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8 Best Photography Books To Help You Become a Better Photographer

By Hanssie on May 7th 2016

Do people still read books these days? In the age of digital bombardment and brief attention spans brought on by image and video-centric media, reading may be a lost art. Our brains, which once devoured the written word, have been rewired to be satisfied with 140-character text and anything longer is proving to be more and more difficult to digest. Reading for enjoyment is now a luxury and one that less and less are partaking in. Reading forces us to slow down, contemplate, and put forth effort – a process that seems too complex for our speedy culture.

But reading is still vitally important. Some of the most influential and successful leaders dedicate time to read daily. Billionaire Warren Buffet reportedly spends 80% of his day reading. Elon Musk, the 68th wealthiest man in the world and founder/CEO of SpaceX, Tesla and more, reads voraciously. When asked how he learned to build rockets, Musk said, “I read books.”

In a culture that wants us to disengage, we wanted to encourage you to take some time to engage your brain with some of these best photography book recommendations to help you become a better photographer from the SLR Lounge staff.

1. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

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There’s a reason Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is on the ‘#1 on Amazon’ photography references bestsellers list and has sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It was the first photography book I read and it helped me understand exposure, composition, aperture, depth of field, etc. The book is full of pictures that illustrate the concepts and is sprinkled with many nuggets of wisdom. There are exercises in the book to help you practice. This book is great for beginners and it will get you out of ‘P’ mode in no time.

2 & 3. Picture Perfect Practice and Picture Perfect Posing By Roberto Valenzuela

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A gifted educator, Roberto Valenzuela’s Picture Perfect series of books are full of amazing imagery and very useful information which is why it was listed as a favorite by a few of the staff. Roberto approaches photography from an artistic standpoint, not a technical one, and each chapter comes with assignments that will help you build a solid foundation as a photographer.

Writer Tanya Smith recommends Picture Perfect Practice for its easy to follow workbook format (read her book review here), while I personally really enjoy Roberto’s teaching style and work, and highly recommend Picture Perfect Posing. There is also a third book in the series, the newest Picture Perfect Lighting. You can’t go wrong with any (or all!) of the three books – they’ve all been on Amazon’s bestsellers list.

4. Film is not Dead by Jonathon Canlas

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For photographers looking to shoot film, Film Is Not Dead by Jonathon Canlas is a popular book filled with tons of info, for both beginner and advanced photographers for on shooting both medium format and 35mm film. Writer Jay Cassario says, “It is filled with awesome film images and covers everything from the basics of shooting, the different cameras out there, to advice on how to get started on shooting film along side of your digital work.” It looks to be out of print, but you can rent it on Amazon here.

[Want to learn more about shooting film? Check out Christina Blanarovich’s articles on film photography here]

5. The Art of Color by Itten

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Image by Sunshine & Reign

The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten, Based upon the Book The Art of Color is the definitive study on color theory. This book isn’t only useful for photographers but for any artist. Writers Amii and Andy Kauth says, “the edited edition by Birre simplifies and condenses some heady info. But it rocks for photographers who want to grasp an understanding of the basics of color theory.”

It’s been used for many years in many art classes around the world. You can find a copy on Amazon here.

6. What They Didn’t Teach You In Photo School by Demetrius Fordham

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Image by Justin Heyes

 

Demetrius Fordham’s What They Didn’t Teach You In Photo School: The Secrets Of The Trade That Will Make You A Success In The Industry touches on paying your dues as a photographer and gives a glimpse of what it is like to be a working photographer

Recommended by writer Justin Hayes, he says that the book “doesn’t focus on the photography but the nature of business. It teaches about internships, what assistants do, how to develop a good relationship with clients and other photographers, touches on portfolio making and online presence.” It’s perfect for those who want to turn their hobby into a profession. Get it here.

7. Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter and Steven Biver

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Image by Lauchlan Toal

 

Without light, there can be no photographs, so understanding light is paramount to becoming a photographer. Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting is “great for building a fundamental understanding of lighting,” according to writer Lauchlan Toal. The book covers the basic principles of lighting in an easy-to-read manner.

Udi Tirosh from DIY Photography, read it twice and calls it the “best book ever,” in his review. He says, “this book is for any one who wants to photograph better, regardless of available equipment.” The reviewers over on Amazon loved it, too; its current and previous editions all earned 4.5 stars across the board.

8. Avedon Fashion 1944-2000

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Kish, our Editor In Chief, would have you believe that applying the lessons of fashion photography would serve you well in any genre that requires photographing people. From posing and expression, to framing and lines, good fashion photography can encompass it all, and that few people were as novel and striking as Richard Avedon. Keeping in line with that Kish’s recommendation is Avedon Fashion 1944-2000, and of it he says,

Richard Avedon took fashion from a Byzantine stone statue, into curves made of flesh. Kate Moss said he taught her how to have ‘thought’ behind her eyes, and that depth and emotion is somewhat of a signature dish of his. Avedon’s work was a masterclass in detail, and as a very visually oriented kid it drew me in – just take a look at his work in the 80s and up and you’ll see line work like you’ve never seen before, often, I’ve heard, much to the model’s chagrin.

While this book, or any of his, has little or no typed instruction, you can school yourself with the visuals, and as photographers, we would do well to do that more. If you’re looking for set-ups and breakdowns, and ‘how to’s then look elsewhere.  This  teaches you how to think of an image rather than how to execute one.

These are only 8 of the best photography books, but I know there are many, many more out there! List your favorite recommendations in the comments below.

About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com and www.fittedmagazine.com. Follow her on Instagram. Email her at:
[email protected]

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Aaron Holquin

    What camera is that in the photo under “6. What They Didn’t Teach You In Photo School By Demetrius Fordham”? It looks beautiful and compact! Almost looks like the size of an RX1R. 

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  2. Vail Fucci

    If you are looking for a new photography book aimed at the true beginner, check out my book How to Get Off the Green Auto Setting: A Practical Guide To DSLR Photography for BeginnersIt is not intended to be a definitive text on all things digital photography. Rather it contains the same practical lessons that I regularly teach my photography students that will provide you with the information and skills necessary for you to feel confident enough to take off the training wheels that are the green auto settings. http://www.getoffgreenauto.com/

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  3. Mark C

    Great list Hanssie. Good to see a couple cropping up on my list that was compiled by interviewing over 600 photographers: http://shotkit.com/best-photography-books/ There were a few on your list I hadn’t heard of so am keen on looking into them – I need more reading material! Cheers

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  4. Demetrius Fordham

    Thanks for including me in this round-up of incredible photographers/writers

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  5. Daniel Thullen

    Great selections, all. I recently purchased “The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography” for $5.00 at an antique shop. It was first written in 1959. It is interesting that although the medium that captures light has changed, the rules of photographing have not. The principles of exposure, light and color are still the same. BTW my local book seller and I thank you for the list.

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  6. Geert Peeters

    Great Choice! Valenzuela’s books are amazing!

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  7. Brandon Dewey

    Book 1, 2, 3 and 7 are all in my top 5 best photography books i have ever read. For beginners I highly recommend book 1 Understanding exposures by Bryan Peterson, when i was first starting out it really help me understand the exposure triangle!

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  8. Andy Apicella

    Does anyone have a recommendation for a book on toning and post-processing for better colors and tones?

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  9. Ralph Hightower

    Back when I got started in photography, I bought a number of John Hedgecoe’s books; I also have some Ansel Adams books.

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  10. Barry Chapman

    Given Neil van Nierkerk’s ringing endorsement of Roberto Valenzuela’s Picture Perfect Lighting I think you could probably add that in your top 4. van Nierkerk’s Direction & Quality of Light is another contender for the list.

    Absolutely agree with your choice of #1 for beginners, or those who need to know more about controlling their use of the exposure triangle.

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  11. Scott Pfau

    Light Science & Magic is one of the best I have read multiple times.

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