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.
If you are serious about digital photography and you use or want to use Lightroom and/or Photoshop, these books are “The Essentials” when you are ready to move beyond the basics. If you are a beginner or need help with the basics, you should start with The Best Basic Introductions to Elements, Photoshop, and Lightroom.
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.
Jennifer Blakeley does beautiful newborn photography. Her celebrity client list includes Megan Fox and Brian Austin Green; and Jocelyn Towne and Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory). She is also the founder of Alphabet Photography. A highly respected and award winning Canadian photographer, she has also worked with the Canadian Olympics Gymnastic Team.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A good photography book can put you well ahead of the game, and these three essential nature photography books (plus maybe a few others) can save you years of time learning things the hard way.
More photos are taken of people than any other photographic subject. Whether your thing is casual slice of life photos, or you want to do more formal portraits, here are some excellent books to help you take memorable and eye-catching photos.
Art Wolfe is a world class photographer, and it shows in The Art of the Photograph. There are a lot of books on photographic composition (I own several, and I’ve looked through a lot more in various libraries), but this is far and away the best introduction to photographic composition I have come across. If you aren’t an experienced professional photographer, this book is an absolute must read. (I am assuming professionals already know this stuff.)
With 12 books, hundreds of magazine articles, over a dozen instructional videos, and numerous workshops to his credit, digital photography expert Tim Grey really knows his stuff. In one of his eNewsletters, Tim gives this excellent recommendation for Digital Photography Exposure for Dummies:
Many photographers say Light: Science and Magic is THE best book on photographic lighting – and I agree with them. If you intend to be seriously involved in photography, this book should be on your required reading list.
Out of hundreds of books in my photography library, these are my favorite all purpose photography books. This is a list of the books that were the most helpful to me when I took a serious interest in photography, and I continue to refer to them. These books were written back when film was king, but that makes them all the more valuable to today’s digital photographers. Some digital photography books get so bogged down in digital technical information that the heart and soul of photography can get lost. The best film photography books are about the heart and soul of photography. They are light and shadow, subjects, form, texture, line and shape, and visual impact – all of which applies to digital photography.
I get lots of photo questions, especially at this time of year, and many of them begin with “What is the best . . . .” They usually come from photographers or someone who is shopping for a photographer. If you are shopping for yourself, or for a photographer in your life, this series is for you.
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. Re-posted November 20, 2023. Most recent update: December 1, 2023.
Michael Freeman’s Capturing Light is new to this bookshelf. It is a Christmas gift from one of my children. If you aren’t acquainted with Freeman, and you love photography, it is time you meet. So I took a picture and decided to write about the books in this photograph. You are looking at one half of one shelf of two bookcases filled with photography books. I learned long ago that great photographers read a lot. Photo books, composition books, lighting books, art books, location guides, and a whole lot more. So I read books too.
Summer is the most popular time to visit the national parks. With so many to choose from, where should you go? Which national parks will provide the best photographic opportunities in the summer?
Quite by chance I spotted some California Golden Poppies on the campus of Ohlone College in Fremont California. This was an unexpected treasure. I stopped in a nearby parking lot, put a 15mm semi-fisheye lens on my camera, put my camera almost on the ground and started shooting up at the flowers with the sun in the background. The side of my head was in the dirt as I looked up through the camera’s viewfinder to get things lined up. Tim Fitzharris gets some credit for inspiring images like this.
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.