best photography books

I pored over books when I started to become interested in photographers. I spent countless hours at the library, reading, and studying the photographs. In that sense there were numerous photographers that informed my own style over the years. With the internet, it is so much easier to click through images and see new work, but there will always be something special about holding a beautifully printed book and marveling at the photographs.

These are my favorite books on photography.
(The recommended instructional photography books are listed on a separate page.)


 

01.

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Elliott Erwitt: Personal Best
 
If I had to pick one photographer whose work had an immediate and enduring impact on me, it would be Elliott Erwitt. The gentle humor with which he observes the world is at once endearing and insightful.

 

02.

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Henri Cartier-Bresson: Photographer Every photographer’s shelf needs at least one book by the photographer who might arguably be the single most important influence in the field of photography.

 

03.

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Photowisdom: Master Photographers on Their ArtIf you’d like a book featuring a number of world-class photographers, then this beautiful volume is filled with images that will leave you in awe.

 

04.

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Avedon Fashion 1944-2000Richard Avedon’s Fashion photography is an inspiration, and this comprehensive volume is a book to be studied often.

 

05.

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Vivian Maier: Street PhotographerThe story surrounding the discovery of this unknown photographer’s legacy is as interesting as the images are wonderful to behold. A must-have book if you appreciate Street Photography and Art Photography.

 

06.

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Monica BelluciOne of my favorite books on my shelf – stunning images of this breath-takingly beautiful Italian model / actress, shot by numerous photographers. With the variety of approaches on one single subject – Monica Belluci – this volume is filled with potential ideas and inspiration for any photographer.

 

07.

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Alvarado’s Classic Modern Pin-UpsRobert Alvarado’s pin-up work is something I’ve long admired.With the photographs all slickly stylized, and highly polished, this book is wonderful to page through and feel inspired by.

 

08.

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Nick Brandt – A Shadow FallsSumptuously printed images of wildlife. The beautiful photographs in this book have to be seen!If there is one word I can use to describe the images in this book – epic!

 

09.

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Annie Leibovitz at workAnnie Leibovitz is one of the leading modern photographers. This volume is less a showcase of her work, but rather a conversation where she talks about photographs and the stories behind them.A good read and a glimpse into her life.

 

10.

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David duChemin – Within the FrameSubtitled, The Journey of Photographic Vision, David duChemin has an engaging style of writing, as he discusses what motivates him as a travel photographer and his wisdom and approach to photography.Any of his books are worth reading.

 

11.

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Nicknight: The Photographs of Nick KnightNick Knight is a British photographer with a colorful and flamboyant style to his Fashion photography. Some incredible work on display here.

 

12.

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Gregory Heisler: 50 PortraitsGregory Heisler is an undisputed genius when it comes to photographic lighting. In this book he has collected 50 of his his best portraits he has taken during his career, and he discusses the thought-processs behind each image. He offers insight in how he came to take specific images, and how he decided why to set up up certain portraits in certain ways.Gregory Heisler’s humility, and the way he allows glimpses into the frustration and disappointments along the way – the struggles to get to iconic images – all this is told in entertaining and thoughtful way.

This is a book to devour, and then dip into again and again, and learn from.


 

13.

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National Geographic: The PhotographsCompelling images from the best photography magazine you could find. Yes, you could regard the National Geographic as a photography magazine.

 

14.

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Jeanloup Sieff: 25A beautiful volume spanning 4 decades by this master photographer.

 

15.

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David LaChapelle: Heaven To HellStrikingly vibrant images from David LaChapelle’s vivid imagination.

 

16.

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Don McCullinDon McCullin’s images from war-torn regions across the planet, had real long-lasting emotional impact on me.

 

17.

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The Invisible Line: The Life and Photography of Ken OosterbroekKen was a South African news photographer who I truly believe was one of greatest news photographers in the world – his life was cut short in tragic circumstances, which is also portrayed in the book (and movie), Bang Bang Club.

 

18.

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The Bang Bang ClubBang Bang Club portrays the lives of the photographers who covered the news in South Africa during the turbulent time in the 90′s. Living in South Africa and following the news photographers’ work as published at the time in various newspapers in Johannesburg, theirs is a personal story that has specific resonance for me.

 

19.

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Witness in Our Time, Second Edition: Working Lives of Documentary PhotographersMy interest in photography was originally fueled by the great photo-journalists like Don McCullin, and I’ve always had a strong interest in this field.This book covers recent trends in documentary photography, in the words of twenty-nine people deeply involved in the genre.

 

20.

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Steve Simon – The Passionate PhotographerSubtitled, Ten Steps Toward Becoming GreatSteve Simon’s book is meant to inspire and fuel your passion to improve your photography. Not quite a how-to instructional book, this book will inspire you and your photography.

{ 7 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Darren December 20, 2011 at 7:57 am

What do you think of the printing in the Vivian Maier book? A few people have really slated it on Amazon (though that’s true of most things) which makes it seem a bit pointless. You might aswell just look at it on the internet if the printing is genuinely poor.

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2 Neil vN December 20, 2011 at 12:12 pm

I did notice the negative comments on Amazon about the print quality in the book. I like the print quality. To my eye, it looks good. As for the comments about the images being too sepia .. I’m ambivalent about this. I’d prefer a more pure B&W, but wouldn’t knock the book for having images with richer tones.

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3 Pasquier December 21, 2011 at 2:22 am

Great list, Neil – nice to see some favourites.
Glad you included Ken Oosterbroek – a favourite of mine – I remember visiting his exhibition in the early 90′s – amazing.
I guess my list would include Tim Page and David Duncan Douglas (Vietnam war), W. Eugene Smith.
At the moment, with snow outside I tend to drift towards the work of Michael Kenna and Edward Weston (indoor work).

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4 Dermot December 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

Great list Neil. Thanks for posting – some interesting books there for me to investigate! Happy New Year to you!

Dermot

Ireland.

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5 Ann Steward May 11, 2012 at 9:07 am

Thank you for this list!!

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6 bartonB September 22, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Neil,
Thank you so much for your list and thoughful comments. They left me quite moved, particularly the inclusion of Vivian Maier.
bartonB

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7 Marian January 22, 2013 at 11:51 am

Are there any books/photographers that you could recommend in the area of dance photography. Fast moving subjects with less than optimal lighting proves to be very challenging !

Thanks, Marian

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