Recommended Photography Books

by Mike on March 15, 2011

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that expensive gear will make you a better photographer – as if that hot, sexy $5,000 Nikon D3s will instantly power you to the next level.

But it won’t. It’s far more important to focus on education. In addition to photography classes I’ve started taking (where my work is regularly abused by my Professor), I’ve placed an increasing focus on cranking through photography books to improve my skill level, which admittedly, is nowhere near where I want it to be.

So I thought I’d compile a list of books that are helping me improve my skillset.

For Aperture Users

Apple Pro Training Series: Aperture 3 by Dion Scoppettuolo

I’ve look at every single Aperture-3 book on the market and Scoppetuolo’s is by far and away the best, and the one I go to when I’m having trouble navigating Aperture’s features. It’s a no-brainer. If you run Aperture 3, you need this book.

General Photography

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

This might be the best photography book I’ve ever read. Through in-depth discussions of composition, light, color, and various elements of creativity, The Art of Photography educates you on the ins-and-outs of making great photographs without relying on standard ‘rules’ of photography.

Life Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros by Joe McNally

This is an outstanding book for digital-photography beginners who are looking for a thorough grounding in the basics, and who also want to quickly get quality results out of their shiny new cameras. Joe McNally is a rare breed – a world-class creative photographer and world-class educator.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

If there’s one book I wish I had owned when I started out, it’s Understand Exposure, which incidentally is one of the best-selling photography books of all time. And while the focus of the book is getting the best exposures in your images, it also contains a wealth of information on general-photography issues. It’s a must-own at just $15, especially if you’re a beginner.

Portrait Photography

Vanity Fair: The Portraits: A Century of Iconic Images by Graydon Carter

Vanity Fair has published thousands of incredible portraits over the years, and this book has a whole ton of them. This is not an instruction manual for portrait photography. It is, however, an amazing collection of images that should stir up your photographic heart and mind.

Photographers look at way too much gear – it’s also important to look at PHOTOGRAPHS!!!

Fashion Flair for Portrait and Wedding Photography by Lindsay Adler

If you’re new to fashion and/or portrait photography, Lindsay’s book is a great place to start, provided you’re not interested in creating Sears Portrait Studio-type images. Full review here.

Fashion Photography

Avedon Fashion 1944-2000 by Richard Avedon

This is not a tutorial book, but if you’re interested in fashion photography, then you owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself with the master Richard Avedon. If you can’t find inspiration here, you won’t find it anywhere, PERIOD.

Helmut Newton: Sumo by June Newton

Just a warning for those of you in office cubicles – there is a naked lady on the cover of this book, and more inside! Again, this is not an instruction book, but rather an amazing collection of 400+ images from Helmut Newton, one of the greatest and most-controversial fashion photographers of all time. Newton’s work reeks of sex, so it’s not for the squeamish. And oh yeah, the book is friggin’ huge – it’s 17.1″ x 12.1 x 4.4″ and weighs about 14 pounds!

Lighting Information

Light, Science, and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua

LS&M is basically a comprehensive textbook on photographic lighting, and should be considered required reading for anyone interested in learning about the principles of lighting – not mere how-to manuals on equipment.

Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Photographers by Neil van Niekerk

Neil Van Niekerk is one of the best wedding photographers in the world, and as it turns out, one of the better teachers as well. Off-Camera Flash Techniques is an incredible book for those interested in off-camera flash, and is packed with enough information and tips to satisfy everyone from amateur to seasoned pro. And while Neil is well-known as a Nikon shooter, he keeps the book pretty brand-agnostic.

Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait by Michael Grecco

Michael Grecco is one of the top celebrity, advertising, and editorial-portrait photographers in the world. He’s also an expert in creating edgy, unconventional lighting environments. Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait takes you behind the scenes to show you how he created incredible images of folks ranging from Shaquille O’Neal to Jet Li to the cast of NYPD Blue to Joaquin Phoenix to Bill Gates to you get the idea.

Just a caveat: this book is amazing and truly inspirational, but it’s not for beginners.

Wedding Photography

Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography by David Ziser

Captured by the Light is hands-down the best wedding-photography book on the market, as it’s jam-packed with information on lighting, posing, off-camera flash, and gear. To me, what makes this book awesome is that David shows how to get great results out of supposedly ‘amateur’ gear.


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