as Kai has plenty of experience to offer in the trial-and-error stages of shooting film, as offered in an enlightening and humorous tone. 

6 The Photography Bible - Michael Freeman

Image credit: Michael Freeman // Amazon

This book from renowned author and photographer, Michael freeman is a collective work divided into four essential areas for photographers to understand and focus on; exposure, light & lighting, composition, and editing. Freeman is considered to be an expert on writing photography-based guides and is a bestselling author of the book series titled 'The Photographer’s Eye', which was republished as a tenth-anniversary edition.

This book from Freeman however is a more complete and comprehensive approach to photography guidance as a whole, rather than divided into separate hefty-sized books solely centered around topics such as composition and light. ‘The Photography Bible: All You Need to Know to Take Perfect Photos’ covers all areas of photography and modern digital cameras, with chapters on metering modes, high dynamic range, bit depth, tonality, post-production, negative space, and blending.

The book is illustrated with large-scale images and diagrams and covers each topic concisely in an easy-to-interpret format. If you ever want to achieve a certain effect with your DSLR or mirrorless camera and aren’t sure about the best method, then this book is great for teaching you everything you need to know (as the title suggests) and which settings to tinker with to get the desired effect and shot. 

7 Dogtography by Kaylee Greer

Image credit: Beth Nicholls

Dogtography: A Knock-Your-Socks-Off Guide to Capturing the Best Dog Photos on Earth by Kaylee Greer is a must-have book for those interested in the emerging trend of pet and dog photography. Or even if this area of photography isn’t something you’d choose to practice, who doesn’t love a book full of vibrant images featuring adorable dogs?

This book is perfect for those interested in elements of animal behavior too, discussing in-depth topics such as specific dog body language, the importance of positive reinforcement, and safe working practices with case studies as examples. The teachings by Greer could be applied in many situations as a photographer who works with children or animals, with tutorials on how to deal with fast-moving subjects.

Greer herself is internationally recognized, having traveled the world for her pet photography and working with a roster of clients. Having watched her talk at The Photography Show this year in the UK, she recalled that one of her favorite images is of a dog on a gondola boat that she captured in Venice, Italy, and the shoot was challenging to say the least. Overall this book is informative, entertaining, insightful, and an absolute joy to browse her images. 

8 Creative 52: Weekly Projects to Invigorate Your Photography Portfolio by Lindsey Adler

Image credit: Lindsey Adler / Amazon

The purpose of this guide by Lindsey Adler is to transform the portfolio of the reader and boost their photographic creativity in just one year. Adler uses the anecdote of the time that a London magazine editor informed her younger self that the portfolio she had presented him with was unoriginal, totally forgettable and that she should scrap it. Instead of letting this defeat get her down, Adler used this as the fire beneath her to up her photography game, and completely replace her portfolio, becoming a better photographer in the process.

Creative 52 is a guide created by Adler intended to fix the forgetful and “average” portfolio of a photographer, designed for innovative projects that will help photographers who specialize in areas of portrait, wedding, and fashion, to curate an all-new portfolio that will draw the attention of editors and potential clients. Each of the 52 projects includes a technical description, potential inspiration, and challenge solution from Adler, and other artists that the reader should check out for further reference.

With a year’s worth of creative and thought-provoking challenges, expert guidance, a blend of inspiration and knowledge, and a straightforward cure for the average image, this book offers excellent motivation for those wanting to get out of a creative slump. Adler is a super successful portrait and fashion photographer based in New York City and has recently published another book titled ‘The Photographer's Guide to Posing: Techniques to Flatter Everyone’ which focuses solely on fashion and portrait photography. 

9 1001 Photographs: You Must See Before You Die by Paul Lowe

Image credit: Steve Mccurry (cover) / Amazon

If there’s only one book on this list you should consider purchasing, it’s this one. Featuring a roster of world-famous images spanning across a vast history of photography, from all over the world, and by artists that include Ansel Adams, Helmut Newton, Martin Parr, and Annie Leibovitz.

Multiple major events are also noted in this book, having been captured by the best photographers at the time. These include the image of V-J Day in Times Square of a couple kissing, captured using a Leica by Alfred Eisenstaedt. The oldest surviving photograph from 1826 was captured by the father of photography, Joseph Niepce, as well as the famous Latticed Window by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1835, both practitioners credited in part for inventing photography.

If you want to learn more about the history and origins of photography, then definitely consider purchasing a copy of this book, as well as a source of valuable insight and inspiration by studying the world’s most famous photographs and who captured them, and the gear they used to do it.

10 Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz

Image credit: Beth Nicholls

Arguably one of the greatest and most influential photographers of our generation, Annie Leibovitz works with celebrities, but is something of a celebrity in her own right. This book authored by Leibovitz herself addresses young photographers directly and tells of her journey working for Rolling Stone in the earlier days, and transitioning from shooting film to digital photography, a uniquely personal glimpse into her work and lifestyle.

Leibovitz has one of the richest bodies of work in the industry, having collaborated with major celebrities and shooting for the likes of Vogue and Vanity Fair. Leibovitz also shot the last ever image of John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono, a beautiful portrait captured just hours before his death. At the age of 73, Leibovitz is still one of the most profound photographers still working today and shows no signs of slowing or stopping anytime soon.

Originally published in 2008, this revised copy of her self-authored best-selling book has been updated to include more recent and personal anecdotes and the backstory behind some of her most famous photographs to date. This book is a must-read for every photographer interested in learning the process of Leibovitz’s portraits, as told in an abridged autobiography format.

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