The 10 Best Photography Books for Knowledge and Inspiration

photography books
10 Best Photography Books | Photo by Aiony Haust on Unsplash

In the creative field, engaging in consistent learning and finding inspiration are two ways that you can shape and grow within your work. With photography, an expansive knowledge base of the medium as well as figuring out what type of art inspires, challenges and entices you – are two definitive ways for you to become a well rounded creative.

We’ve all heard that the medium of print is fading away, but I’m not so quick to believe it. There’s nothing quite like seeing photographs in printed form, perfectly curated within the pages of a bounded book. From publications that teach you about the process of photography to works of visual literature created by professional photographers. There is an endless array of books that inspire us to push and expand the limits of our creativity.

If you are looking for guidance on growing your photographic skills, we have made a list of books you need to read. Here are the 10 best photography books for knowledge and inspiration.

Why Photography Books are Important

Aside from the concept of learning about the medium of photography, publications dedicated to the visual creation of images. These are essential tools for strengthening your photographic eye. Photography books give us useful information for our own personal shooting techniques. For those who are self-taught or even looking for a more comprehensive focus on one particular area of photography. There is a guided and step-by-step books can allow a photographer to develop new techniques or even enhance existing ones.

As more aspiring photographers are bypassing the idea of attending art school to instead jump directly into the industry, the need for knowledge building has become more prevalent than ever. In addition to referencing photographic texts for increased insight about the industry, photography books can also serve as a source of heightened inspiration. As you develop in your career, creating books of your work may become an interest.

In this case, it is best to see what other professional photographers have done to build a cohesive body of work, worthy of sharing to the masses. For inspiration, you can easily reference some of the most famous photographers. 

Although they make for a stunning array on your coffee table, photography books contain truly valuable and essential information. Photography books expand outside the realm of visual appeal. Although our medium has dramatically shifted to digital production and online consumption. There should still aim to ingest photography through print. Photography books bring works of art and masterpieces to life, giving images an undeniable physicality and tangible essence.

Books to Teach You About Photography

1. How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by Tom Ang

Written by professional author, broadcaster, photographer and expert in the field, Tom Ang. He covers every genre of photography from street to wildlife to weddings. This book is full of tips and tricks. As well as the necessary advice you need to learn about lighting, composition, working with your subject and turning a good picture into a great one.

Photographers recommend this book for its focus on personal, understandable language that covers essential topics of photography. Ang avoids using technical jargon that will confuse or complicate the readers, but rather focuses on key aspects such as light, color, focus and composition in a manner that the reader understands.

The book uses step by step format where Ang uses specific photographic situations with instructions that can help you ace your still life, portrait, action or even night time photography. This book also includes a section dedicated to post-production, covering basic tops of how to make light and color adjustments as well as cropping your images.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

2. The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum

The Art of Photography is a textbook that covers the topic in a readable and understandable format. The book contains hundreds of photographs, in both black and white and color. It also contains extensive visual representations that can apply to any level of photographer.

It is written by Bruce Barnbaum, who has been revered and recognized for his captivating work in landscape and architectural photography. He has also been an educator for many years, teaching several other creatives. The knowledge that he provides in this book has proven to be truly essential to the photography community.

As the book was originally published in 1994, Barnbaum covers traditional film methods as well as new innovative digital techniques. He gives a comprehensive technical overview of the medium. While going deeper to infuse the concepts of creativity and personal expression. This duality of discussing form with personal style is unique to this book. 

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

3. The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman

The Photographer’s Eye is a book dedicated to the design of capturing a photograph. This text explains how the composition of a picture is developed through a creative and intentional arrangement of graphic elements. The book insists that anyone can develop the ability to capture stunning images.

A bit different from other photography books, this publication focuses on photography as a two-part process. One part of shooting and the second part post-production editing. Emphasizing that the photograph you originally take will later be edited or layered to create your final result, one that is built off of the original concept created within the viewfinder.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

4. Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color and Composition by Bryan Peterson

Learning to See Creatively is a book focused on the principles of practicing and developing your style of photography. This text aims to help photographers see their work and apply it to the world around them.

The main concept behind the publication is that the idea that creativity is a skill that you can learn and harness. Also, it is not one that is only available to a select few. Using his own personal photographs, Peterson, who is an esteemed author and photographer, breaks down his personal process and thought behind capturing his images.

The book now has more information since it was recently rewritten by the author. It now includes a section of digital imaging and editing with software.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

5. The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby

The Digital Photography Book has become the #1 selling book on digital photography. The text features techniques and how to tutorials on tips used by professional photographers.

The book has been updated from its original format to include new information on gear, pricing of equipment and now includes a chapter from the author titled, “Ten Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Was First Starting Out in Photography.” As described by Kelby, the book aims to cover photography techniques and topics without the infusion of confusing vocabulary or complex explanations. Kelly shares tips of practical and effective methods to use during your photoshoot.

The format of each page covers a new photography topic that you can easily learn. This book serves as a comprehensive guide to creating your best photographs.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

Photography Books to Give You Inspiration

6. Manhattan Transit: The Subway Photographs of Helen Levitt by Helen Levitt

Street photography was one of the first forms of photographic expression. When cameras were first developed, budding artists used these devices to create images. They would create images of their surroundings with an authentic, documentary-style composition. Before there was photography for money or the rise of commercial content creation, people and the raw nature of the human experience were simple.

Helen Levitt was a street photographer known for her images captured on the streets of New York City. Her work spanned throughout 60 years in which she captured her subjects of men, women, and children. All within the culture and environment of New York had to offer.

Her book, Manhattan Transit, is a representation of her time spent with Walker Evans capturing passengers on the New York subway. She began working with Evans in 1938 and eventually returned to this project in 1978 to create her own vision of the people of the transit system. Her work has been described as less restrictive and a looser form of street photography that contrasted the more detailed compositions done by Evans. In this book, Levitt captures the behaviors and emotions of the everyday travelers of New York, up close and personal, without reservation.  

This book is a great tool to seek inspiration for your street and documentary style photography. Studying the compositions, angles, and viewpoint Levitt created can allow you to understand the process of creating stimulating, provocative images.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

7. Tim Walker: Storyteller

Tim Walker is a British fashion photographer who creates unique, extravagant and romantic depictions of his subjects. Having built his career on photographing for some of the largest editorial and commercial clients. Walker has definitively established himself in the industry through his hard work. Because of his distinct eye and personal vision, he’s been able to work with top clients. With clients such as Vogue, W, and Love magazines, Walker’s career is international. His work consists of a fantastic, eccentric style of imagery within our contemporary photographic society.

Storyteller is a collection of 170 photographs featuring high profile individuals in the fashion industry and Hollywood, including Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alber Elbaz. The images contain elements such as grandeur and fantasy, while still maintaining realism. Each set and image was physically constructed for the creations of Walker. There is the infusion of a perfectly crafted illusion that brings Walker’s images to the forefront of the delicate balance between fantasy and reality.

This book can inspire any fashion photographer out there. Readers expand their ideas of what it means to create creative imagery. As fashion photography is a truly subjective niche in the medium, photographers that create their own interpretation and style are often most noted and recognized for their ingenuity. Use Walker’s work to push the limits of your own images and allow you to reimagine your photographs.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

8. American Music by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz jump-started her career in the photography world through the way of The Rolling Stone’s magazine. Serving as their head photographer for thirteen years, she had the opportunity to capture some of the industry’s most esteemed and talented individuals within a period of time where music ruled the world. From artist portraits to going on tour with the musicians.

In her book, American Music, she aims to return to the start of her career by traveling across the United States. She photographs talented artists in interesting places throughout her adventure. The book contains the images she created while visiting spots such as the Mississippi Delta, Texas and New Orleans. The book includes portraits of B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, Beck, Bob Dylan, Mary J. Blige, Jon Bon Jovi, Steve Earle, Ryan Adams, Miles Davis, Etta James, Pete Seeger, Emmylou Harris, Tom Waits, The Dixie Chicks, Dr. Dre, The Roots and many more.

It also includes essays by musicians Patti Smith, Rosanne Cash, Steve Earle, Mos Def, Ryan Adams, and Beck.

The work of Annie Leibovitz has been the base of inspiration for many portrait photographers. Her work is highly emotional and captures the true essence of her subjects. Without complicated setups and over formulated concepts, Leibovitz’s images showcase the simple truth of photographing a person’s essence and being. Use her work and technique to drive your future portraiture.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

9. TIME 100 Photographs: The Most Influential Images of All Time by the Editors of TIME

TIME Magazine 100 photographs are an accumulation of unique and significant images captured by some of the world’s most talented journalists. According to TIME, the book is not a depiction of famous or well-known photographs, but instead features images that are unique in the way they change, commemorate, or influence a world event.

Selected by a team of international curators, historians and photo editors, the team at TIME aimed to collect photographs with distinct truth and meaning.

This book is a note to the project at large that included narrowing down 100 images and conducting interviews. The interviews ranged from photographers, subjects, friends and family members to uncover a breadth of interesting stories.

TIME describes the project as, “There is no formula that makes a picture influential. Some images are on our list because they were the first of their kind. The others because they shaped the way we think. And some made the cut because they directly changed the way we live. What all 100 share is that they are turning points in our human experience.”

This book serves a prime example of what it means to be inspired as a photographer. Photography is a platform that has significantly changed and developed since its conception in terms of format, technique and execution. Yet, at its core – photography is an art form that directly affects us in the way that we view and digest the world around us. As said above, a photograph can shape the way we think and even more so, change the way we live.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

10. The Street Philosophy of Garry Winogrand by Garry Winogrand and Geoff Dyer

The final book on our list is a duality featuring photographs created by Garry Winogrand and accompanied by essays written by Geoff Dyer. Dyer has been a long time admirer of Winogrand’s work, creates an original essay to accompany each photograph – a total of 100 images can be found in the book.

Winogrand was a famous street photographer in the 1960’s and 1970’s in which he focused capturing the landscape of the United States as well important social issues. He was originally born in the Bronx and spent his career photographing subjects all over the country.

The book combines a photography with a creative, prose approach that allows the story of the images to be told truly. This book can serve as an inspiration to not only street photographers, but those interested in combing their interest in photography and writing to pursue works of photojournalism.

You can purchase the book on Amazon here.

Tips for Creating Your Own Photography Book

If this list inspired you to consider creating your own photography book then we have done our job. Additionally, we have accumulated some helpful resources to help you jumpstart your printed work. When creating a photography book, you will want to consider the theme and intention behind it. Focusing on a singular style of photography is key, such as street, fashion, portraits, still life or landscape. In addition to this, you may also curate your photographs to fit into a specific niche.

Once you have created, curated and selected your images for your book – you will need to find a suitable way to print it. You can use companies such as Artifact Uprising, Blurb, Snapfish, Milk Books or Vistaprint – to develop your first look of the images. These are great ways to start the process and see how your images look. Additionally, you want to see the printed form as well as how they align together.  If you are considering printing several copies or even pursue commercial selling through online and physical stores. You may want to consult a local printing company for more creative control and design options.

Use Photography Books To Build Your Career

Photography books are essential tools that every artist should reference throughout the course of their career. Whether aiming to learn more about the technical aspects, further develop your craft or even reference an alternative viewpoint to digital imaging – step by step, how-to photography books were made for advancing the skill sets and knowledge base of creative photographers. There are still so many massive selections of photography books that actively work on teaching, honing, and developing your skill sets. I have only been able to review five books in this piece, but I encourage everyone to seek more books to read.

As you build your understanding of what it takes to craft a great photograph. You should constantly always seek influence and inspiration. To do this, you should consult the works of other photographers. When we reference photographers of the past, we can understand how the medium of photography has altered and changed throughout the decades.

With photographers who photographed the streets, fashion and portraits of influential individuals – we can recognize how style and vision are truly dependent on each artist. While the digital world has affected the printed sphere of imagery and its distribution. The contemporary community of photographers can still keep print alive and well.

Printing Books

Printing your images, whether in a singular or bound fashion, allows you to create a physical representation of your work. Our pictures need to be seen – not simply sitting in our hard drives forever. There are several locations where you can submit your work and produce physical copies or books. You can find a slew of labs and businesses who dedicate to the medium of print

Consider taking your images from their online space and printing a book of your work. You can hold this type of work and share it with other local creators. As the new wave of creatives, it is in our hands to maintain the visual allure and stunning complexity. We see this through the art of print photography

Do you own any of these photography books? Or do you have your own printed book of your work? Share with us your thoughts on social @h_collective