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.
If you only read three nature photography books, the first one should be John Shaw’s Guide to Digital Nature Photography (or get the older version: John Shaw’s Nature Photography Field Guide if you shoot film). The other two essential reads are Art Wolfe’s The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions, and Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light. These three books are the best of the best. Read Shaw first, then Wolfe, then Rowell. You can learn more about these three books in Nature Photography Books: The Three Essentials.
John Shaw’s Closeups in Nature is my favorite book on closeup photography for nature photographers and it is a must read if you want to do closeup work outdoors. John Shaw’s Landscape Photography is also well worth reading.
After you’ve read Mountain Light, anything by Rowell is worth reading, but especially The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography and Galen Rowell’s Vision: The Art of Adventure Photography.
One of the most helpful landscape photography books is Joseph Lange’s How to Photograph Landscapes which is part of the excellent “How To” series by Stackpole Books. I can think of only one other book that packs so much valuable information into its pages. It is the equally excellent Digital Landscape Photography by John and Barbara Gerlach. These two books are My Two Favorite Introductions to Landscape Photography.
Brenda Tharp’s Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography is one of the best all around nature photography books. Read it!
Anything by Freeman Patterson is excellent. For nature photography, read Photography of Natural Things. To learn to really see (which is important for photography of every kind), read Photography and the Art of Seeing.
Anything by Tim Fitzharris is good. I especially recommend the National Audobon Society Guide to Nature Photography, Close-Up Photography in Nature (which you should read after Shaw’s closeup book if you love doing closeups), and the National Audubon Society Guide to Landscape Photography (which you should read after Lange’s book mentioned above).
Art Wolfe is a world class photographer who is the author of several coffee table books filled with his gorgeous images. I’ve already mentioned The Art of the Photograph: Essential Habits for Stronger Compositions which is the best introduction to composition that I have been able to find. It is a must read. He has co-authored two “how to” books. The New Art of Photographing Nature is the more comprehensive book. The much shorter book is Photography Outdoors: A Field Guide for Travel and Adventure Photographers.
Tony Sweet has five excellent books out that will take you beyond mere documentation to artistic expressions in nature photography through creative camera and Photoshop techniques. His books are part of the newest Stackpole series of books. The emphasis in Fine Art Nature Photography is on camera and lens techniques – what you are doing when taking the picture. I would suggest you read this book first. The emphasis in Fine Art Digital Nature Photography is split between camera techniques (including the filters you use on your lenses) and techniques in the computer (including a number of software filters to alter the image). He applies these same camera and software techniques to Fine Art Flower Photography, one of the best books on creative flower photography I have ever read. And finally, his book Fine Art Photography: High Dynamic Range will get you started in HDR photography and it is especially recommended if you use Photomatix software from hdrsoft.com. I recently bought another excellent book by Tony Sweet, Fine Art Photographey: Water, Ice and Fog. If water, ice, and fog are among your favorites subjects, read this book.
George Lepp’s pair of books, Beyond the Basics and Beyond the Basics II, are for photographers who have learned the basics and want to try more advanced techniques. They are well worth finding on the used market (which you can find via links at my photography store). His books are well written and practical. His latest book is Wildlife Photography: Stories from the Field. Lepp is one of the columnists for Outdoor Photographer magazine and his excellent workshops are in high demand. If you have a chance to go to one of Lepp’s workshops, don’t miss it.
Niall Benvie’s The Art of Nature Photography is another book well worth finding on the used market.
If flower photography is your thing, get Allen Rokach’s Field Guide to Photographing Flowers. His Field Guide to Photographing Landscapes is worth reading. Just as good is Heather Angel’s book on flower photography, listed below with several other Stackpole books. And by all means look at Tony Sweet’s flower photography book, mentioned above.
Leonard Lee Rue III is one of the best and most prolific wildlife photographers. His how to books are How to Photograph Animals in the Wild (which is part of the Stackpole series). This book is my first choice for photographing wildlife (primarily mammals). Rue also wrote How I Photograph Wildlife and Nature. If you only read one of Rue’s books, get the Stackpole series book.
John Netherton’s Guide to Photography and the Smoky Mountains is THE book to read if you are going to the Great Smoky Mountains. It is also an excellent book on nature photography, even if you never go to the Smoky Mountains. This book is well worth finding in the used market place via my Amazon store. Grab a used copy while they can still be found.
If you are looking for a brief introduction to bird photography, get the booklet Bird Photography: Pure and Simple by Arthur Morris. If you want to seriously pursue bird photography, there are two must read books, The Art of Bird Photography by Arthur Morris and How To Photograph Birds by Larry West (one of the Stackpole books).
The uniformly excellent Stackpole series of “How To” books (photo below) is written by a first class set of photographers and it is one of the best photography series anyone has every produced. Some of them have been mentioned already. Other books in the series are How to Photograph Insects and Spiders by Larry West, How to Photograph Reptiles and Amphibians by Larry West, How to Photograph Flowers by Heather Angel, and How to Photograph Underwater by Norbert Wu. The series also has two location guides by Joseph Lange, Photographer’s Guide to Yellowstone and the Tetons, and Photographer’s Guide to Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona.
The older books in the Stackpole “How To Photograph” series (Birds, Insects and Spiders, Reptiles and Amphibians, Flowers, Animals in the Wild, Underwater) are real treasures and they are now out of print. Grab them while you can.
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This is one in a series of articles that will guide you to the best of all things photographic. The rest are here: Buyer’s Guide: Recommendations For The Best Photography Equipment, Software, Books, Magazines, DVDs, Online Photo Labs and More.