Like a delectable array of tantalizing Christmas goodies that you just can’t wait to sample, Friday’s night’s Graceland University Christmas Concert was a tray of treats for both the ears and the eyes.
I get lots of photo questions, and many of them begin with “What is the best . . . .” They usually come from photographers or someone who is shopping for a photographer.
My “best of the best” series recommends the best photo gear, accessories, software, books, DVDs, online photo labs, and a whole lot more. Thanks to the information in these articles I get emails from photographers thanking me for saving them time, frustration, and a lot of money.
This article is published annually in November with regular updates. Most recent update: December 14, 2019.
Over the last few days I have been doing some major and minor revisions to my master class for this evening at Living Art Studios in Lamoni Iowa. I do this before every class, workshop, or seminar I do. I look at past presentations and I make changes.
Guess what I am doing this week? Re-working the presentations for my master class this Saturday evening in Lamoni. I do this before every class, workshop, and seminar. I revise this and that, add new things, and work on ways to make what I do even better. The primary emphasis for this class will be portrait photography.
I love Thanksgiving! When I was growing up, we spent many a Thanksgiving and Christmas at Grandpa’s house. Thanksgiving was a much anticipated and happy time. We would often leave home on Wednesday afternoon after dad got home from work. It was a long 7 hour drive to Grandpa’s house in those pre-interstate highway days, so it would be really late by the time we arrived.
The first rule when choosing camera gear is to buy what you can afford. It is hard to enjoy taking pictures if you are worried about how to pay for the camera you are holding. So buy what you can afford now, and upgrade later. And the second rule? We will get to that later.
Thirty plus years go, when Mike Baroli (my favorite camera store rep) told me I “had to go” to my first photography seminar, I signed up, paid my $25 for the evening seminar and went to see Ernst Wildi. I was blown away.
I finally found an excellent series of photography lessons on video to complement my book, Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies, and it is by Joel Sartore, a world class photographer for National Geographic. He does stunning photography in amazing situations all around the world. You can see some of his work in the galleries at his web site.
Photography DVDs can inspire your photography, give you new ideas, and teach you new skills and techniques. These are my favorites.
There are a lot of photography magazines out there but some are clearly better, more accurate, more useful, and with better images. The magazines that follow are, from my point of view, the best of the best photo magazines.
Two essential and challenging Photoshop skills are Masking and Compositing. Fortunately for all of us out in Photoshop land, Katrin Eismann (along with Sean Duggan and James Porto) have written a masterful book on developing these skills, Photoshop Masking & Compositing (2nd edition).
Katrin Eismann is a world class expert on photo retouching. She is one of the best of the best. In 2005 she was inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame. Anything she writes should be high on your reading list if you are serious about making the most of your Photoshop skills.
Everything you need to know about Dan Margulis is in Mastering Photoshop: Advanced Color Correction, Part One. After you have devoured the book I recommend in that article, you will know why you need to get Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace (2nd edition).
If you want to master color in Photoshop, Dan Margulis is the best of the best. He is one of the first three persons to be named as a member of the Photoshop Hall of Fame. And the book to get is Professional Photoshop 6: The Classic Guide to Color Correction. It is well worth finding on the used market (which you can do via my photography store). What Margulis teaches you to do with color is amazing. The before and after images will make your jaw drop.
If you shoot RAW camera files (and you should), this essential book should be at the top of your list. It is far and away the best of the best. You will be amazed at what you can get out of your RAW files. Your images will thank you.
A lot of the quality of your final image will be determined by what you do with your RAW files when you open them in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) which comes with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Adobe Lightroom.
If you want to master Photoshop, a complete course can be found in the books recommended below. Think of this as a multi-book master class.
If you are serious about digital photography and you use Lightroom and/or Photoshop, these books are “The Essentials”. These are the books you read when you are ready to move beyond the basics.
Looking for a series of photo projects to inspire you for a full year? Tom Ang wrote a great book with 144 projects arranged by season. He also wrote an excellent companion volume arranged by topics.
Some well chosen books can make a world of difference in your digital photography. Some of the best books are about the camera side of digital photography, some are about the digital darkroom side, and some are about both. Out of hundreds of books in my photo library, I picked out the best.
I have no idea when I was first entranced by the photos of Ansel Adams. There is a wonderful, luminous quality to his work. Small wonder he is America’s best known landscape photographer. Collections of his work would make a worthy addition to any photographer’s library. This is also the time of year that Ansel Adams calendars pop up like snowstorms.
There is a whole world of things to photograph after the sun goes down. Cityscapes at twilight and after dark. Landscapes in the late evening light. Thunderstorms. Fireworks. And then of course, there is astrophotography. The simple stuff is simple to do (once you have learned how to do them) and all you need are a camera, lens, and tripod. For some astrophotography you will need specialized but not very expensive equipment like the $300 sky tracker used for the photo above. The challenging stuff is hard, complicated, and expensive to do if you want the kind of eye popping photos that you see in Astronomy and Sky and Telescope magazines (you should subscribe to one or the other or both if this is your thing). No matter what you want to do, the books below will get you started. And if you just like to look at the night sky, I recommend some books for that too.
If creating stunning wildlife images was easy, everyone would be doing it. Fortunately for all of us, some of the very best wildlife photographers have shared their secrets in some excellent books that will dramatically improve your wildlife photography.
The first step to photographing wildlife is finding wildlife and one of the best ways to find wildlife is to look at wildlife location books. They will save you hours of frustration by sending you to the best locations to find wildlife.
“If you want to be a better photographer stand in front of more interesting stuff!” – Jim Richardson, National Geographic photographer.
A good scenic location guide can save you hours of precious time searching for the best spots at a new location. The best scenic locations guides are written by and for photographers. Photographers are much more in tune with what other photographers want to photograph. And for each location, photographers will tell you the best season of the year and the best time of day to get the best images. Some will give you additional photography advice for each location.
Can a world class, National Geographic photographer lose his passion? Yes! How does he get it back?
If you want to turn your images of flowers into true artistic expressions, this is the book for you. Fine Art Flower Photography, Creative Techniques and the Art of Observation by Tony Sweet takes you well beyond the typical flower photography guide.
I’ve been reading two excellent nature photography books by Tony Sweet. They are published by Stackpole Books. They choose first class photographers to write an excellent and ongoing series of photography books. I’ve been giving high praise to Stackpole’s photography books for years and I now have two more to add to the list.
Want to be a better nature photographer? Read anything by John Shaw, Galen Rowell, Art Wolfe, Freeman Patterson, Tim Fitzharris, George Lepp, Larry West, Arthur Morris, Allen Rokach, John Netherton, Leonard Lee Rue III, Brenda Tharp, Tony Sweet, and the Stackpole (publisher) nature series. Now for some of the “best of the best” books to look for. These are my favorites out of hundreds of photography books in my library.
How to Photograph Landscapes by Joseph Lange and Digital Landscape Photography by John and Barbara Gerlach are my favorite introductions to landscape photography.