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Published Mar 7, 2022 3:20 PM

The best photography books can teach you to capture your favorite moments and show you some of the most memorable moments in history. These beautiful books range from coffee table books for perusing history’s most powerful photos to instructional books to teach you how to compose, light, and develop your own creative vision. 

You’ll need a different kind of book if you’re developing your own photography skills than if you enjoy viewing beautiful photographs taken by famous photographers. Our list includes instructional books, as well as those that act as conversation starters and let you appreciate the beauty of photography. We’ve also included a short shopping guide to help you decide which type of book you want. 

How We Selected These Products 

Methodology 

Photography is a broad book category. To pick the best of the best, we considered:

  • Purpose: You can think of photography books as coming from two distinct categories — instructional and recreational. Instructional books teach the reader how to improve their own photography skills. Recreational books let you browse beautiful photographs. Many recreational photography books also give you a history of the photographer or the photo’s subject. 
  • Quality: The quality of the photos in the book and the instruction were a big determining factor in our selections. 
  • Source: World-renowned photographers who are willing to share their expertise with others make great sources, as do publications and outlets that specialize in photography. We looked for books written and compiled by credible sources. 

The Best Photography Books: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity

Best Overall

This book goes beyond rules to help readers create images with impact. Bruce Barnbaum

Why It Made The Cut: The Essence of Photography covers some technique but focuses on creating images with impact making it the best photography book. 

Specs:

  • Type: Instructional and recreational
  • Author/Source: Bruce Barnbaum
  • Pages: 196

Pros:

  • Helps photographers learn to define their own style
  • Includes 90 photographs
  • Provides creative steps that go beyond technique

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t focus heavily on defined technique

The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity straddles the line between an instructional and recreational book. It teaches photographers how to define and bring their own style to their photography. Using 90 photographs as samples and inspiration, Bruce Barnbaum explores how and why powerful photos go beyond light, composition, and other principles of photography. 

This book acts as inspiration for beginning photographers and is helpful for intermediate and experts in search of inspiration. However, folks looking for a book to grace their coffee table can enjoy it for the beautiful photographs and inspirational text. 

However, some readers may be disappointed if they’re looking for a strictly instructive book. There’s little technical information, with the author assuming good technique is already in the photographer’s skill set. 

Best Historical Photos

Popular Photography’s take on iconic photography takes the reader through a beautiful and sometimes tragic look at history. Popular Photography, Kathleen Perricone

Why It Made The Cut: Photography is about capturing important moments, and this book takes the reader through a beautiful historical journey. 

Specs:

  • Type: Recreational
  • Author/Source: Kathleen Perricone and Popular Photography team
  • Pages: 192

Pros:

  • Gathers some of the most important photographs in history
  • Excellent, informational commentary
  • Explores the impact of photography

Cons: 

  • Doesn’t dive into deep detail

Popular Photography: The World’s Most Iconic Photographs takes readers on a journey through 200 years of photographic history. From the first photo ever taken to world-changing moments captured on film, this book explores human history and how it’s been influenced by the ability to save those moments in photos. The informational commentary provides context and why each photo still has an impact today. 

This is an excellent book for the coffee table. You can flip through while relaxing or use it as a conversation starter when company comes. The only issue some people might have is that it stays shallow in its coverage rather than diving deep into any one period of time or photo. 

Best for Composition: The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos

Best for Composition

Develop your creative eye by learning the art of composing a beautiful picture. Michael Freeman

Why It Made The Cut: This book lets readers further develop their composition and design skills to create a truly stunning photo, making it the best photography book for composition. 

Specs:

  • Type: Instructional
  • Author/Source: Michael Freeman
  • Pages: 192

Pros:

  • Written by world-renowned photographer
  • Includes tips for traditional and digital composition
  • Teaches aspects of location exploration to create stronger compositions

Cons:  

  • More focused on digital photography than film

The Photographer’s Eye is a popular book written by Michael Freeman, a well-respected photographer whose work has appeared in Smithsonian magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Time-Life Books. Readers delve into the importance of exploring the location to identify angles and lighting beyond the obvious. It helps readers develop their creative eye and bring it to life, encouraging readers to look and think about unusual and interesting shots. 

While it does cover traditional in-camera composition, it leans toward digital photography. That may or may not be a con depending on your preferred media. 

Best for Posing: The Photographer’s Guide to Posing: Techniques to Flatter Everyone

Best for Posing

Whether it’s family photos or professional shoots, learn how to make your subjects look better, bolder, and more beautiful. Lindsay Adler

Why It Made The Cut: Written by fashion photographer Lindsay Adler, this book offers starter tips and ways to build better and more complex poses.  

Specs:

  • Type: Instructional
  • Author/Source: Lindsay Adler
  • Pages: 452

Pros:

  • Covers the basics and teaches how to build on them
  • Written by an experienced fashion photographer
  • Includes chapters on specific subject matter, like couples, women, families, and small groups

Cons: 

  • Some adult subject matter

Lindsay Adler is both a fashion photographer and photography educator, giving her unique insight into the subject matter. The book covers posing basics while providing end chapters that address the posing needs of different subject matter. For example, it covers women, curvy women, maternity photos, family photos, and small groups. The author also offers her own go-to poses as starting places for those key shoots. Be aware that this book contains some artistic nudity.  

Best for Beginners: Digital Photography Complete Course

Best for Beginners

Learn the ins and outs of your digital camera to document daily life and adventures. David Taylor

Why It Made The Cut: This book is broken down into 20 lessons, with clear learning goals and assignments, making it the best photography book for beginners. 

Specs:

  • Type: Instructional
  • Author/Source: DK
  • Pages: 359

Pros

  • Broken down into weekly lessons with clear learning goals
  • Excellent learning resource for absolute beginners
  • Bright photos with detailed explanations
  • Includes assignments and assessments

Cons 

  • Too basic for intermediate or advanced digital photographers

The Digital Photography Complete Course offers beginners everything they need to get started with their digital camera. It’s broken down into 20 weekly lessons, making the content highly digestible for young and old alike. Those lessons include assignments and assessments to check skills development as you go. 

The book covers the basics like understanding f-stops, ISO, and exposure on the digital camera. The layout includes diagrams, text boxes, examples, and pictures to add visual interest. 

However, intermediate to advanced photographers will find little to enhance their skills with this one. It’s designed for beginners to go from “what’s a camera?” to taking their own manually-adjusted photos. 

Things to Consider When Buying the Best Photography Books

Purpose

Photography books can generally be categorized into two groups — instructional and recreational. Instructional books are pretty self-explanatory. They teach you how to take your own photographs. 

Basic photography books may teach you how to use a digital camera or cover the seven principles of photography — pattern, contrast, emphasis, rhythm and movement, balance and unity. Some books briefly cover all seven, while others focus on a single principle or sub-topic within a principle, like composure or lighting. 

Beginners should start with a basic book that covers the main photography topics. As you become more skilled, a specialized book that focuses on a single principle can help you add depth to your skills. 

Recreational books include coffee table books that offer a visual feast. They’re a great way to appreciate some of the world’s best photographs or for you to enjoy your favorite topic. For example, there are photography books for landscapes, barns, pets, and people. These books aren’t instructional. You can simply enjoy the beauty they have and enjoy the text that comes with them, which may explain the subject or the photographer. 

Author’s Authority

Do a little research into the book’s author or publisher. A photography book written by a chef doesn’t hold much credit unless they’re teaching you about food photography (a legitimate photography subgenre). 

Look for photographers who specialize in their topic, like a fashion photographer who puts out a book on posing or lighting. Organizations where photography plays a role in their business model are also credible sources because great photography is a key part of their business model. 

Quality

Consider the quality of both the photos and the instruction as well as how well that instruction fits with your goals. If you don’t love landscapes, Ansel Adams probably isn’t for you, even if the photos are top quality. Similarly, a book that’s teaching about taking landscapes may not hold your interest if you want to take family portraits. 

FAQs

Q: What is the best book to learn photography? 

Digital Photography Complete Course is one of the best photography books for beginners. It explains settings and features through 20 weekly lessons. For more advanced photographers, either The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos and The Photographer’s Guide to Posing: Techniques to Flatter Everyone are excellent books for honing specific skills. 

Q: How do I learn basic photography? 

Start out with a great instructional book like The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity or Digital Photography Complete Course if you’re new to photography. From there, start taking photos every day. Go outside and shoot away. Take pictures of family members, pets, leaves, and anything else that catches your eye. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. Experiment with lighting, subject matter, and composition to challenge yourself and expand your skills.

Q: What makes a good photography book? 

A good photography book contains high-quality images that aren’t just beautiful to look at but are examples of the focus of the book. For example, a book on lighting should have excellent examples of lighting techniques and how to achieve those results for yourself. A book on posing should include photos that show different posing techniques successfully put into practice. 

Final Thoughts

The Essence of Photography: Seeing and Creativity goes well beyond a how-to book and delves into what makes photography such a compelling art form for the hobbyist and professional. It also encourages readers to see the world through the camera lens and build their own creativity. However, beginners might need a book with more concrete tips, which Digital Photography Complete Course has in abundance. Beginners, home schoolers, and anyone else who wants to learn how to use their digital camera will find everything they need in this instructional book.

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