Five Books That Will Teach You Five Different Things About Photography

There’s a lot to learn about photography, and while online tutorials and YouTube videos are great, sometimes you just need a good book to get the creative juices flowing.

Through the course of a master’s degree in photography and a few years spent teaching it, I’ve read and considered many books for students. There’s a lot of repetition among photo books, but here are a few that have risen above the crowd to offer something different. Each focuses on a different area of photography, and so if you’re looking to improve in any one of these respects, check out these reads.

The Basics: "Photography"

In the stone age of digital photography, I learned the basics from "Photography" by Barbara London, Jim Stone, and John Upton. If you’re unsure of the difference between an f-stop and a bus stop, as my college professor would say, this is the place to start. Everything and the kitchen sink is touched upon here, from the basics of how a camera works, to film developing, to the exposure triangle, to the history of photography. If there’s any one book that would give you the broadest base of knowledge to start from, this is it.

Post-Processing and Workflow: "The Digital Negative"

When you’re ready to do a deep dive into digital imaging, "The Digital Negative" is the book to turn to. It’s not for the faint of heart (or, perhaps, JPEG-only shooters). You get a deep understanding of sensor technology and workflows for digital photography here, as well as how to eke every last bit of quality out of your digital file. It's definitely the book to graduate to after learning the basics. The author, Jeff Schewe, co-authored an entire book on sharpening, so the nerd factor is high. I tried to read the first edition of this book early on in my photography career and I had to put it down, only to appreciate it much later as I took a deep dive into the raw end of the pool and realized I really needed a more efficient workflow.

Learn To Use Flash: "The Hot Shoe Diaries"

Admittedly, my old Novatron strobes and power pack aren't much to write home about, but that’s not what converted me to small flashes — listening to Joe McNally’s presentations did. The things he can make a small flash do are wonderful, and reading "The Hot Shoe Diaries" will change the way you look at your SB-5000 or 600EX. It’s not so much as a step-by-step guide, but a look at his photos and a stream-of-consciousness walkthrough as to how he got to each one. It’s a bit Nikon-centric (as McNally is a Nikon shooter and ambassador), but not so much so that a Canon user couldn't pick it up and understand the concepts. And if you want a Canon user’s take on small flashes, there’s always Syl Arena’s Canon-flavored version of this topic that’s also very good.

Brandon Stanton, author of "Humans of New York," speaks at Syracuse University on Monday, March 6, 2017.

Photography Is About People: "Humans of New York"

It was a bit odd that the one time I was able to see Brandon Stanton, the author of "Humans of New York," speak, ushers went around telling people photography wasn't allowed, but I digress. He’s still got an amazing story to tell, and his book is a collection of them. It’s a reminder that photography is often about people, and a simple act of taking a photo and sharing a moment with someone humanizes them, something that’s sometimes lost along the way. One of the things I’ve always thought that separates "Humans of New York" from average street photography is the care that Stanton takes to talk to the subjects of his photos and get the story behind the story. Those little bits elevate the photos from ordinary to magical, and a good number of them are collected in this book.

Nuts and Bolts: "Visual Quickstart Guide to Photoshop CC"

I’ve had to learn my fair share of new software over the years, and while the video-learning is great for some folks (Fstoppers has some great tutorials), others learn better with a printed book. I’ve used the "Visual Quickstart Guide to Photoshop" to jump-start my learning, as I’ve found it easier to have a book open next to the computer and go through things while doing them. Granted, this was in the days when a 17-inch 4:3 monitor at 1024x768 px resolution was huge and video learning wasn’t quite a thing, but still, even when it did become a thing, I used the "Visual Quickstart" books to learn Final Cut Pro X as well. They’re all solidly written with detailed instructions and pictures to help learn pretty much any software out there.

This is just a start, but there are a lot of great reads out there. What are some photography books that you’d recommend? Leave your picks in the comments below.

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Wasim Ahmad's picture

David Geffin had Greg Heisler's "50 Portraits" book covered back in 2013:

It's an excellent book that I have as well. I teach at the same school as Greg (Syracuse) so it's even better to watch him in action in person - he's often presenting on the Canon stage at many shows.

Andrew Smith's picture

50 Portraits is a great book. It's not just all tech. It's about why he choose the photograph, and why he choose the particular equipment. The story behind the picture. I have read it a few times.

Mark Spoo's picture

Finally a post that was interesting. Not they typical look at me I am the greatest. or 27 reasons for wanting something new.

Lens Classics's picture

There is only one book I really enjoyed and that is "Light. Science & Magic. An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Third Edition. Fil Hunter. Steve Biver. Paul Fuqua. It's actually more about light than photography but it teaches you how to use light "right".

Joe Hogan's picture

Basically anything by Michael Freeman

Wasim Ahmad's picture

You know what’s crazy, I checked my shelf and I have a couple of Michael Freeman books I never got around to reading. Summer reading list!

Karan Dubey's picture

Really these are the great books. We can learn a lot from these books, thank for share with us.

Anita Fox's picture

I recently realized that I like taking pictures. What did I find my father’s old film camera. Plus, I’m also a writer on the I think that over time I will organize my blog. Guys like you give a lot of confidence.