The Best Photography Books
Photography books to inspire and improve your photography
“Over the years I’ve built up quite a collection of photography books and as many of you have asked what my favorites are, I thought I’d put together a list of my favorite inspirational and educational photography books.”
Inspirational Photography Books
South Southeast - Steve McCurry
I’ve always been a fan of Steve McCurry (I’ve followed his work since I was a teenager at the start of my journey into photography) but this particular publication definitely stands out as one of my all time favorites.
“The book features 69 of his images from South and Southeast Asia and includes many of my favorite works of his. Each is set on a double page spread, which allows you to truly appreciate the full power and magic of his images.”
Accompanied by anecdotes and personal accounts of the shots, I find I can relate to the images and stories after having worked in Southeast Asia myself.
In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers
In Our Time, which I bought in New York in the late 1990s, captures some of the world’s most historic moments in more than 300 images shot by some of the world’s best photojournalists.
Accompanied by text written by historian William Manchester, the book is an artful combination of reporting and visuals that provide an insightful reflection on our experience of the 20th century.
In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers is a collection of work by Magnum photographers during the 20th century.
National Geographic: The Photographers
While you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, Steve McCurry’s image of the Afghan girl tells you all you need to know about the quality of this incredible collection of iconic images, shot by National Geographic photographers.
They share their techniques and anecdotes while author Leah Bendavid-Val writes about their work from technical, journalistic, and artistic perspectives.
Lichfield In Retrospect - Patrick Lichfield
Originally published in 1988, Lichfield In Retrospect is a reflection on a selection of the author’s images taken throughout his professional career.
“From portraits to landscapes, Lichfield delivered work that was not only technically outstanding, but also thoughtful.”
Many may look at his work and wonder why I’ve included this, but when you consider the fact he was using film it gives you new appreciation for how groundbreaking much of his work was. Nowadays it’s easy to look at a scenario, take the photo and check, but it wasn’t that simple when he was photographing.
RankinWorks - Rankin
RankinWorks is a collection of the portrait photographer’s work throughout the 1990s. It chronicles his rise from the days with Dazed & Confused to being an internationally acclaimed photographer.
Much of his early work, for me, is genius and although I find it provocative (sometimes just for the sake of being so, I feel) he’s undoubtedly a master of modern portraiture, which you can see throughout this book.
The Morning After - David Drebin
This masterful collection of Drebin’s work is one of my newest photography books.
For me it’s an interesting collection of stylized work, much of which has a distinct feel of voyeurism to it. His composition, lighting, use of color and post production is genius. Each image tells a story, evokes emotion and stays in your mind for some time after. For those interested in evocative portraiture combined with opulent cityscapes, this book is well worth a look.
More Than Human - Tim Flach
Tim Flach, who appeared on our Live Talk Show earlier this year, has published five successful books, the most recent of which is Endangered. However, it’s More Than Human that is my favorite.
This collection features close up portraits of animals and aims to “illuminate the relationship between human and non-human animals — to make an inquiry into how these relationships occupy anthropocentric space.”
“The lighting, detail, thought and post production work is incredible throughout and it’s no wonder this book is near impossible to get hold of nowadays. The fact that he’s sold as many copies as he has is testament to the quality of the work.”
'More Than Human', which examines the relationship between humans and animals, is my favourite book of Tim Flach's.
Five Thousand Days: Press Photography in a Changing World
Similar to In Our Time, Five Thousand Days is a collection of some of the most famous historical moments in our recent history. It’s a fascinating look at time with a unique twist — it covers exactly five thousand days.
The Great LIFE Photographers
Another wonderful collection of documentary work, this book includes work by LIFE magazine photographers, the who’s who of photojournalism, throughout the 20th century.
Again, many of the images mark major milestones in recent history in a collection of color and black and white images.
Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World - Christian Sardet
This, my most recent purchase, is a visually spectacular collection of work that transports the reader into a world they typically would never get to experience.
“Sardet used micrography to take a close up look at plankton in a unique and artistic way. His control and lighting of each frame is outstanding, and to be able to capture microscopic organisms in an aesthetically pleasing way is really quite something to see.”
I find this especially interesting due to my love of diving - I swim with these on a regular basis but, until now, hardly realized they were there.
Water Light Time - David Doubilet
David Doubilet is truly a pioneer in the field of underwater photography, his skill is unparalleled and his images simply breathtaking.
Water Light Time includes 25 years worth of his work. From the Red Sea to the waters of the Okavango Delta, Doubilet completely transports you. He captures the essence of what it truly feels like to be underwater.
Whether it be a simple image of a dolphin or shoal of fish, the National Geographic photographer captures something special with every shot and gives you the feeling of what it’s like to be underwater.
Inherit the Dust - Nick Brandt
I only recently discovered Nick Brandt’s work but find every element of it interesting. Shooting on black and white film, the tonal range and quality of his black and white imagery is outstanding, with everything having been processed in the darkroom.
In Inherit the Dust Brandt records the impact of man in places where animals used to roam, but no longer do. He erected life-size panels of his animal portraits and set them in urbanized areas such as factories, wasteland and quarries where they would have occurred naturally.
“The majesty of the scale of the prints so thoughtfully incorporated into environments where they clearly no longer belong is both shocking and moving at the same time and brings home the loss of habitat in a startling way.”
It’s fine art wildlife photography, but not in the way you would expect it.
Practical photography books
Photography By The Letter - Jeffery Saddoris
Photography By The Letter is a handbook of more than 170 photography terms, clearly defined and explained along with diagrams and photos.
It covers both digital and analog terms and also answers many common photography questions. It’s superb reference book, which is often on hand in my office, and would be a great addition to any photographer’s collection.
Lens Work - Canon
This book was the first photography book I really read to help further my understanding of photography. I got it when I was 17-years-old and it really taught me a lot in the early days.
Although it explained the Canon lens range, which at the time was only manual focus, the physics of it still apply to the lenses we use today.
Corporate and Location Photography - Gary Gladstone
Part of the Kodak Pro Workshop Series, this book was perfect in the early days of my career when I was doing a lot of location and environmental shoots.
It taught me valuable tricks for when working on location and shed light on some valuable industry secrets. It also included a list of recommended equipment, which I found very useful.
Creative Large Format: Basics and Application - Urs Tillmann
As a former Sinar user, I found this book particularly useful when it came to understanding their cameras. This book covered the system and concept of shooting with 5x4 inch and was a classic advertising photography tool.