10 Books Every Photographer Should Read Now

10 Books Every Photographer Should Read Now

As a photographer, focusing on improving your craft is one of the most important things to do. Money can buy the latest equipment, but it can't buy you knowledge of how to use that equipment.

For me, photography is not only about capturing moments but also about conveying a message through those images. A deep understanding of the artistic and philosophical aspects of photography is a must if you want to create images with intent. One way that has helped me deepen my understanding of photography was reading books about it. Here are the top 10 books that I would recommend every photographer read:

On Photography

This is the most widely recommended book to read for photographers. Published in 1977, this book is a collection of essays that explore the role of photography in modern society. Susan Sontag, being a partner of Annie Leibovitz, had a deep personal involvement with photography. It is likely that the essays that she wrote about photography were inspired by the stories of Leibovitz. In the book, you will find essays on the ethics of taking photographs, the relationship between photography and reality, as well as the power of images to shape popular opinion.

The Decisive Moment 

Cartier-Bresson is one of the most celebrated photographers in the world and indeed one of the pioneers of modern photography. In his book, he details the ability to capture a moment where the whole photograph comes together in a perfect storm.

In my own work, I often encourage the subject to move as much as possible and then capture the moment as it's happening in real life. In this way, I adopt the methods of Cartier-Bresson. He was indeed the master of capturing the perfect moment, and that became a cornerstone of his style. This book is a testament to his skill as a photographer and provides valuable insights into his creative process.

Light: Science and Magic

Every time someone asks me where did I learn light, my answer is always the same. This is the book for learning light. Forget everything you knew before reading it. This resource will teach you to light without thinking about setups. It will give you the required knowledge for dealing with almost any lighting scenario and problem. Shooting fashion, I work a lot with mixed surfaces, so being able to find the perfect light that would both show the clothes and the model in the best angle possible is a priority. Light: Science and Magic taught me all the lighting skills I have now, and I am yet to find a better resource to learn lighting.

Magnum Contact Sheets

Being able to select the perfect photograph from a series of images is a vital skill every photographer must have. One of the most significant parts of the photographic process in itself is the selection process. What you pick to be the final image is essentially what your taste is. Magnum is one of the most prestigious photo agencies in the world, and in this book, they offer a fascinating glimpse into the creative process of some of the world's most renowned photographers such as Robert Capa and Martin Parr.

Camera Lucida

In his book Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes explores the philosophy behind photography. It is a discussion on how to create meaning with images, which is as significant as being able to light a photograph. Understanding subtexts, implications, and the impact your images can have is a great skill to have which will allow you to take images with intent. Barthes also discusses the emotional impact of images and what makes an image powerful.

Annie Leibovitz at Work

Being one of the greatest photographers in the world, Annie Leibovitz offers insight into her creative process in this book. She takes the reader behind the scenes and discusses a wide range of subjects and shooting scenarios. From the emotional impact of photography to the technical aspects of her work, Leibovitz covers it all in her book. In fact, this was one of the first books I bought, and it has helped me a lot to become a better image-maker.

Understanding Exposure

If you are a beginner photographer who needs help with the foundations of photography, this book is perfect for you. It’s a technical guide that covers the basics of exposure, including aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It provides a clear and concise explanation of each concept, which leaves the reader clear on how to expose images. I strongly encourage every beginner to have this book and save time by reading it instead of searching on YouTube.

The Camera 

Widely regarded as the father of photography, Ansel Adams explains the workings of his equipment and gives a very technical perspective on his work. While some of the concepts may be outdated for the modern photographer, it is still a valuable read for anyone who wants to shoot on film. Another group I would recommend this book to is black and white photographers.

The Ongoing Moment

In this book, Geoff Dyer examines the development of photography through a series of essays about iconic photographs and the photographers behind them. To me, this is a book that offers invaluable analysis and provides the reader with tools that enable them to create images rather than take them. It is a fantastic insight into the creative process and development of photography as an art form.

The Passionate Photographer: Ten Steps Toward Becoming Great

In this book, Steve Simon shares his views on how to improve your photography. I tend to agree with his opinion on what makes a great photographer. It is not only technical skill but also the ability to convey an aesthetic and see the beauty in things. The wonderful thing that I found in this book is the way it is structured: 10 separate steps that will help you develop your aesthetic and find your own authentic creative voice.

Closing Thoughts

I tried to make this list a mix of both technical and non-technical books to give everyone something they like. The list is by no means complete, and I would love to hear your opinion in the comments below. Feel free to share some of your favorites with us!

Illya Ovchar's picture

Illya aims to tell stories with clothes and light. Illya's work can be seen in magazines such as Vogue, Marie Claire, and InStyle.
LIGHTING COURSE: https://illyaovchar.com/lighting-course-1

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With respect to Ansel Adams, you should have included the other to volumes in this 3-volume set. Yes, the Camera, you have. The other two are The Negative and The Print. These books represent the Holy Trinity in photography. Yes, these principles can be carried over into digital.

When I added it to my book list on Amazon, The Negative and The Print were the first two recommendations on the "customers also bought these"

Two more for consideration:

Paul Strand: The Garden at Orgeval : Selection and Essay by Joel Meyerowitz.

The Daybooks of Edward Weston

This is a great selection, Illya. I might have to make some room on my shelves and log onto Amazon.

glad you liked it, Ivor!

Thank you for this. I'm strictly hobbyistic. I struggle with photography! Recently bought a7s iii and three Sony lens. I need to read and practice, practice practice! Although I have been reading fstoppers for a few months this is my first comment. I thank fstoppers for all the articles.

Here's a book every photographer should have on his desk. helmut newton sumo original version

3 on my bookshelf that I can add to the reading list:

Lighting for Product Photography by Allison Earnest

Food Photography and Lighting by Teri Campbell

Running a Successful Photography Business by Lisa Pritchard

Goto first the camera on line support page to get manual Help Guide Web Manual and star save to a tab on your browser bar under cameras tab, this may tell clearly what a option does. But today with E-Books you can buy a book and also get it in a E-book form. I started with the A7s in '14 but found paperback books in a book store by Brian Smith a world class photographer (https://briansmith.com/) today used paper but you can buy the E-Book PDF. You may see many camera reviews on the Tube but never a complete showing of all things. I think of the E-Book (paper in color) the complete operators manual for all things as well a uses that will give you ideas. Example when the Sony model 2's came out it was all about IBIS but for the night and Astro capture a hidden and button assignable Bright Monitoring that is great for framing in dark places. Also to this day few if any in store Sony or Youtube reps know about the Sony Playmemories on camera apps making the A7/r/s and mod 2's more valuable and continued holding value 10 years after they came out. Ok you may want to do Milky Ways and everyone on the net says go out west where there are super dark skies but never say anything about the snakes and other critters, But the on camera Digital Filter app allows the capture of the Milky Way over a lit city or say you want son milky surf or flowing river without PS but in camera all ready to go without carrying a bunch of filters and their holders. Some of those apps today have been imbedded to the new camera. Have fun with the toy app.
If you have no need to sit through 4 years of college to learn the many things of photography and it's light triangle and meaning of compositions (boring) a great book review by a longtime photographer can get you there with most everything your camera can do, I am just saying just read some instruction first and a miracle image will display on the camera screen. Also books have lens comparisons'.
You can not see it with the eye but the stars are grouped in the sky and the camera can see them. There are wide lenses and telephoto lense or macro like for that close up of that unusual find.

Who Moved My Cheese
...because change is going to happen (think of the last 10-20 years in photography)

"Most people are fearful of change, both personal and professional, because they don't have any control over how or when it happens to them. Since change happens either to the individual or by the individual, Dr. Spencer Johnson, the co-author of the multimillion best seller The One Minute Manager, uses a deceptively simple story to show that when it comes to living in a rapidly changing world, what matters most is your attitude.

Exploring a simple way to take the fear and anxiety out of managing the future, Who Moved My Cheese? can help you discover how to anticipate, acknowledge, and accept change in order to have a positive impact on your job, your relationships, and every aspect of your life."

On Being a Photographer by David Hern and Bill Jay should have been on this list it is the best book on the subject of being a photographer that I have ever read! and every photographer at some point should read it.

You say that every photographer should read these 10 books. But I do not learn well from books. I absorb much more info from watching and listening than I do from reading. So I benefit a lot more from watching videos about photography - both instructional videos and inspirational videos.

I know you like to use words like "all" and "every" in your article titles, but they really shouldn't be used because their use excludes any possibilities for exceptions.

“Susan Sontag, being a partner of Annie Leibovitz, had a deep personal involvement with photography. It is likely that the essays that she wrote about photography were inspired by the stories of Leibovitz.”

Sontag and Leibovitz got together 12 years AFTER On Photography was published. According to Leibovitz, they met for the first time in 1988.

It's interesting that you know nothing about Roland Barthes...

That is not a very kind way to say what you had to say, is it?

You should have said something like,

"I also suggest _______ by Roland Barthes. I find his work is inspiring and informative."

But instead you accuse the author if knowing nothing. Why did you say what you had to say in a way that is uncomplimentary to the author?

“Walker Evans Starting From Scratch” by Shetland Alpers, Princeton University Press: it doesn’t get better than this.

My bad- damned auto spell: it’s Svetlana, not “Shetland”!