- January 02, 2021
- 60 min to read
50 Best Photography Books
For those looking to become a better photographer, there’s nothing better than going out into the field and experiencing trial and error. However, there’s something else you should do as well: Read about the profession from those who have already found success.
Books in photography take two general forms. First are the instructional books that teach you everything you ever wanted to know about becoming a successful photographer. Then there are the books that show you some of the best photographs ever taken in the wild and explanations on how the artist was able to snap the image.
After careful consideration, we’ve pulled together 50 of the best photography books on the planet. Take a look:
It’s All About the Learning
After reading a few of these titles, your journey to becoming a successful photographer will almost certainly begin.
Now in its eighth edition, Complete Digital Photography offers a timeless guide through the creative and challenging world of digital photography. In its pages, you’ll learn how a camera works and how to choose the right one for you. The book also includes step-by-step tutorials that will help you perfect the process of shooting, imaging edition, output, workflow, and more. In doing so, you’ll learn about exposure theory, composition, lighting, complex masking, image adjustment, and more.
Rhodes has published over two dozen books on digital photography and digital video. He has also worked as a senior editor at Macworld magazine and as a contributing editor at CreativePro.com. You can find his photography courses at Lynda.com.
This must-read book is now celebrating its 50th anniversary. The all-new 10th edition has been revamped, reorganized, and modernized for a 21st-century audience. Ideal for students, beginners, and advanced users alike, “Langford’s Basic Photography” teaches you the fundamentals of photography using a comprehensive mix of scholarly and practical information.
For the latest edition, the author has added new sections on digital cameras and digital printing. Plus, long-running analog parts have been overhauled to give a more modern tone.
In this slightly dated book (published in 2010), LIFE’s Joe McNally explains everything from how to turn on a camera to the most advanced techniques, all in a down-to-earth manner. On each beautiful page, you’ll learn something new in plain text, not in the technical jargon used in other books. Best of all, through your journey, you’ll experience fantastic photographs that illustrate each concept with ease. Underneath each, you’ll find information such as the F-stop, shutter speed and ISO used.
From 1994 until 1998, McNally was LIFE magazine’s staff photographer. His most well-known series is the “Faces of Ground Zero — Portraits of the Heroes of September 11th.” This collection offers 246 giant Polaroid portraits shot in the Moby C Studio near Ground Zero in a three-week period shortly after 9/11.
This iconic book has taught generations of photographers how to shoot images they want by demystifying the entire concepts of exposure. In the pages, the ventral photographer explains the importance of light, aperture, and shutter speed, and how they interact with and influence one another.
A big part of “Understanding Exposure” is Peterson’s unique way of explaining how to find the right exposures in the trickiest of situations. In doing so, he has the brilliant ability to show you how to get (or lose) sharpness and contrast in images, freeze action, and take the best meter readings, while also exploring filters, flash, and light.
This version offers an expanded section on flash, tips for using colored gels, and advice on shooting star trails.
If your post-processing revolves around using Adobe Photoshop, your best bet is to have a handy guide such as this sitting around ready to assist. Now in its second edition, “Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book” offers 15 project-based lessons that show you step-by-step analytical techniques for working in Photoshop, including how to correct, enhance, and distort digital images, create image composites, and prepare images for print and the web.
This edition offers all-new features like search capabilities, Content-Aware Crop, Select and Mask, Face-Aware Liquify, designing with multiple art boards, creating and organizing enhanced brush presets, and more.
The online companion files include all the assets readers need to complete the projects featured in each chapter as well as ebook updates when Adobe releases relevant new features for Creative Cloud customers.
Translated into dozens of languages, “The Digital Photography Book” is considered the No. 1 best-selling book of its kind. If you’re looking for technical jargon or a book on theory, this isn’t the one for you. Instead, this book offers detailed information on over 200 of the most closely guarded photographic “tricks of the trade.” In doing so, you’ll learn how to take better-looking, sharper, more colorful, and more professional-looking photos in language even the most basic novice can understand.
“The Digital Photography Book, Part 2 (2nd Edition),” not surprisingly, offers more knowhow.
The original photography book by Michael Freeman is a time-honored manuscript that explains the importance of creativity in the digital age. It explains the traditional approach to digital photography and also explores new techniques that can help you to understand composition and editing better.
This book will help you to take a look at the importance of creativity in photography.
In Freeman’s award-winning book, you’ll learn how design is the single most crucial factor in creating a successful photograph. In doing so, you’ll get to experience all the traditional approaches to composition and design, plus learn about digital processes such as stitching.
Considered perhaps too academic by some, “The Photographer’s Eye” is still one of the most popular books of its genre. It provides a wealth of knowledge you can use throughout your journey as a photographer.
Here you will find 45 practical tips and ten “golden rules” to make yourself a better photographer. This guide, for novices and professionals, includes real-word-based insight into the creative and technical skills required to produce amazing images. Additionally, the book offers advice on kit, techniques, and editing and sharing, to help you capture awesome moments wherever you are in the world.
Each tip and trick is accompanied by a photograph to show you how it’s done.
The final title in this segment concentrates on a topic that never goes out of style, photographic lighting. This book offers a comprehensive theory of the nature and principles of light, with examples and instructions for practical application. To tell its stories, it features photographs, diagrams, and step-by-step instructions.
This edition features 100 newly added photographs and sidebars and updated information about the advances in flash equipment, LED panels and fluorescent lights.
This is the book you need if you want to get to learn about flash photography. The author explains to you the importance of light and color and how flash can enhance and improve your photographs. This is an excellent how-to book clarifying all elements of flash photography.
Don’t let the title mislead you, the information contained in the book can be easily applied to other brands of speedlites.
This is the #1 book for learning Adobe’s Lightroom for a reason. The book flows through the process of photo-editing in Lightroom comprehensively and in a language that is easy to understand.
In this latest version, Kelby takes the reader step-by-step into Lightroom tutorials with easy to follow and understand exercises. The reader will basically be set to use Lightroom from the start and get more comfortable with the software as they dive deeper into the book.
This is a time-honored classic book on the theory of color by Johannes Itten. This book is used by many creative people in a variety of fields that work with color. Photographers can benefit from this revised and simplified version that also includes practical exercises to help the reader understand the concepts better.
This is an excellent book to purchase if you want to make your photographs aesthetically perfect. You will learn the basic rules of composition and how to use them in your own photography projects. You will learn how people’s eyes move over a photograph and how you can make your photographs more pleasing to look at.
From lines to curves and from light to shadows; learn how to use a variety of elements to compose your perfect shots every time.
As the title implies, this book is all about light and exposure. The book contains clear explanations of how light affects your photographs and how to demystify it so that you can work with it like a pro. Learn how to create silhouettes, high contrast scenes, and much more.
Professional photographer Jim Zuckerman is known for his vivid and unique photographs. Here he shares some of his tricks so that you too can achieve those high wow-factor images. He explains how to edit your photographs to reveal their best features, how to control the aspect of movement in photographs, and much more.
The book is also packed with some of his colorful and inspiring photographs.
As the title suggests, this books explains film photography and offers reasons why it is still relevant today. Both casual and inspiring, the book teaches you the basics of film, cameras, and shooting in this medium.
Discussions include a look at the different tone and color characteristics of different films, how to load a medium-format camera back, how to create proper exposures, and how and where to get film processed.
Film Is Not Dead is ideally suited for anyone who wants to learn more about old-school film photography.
This best-selling guide has been completely revised with new photographs that explain the author’s theory on creativity. Bryan Peterson is a well-known photographer who uses his own photographs in this book to illustrate that creativity is a skill and that it can be acquired by all photographers. Learn how to use color as a design element, learn how to avoid some common photographer mistakes, and much more.
This is the perfect book that will help you think differently and that will certainly inspire you to create more stunning photographs.
If you are a true beginner, this course book will have you taking photos in no time. The book is packed with tutorials, step-by-step guides, and exercises. Read the modules and take the lessons at your own pace and learn how to use your camera to its full potential.
You will learn everything you need to know about cameras and photography.
This is Michael Freeman’s acclaimed follow-up book from his best-seller The Photographer’s Eye. This book will take you on a journey to discovering your own creativity by looking at and analyzing other photographer’s works.
Like several other photographers, Freeman believes that creativity can be taught and learned through practical exercises in photography. He explains how to stay away from clichés and how to be original.
In this book, Barnbaum dives into the technicalities of photography but also the artistic, creative, and philosophical personal approaches that photographers take. This is a great book if you are a beginner, an intermediate shooter, or even a professional photographer. It takes a look at the broader elements that make photography what it is.
This is the book you want to get if you need more than a simple technical how-to guide.
This is the book you want to get if you want to take your nature photography to the next level. The Gerlachs have been giving workshops on nature photography for many years and have now put all the wealth of information that they have acquired throughout the years into a book.
From what equipment to use in the field to pro editing tips, this book is full of useful information for all nature photographers.
Inspirational Photography Books
The top wildlife photographers in the world are highlighted in this annual publication. Each volume teaches you a little bit more about composition, contrast, lighting, color theory, and more.
This book is an excellent showcase of the most beautiful work in the world.
Joe McNally’s photographs have been featured in National Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Time, to name a few. His book The Moment it Clicks: Photography Secrets From One of the World’s Top Shooters is a beautiful book showing some of his best photographs but also teaches the readers how the shots were taken. McNally goes into detail about each photograph from start to finish.
This is an inspirational book that will help get your creative juices flowing.
This book form Ansel Adams is a collection of 40 of his black & white photographs that he meticulously goes into detail describing. Every aspect of the photos is explained, from concept to the more technical details that went into creating each one of them.
Learn from one of the masters how he achieved some of his best shots.
George Lepp is a renowned wildlife photographer and, with his wife, has put together a book that recounts his stories from the field. Sometimes cute, sometimes scary, he goes into detail about how wildlife photography is captivating and always changing.
Along with every beautiful photo included in the book, he divulges to you how the photo was taken and how you too can achieve that type of photo. If you enjoy wildlife photography, this book is definitely for you. It will inspire you to get out there to shoot.
The successful photography exhibition, The Family of Man, opened in 1955 at The Museum of Modern Art and was considered pioneering in the photography world. A total of 273 photographers from 69 different countries made up the impressive exhibition.
This book contains all 503 photographs from this exhibition that focuses on man’s oneness on this planet.
This inexpensive tome offers some of National Geographic’s most iconic images from the late 19th century until today. Never-before-scene images also play an important role here too. The book is divided into four themes: Wilderness, Exploration, and Adventure; Wildlife; Peoples, Cultures, and Lifestyles; Science and Climate Change.
Each section’s content and images describe the evolution of photography, both technically and aesthetically.
First published in 2005, this book looks at nearly two decades of Paolo Roversi’s hugely influential studio portraiture. Using an 8 x 10 Polaroid format, he often allows his images to fade before affixing them to their substrate. His long exposures at close range harness an aesthetic that dates back to the earliest days of studio photography, but with a renewed urgency that wavers somewhere between history and apparition.
TIME Magazine is famous for its exceptional journalism, but also for its fascinating photographs. This newly published book showcases some of the most powerful photographs that accompanied stories and events throughout the years. From a photo of Babe Ruth in the Yankee Stadium to social protests across the planet, this compilation is an awesome reference book to have.
This book is an autobiography of the famous photographer’s work. From staff photographer at Rolling Stone to photographer of the stars, Leibovitz takes you into her creative world of photography. From how she started with film to today’s digital cameras, she details her process of creation and will surely inspire you.
This book is a great window into the life and work of a professional photographer. Get to see and learn how she achieves those outstanding shots.
First published in 2001 as a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the artist’s birth, “Ansel Adams at 100” look at this distinguished photographer’s work through an impressive collection of his work.
The exhibition prints offered here, drawn from public and private collections, have been reproduced in tritone, faithfully rendering the nuances of the original photographs.
Obviously, you don’t have to read all of these books to become a better photographer. Nonetheless, you should consider picking up a few of them to use as references to make your work even better. Many of the titles are available in digital format, while some remain in hardback or paperback only.
In this retrospective, you’ll experience the work one of the leading photographers of her generation. This book profiles her best work from the series “Flower Portraits,” “Light Warriors,” “Illuminations,” “Wise Women,” “Amazing Men,” and “Intimacy.” It also includes unknown early photographs, self-portraits, and writings.
This beautiful catalog offers 125 reproductions of Avedon’s most significant work, including fashion photographs, reportage, and portraits. The American, who died in 2004, is remembered for helping to define America’s image of style, beauty, and culture for the last half-century.
Vivian Maier was a complete unknown until boxes of her photographs were recently found in a storage unit and auctioned off. Her life and her story mostly remain a mystery, but she unknowingly was probably one of the first street photographers of her time. She took more than 100,000 photographs in many parts of the world through her life and never showed them to anyone.
The book is a collection of some of the best photographs that she produced.
This catalog offers more than 200 works from one of the most famous and influential artists of the last century. Ray, who died in 1976, was a photographer, painter, and creator of experimental films. His work is often compared to the works of other artists of the twentieth century, such as Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, Constantin Brancusi, Jean Arp, and Francis Picabia.
If you’re serious about becoming a professional photographer, you need to learn more about Robert Mapplethorpe, one of the most influential and controversial artists of his generation. This book offers a fascinating look at the artist's career and legacy, accompanied by a large selection of illustrations covering the remarkable range of his photographic work.
History and Philosophy of Photography
For something completely different, consider Photography: A Critical Introduction. This paperback looks at debates in photographic theory and places them in social and political contexts. The latest edition covers topics such as materialism and embodiment, the commodification of human experience, and an extended discussion of landscape as a genre.
Features 98 photographs and images from Bill Brandt, Susan Derges, Rineke Dijkstra, Fran Herbello, Hannah Höch, Karen Knorr, Dorothea Lange, Chrystel Lebas, Susan Meiselas, Lee Miller, Martin Parr, Ingrid Pollard, Jacob Riis, Alexander Rodchenko, Andres Serrano, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Wall.
This book, published in 1977, is considered one of the seminal texts on photography. The author goes into detail about why we take photographs and why we enjoy looking at them on a more philosophical level. If you like to dive deeper into the meaning of photography in our lives, this is the book for you.
This book is another one that delves deep into the meaning of photography. Photography is one of those things that combines science and art and crosses many social boundaries across many fields of interest. This book breaks down some of the key elements that make up photography and explains each in detail.
This volume celebrates the camera and the art of the photograph by taking you on an incredible journey, 200 years in the making. Created in with the blessing of the George Eastman House, this volume looks at the development of the camera, the lives of its inventors, and the artists behind the lens. It includes more than 350 cameras, plus historical photos, ads, and drawings.
Take a walk down memory lane with this ultimate photography historical book. The book traces the history of photography of the past 200 years, from its origins to modern day digital photography. The book takes a look at the many different fields that photography plays a role in; from photojournalism to contemporary street photography. It also showcases several classic photographs and their creators. The must-have book for any history buff.
Presented here are 175 images that represent each of the phases and dimensions of Rowell’s career, chosen by the editors who worked with him, and overseen by his family and studio colleagues, and reproduced to the highest standards of lithography from digital masters of his 35mm frames. Complementing and illuminating the images are essays and commentaries by Rowell’s friends and associates from the worlds of mountaineering, conservation, photography, and publishing.
Rowell and his wife Barbara perished in a small-plane crash in 2002.
W. Eugene Smith is considered one of the earliest heroes of American photojournalism. From the 1930s until the 1970s, this photography legend created personal photo essays that continue to have an impact today.
In this book, you can see some of Smith’s work he photographed for “Newsweek,” “Life,” and other magazines. Included are duotone reproductions of both famous and never-before-published images.
In 1975, photographer Mary Ellen Mark embarked on a journey to Oregon State Hospital to work on a story on the making of Milos Forman’s film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ward 81 is the name of the locked hospital security ward for women.
Over 36 days, Mark and writer Karen Folger Jacobs lived on the ward to photograph and interview the women, considered the state’s most dangerous. Jacobs recalls their slow, inevitable assimilation: “We felt the degeneration of our own bodies and the erosion of our self-confidence. We were horrified at the thought of what we might become after a year or two of confinement and therapy on Ward 81.”
First published in France in 1958, and a year later in the United States, this iconic book features 83 photographs showing scenes taken in the U.S. between 1955 and 1956. In these pages, you’ll see a world roiled by racial tension, glamour, and beauty. You’ll also see a snapshot of a country in love with automobiles.
Business of Photography
In “What They Didn’t Teach You in Photo School,” you’ll learn real-life tools to transition from talented amateur to respected pro. In these pages, you’ll discover how to snag internships and assistant roles, impress at an interview, develop a fantastic portfolio, form strong relationships with clients, and lay the groundwork for your own career.
This is a complete and comprehensive guide for photographers just starting out and also for the ones with established businesses. In this revised and updated edition, Harington takes a look at all aspects of working as a photographer. This is the go-to reference book if you want to learn about how to set up your equipment and shoots, learn how to price your work, taxes, and insurance for photographers, and so much more. All the information you need to set up your photography business or to take your existing business to the next level is in this book.
Have you dreamt about selling some of your photographs? Whether you want to add a little extra income or make a living from it, this book shows you the multiple ways that you can earn money from your photographs. You will learn how to approach the agencies and publishers who purchase photographs, the secrets to selling stock photography online, and much much more.
Updated (your suggestions):
Never Stop Learning
Learning is a never-ending process. Reading books and looking at other photographers’ work will always enlighten and inspire you in your own photography journey. Some of these books are available in digital format, while others are only offered in paperback or hardcover.