The 10 Best Photography Books
This wiki has been updated 28 times since it was first published in October of 2015. If you know a shutterbug or someone who simply appreciates great pictures, check out our selection of photography books. We've included learning tools that will help both beginners and professionals develop their skills, elegant coffee table tomes and, of course, options that feature some of the most stunning digital and film images, as well as an abundance of technical guidance. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
January 20, 2020:
In addition to making sure this list is up to date, we also wanted to ensure that there is a healthy selection of guidance for myriad readers, whether you're interested in portraits and headshots or landscape photography.
For this reason, we said goodbye to Extraordinary Everyday, which is still a solid choice, however, it focuses on information that is often included in other books. We decided to add The Photographer's Guide to Posing in its place. This book does not force the reader to memorize dozens of poses, rather, it explains the many meticulous facets of what makes a good pose work, and teaches how to gauge what to do on your own by taking these factors into account. It's perfect for professionals who focus on people, whether you're a wedding or fashion photographer.
We also added Light Science & Magic at the expense of The Definitive Visual History. The Definitive Visual History is excellent as a coffee table book and offers plenty of background that would be interesting to even non-photographers, but it doesn't contain many technical tips. Light Science & Magic, on the other hand, offers vital information on one of the most important aspects of taking a great picture — the lighting. It serves as a comprehensive introduction for beginners and teaches tried-and-true concepts as well as incorporates more modern ones.
The Birth Of Photography
Around the same time, another French inventor by the name of Louis Daguerre was also experimenting on ways to permanently capture an image.
The first photograph ever taken was in 1827 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce, a French inventor. He used a camera obscura, which is often referred to as a pinhole image. Up until Niepce made a photograph with a camera obscura, they were only used for drawing and viewing purposes. Niepce used it to make a heliograph, which is an image that is created by letting light draw the picture. He applied a coating of bitumen of Judea, a light-sensitive material, to a pewter plate and then exposed it for eight hours. This hardened the bitumen and turned what was previously a soluble-in-spirits material, into an insoluble material. The parts that weren't exposed to light remained unhardened, and were washed away with a solvent. The result was the first ever photograph, and a perfect representation of the pinhole image. Unfortunately Niepce's technique not only took a very long time, making it impractical, the images quickly faded away.
Around the same time, another French inventor by the name of Louis Daguerre was also experimenting on ways to permanently capture an image. In 1829, he partnered with Neipce and together they worked to perfect the process. Unfortunately Neipce passed away in 1833, but Daguerre continued with their work and, in 1839, finally developed a method that created photographic images that wouldn't fade. His new technique also only required 30 minutes of exposure, instead of the eight hours Neipce's original technique needed.
Daguerre named the process after himself and called it the daguerreotype. His process fixed an image onto a sheet of silver-plated copper, instead of the pewter Neipce originally used. By coating the sheet in iodine, he made it sensitive to light, and, as with Neipce's heliograph technique, let sunlight create the image for him. The key step to making the image last was bathing it in a silver chloride solution, which prevented it from fading when exposed to light again.
Why Study Digital Photography Books
Many of the world's most renowned photographers never actually went to school for photography. Instead, the majority of them are self taught. While there is no substitution for practical application, studying photography books is also a great way to improve one's skills, without having to spend thousands of dollars on a photography degree.
Photography books come in a range of genres, from artistic to digital, and in all levels. There are books suitable for beginners just getting started on the path to photography, and for experienced professionals looking for inspiration. For beginners, the best photography books are often ones that focus on the technical aspects of photography. Amateur photographers need to learn about things like exposure, the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, composition, setting ISO speeds, and other technical aspects which can be difficult and time consuming to figure out on one's own. They may also need to learn how to take light meter readings and edit images for the best results. If nothing else, a great photography book will inspire them to get out and take more photos.
Many experienced professionals often wind up pigeon-holing themselves into a particular genre or subject. Taking the time to look through some great photography books can be a reminder of the many different styles out there and motivate them to tackle something new.
The First Photography Books
The first photography book ever published was Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions in 1843. It was produced by English botanist Anna Atkins and was intended to help the scientific community identify marine specimens with nearly 500 images. It was the first book to be illustrated solely with photographs, as opposed to the drawings that were more common in the time. Unlike standard photographs shot with a camera, the pictures in Atkins' book were cyanotypes, which were made by pressing marine specimens onto light sensitive paper and then exposing them. This created actual silhouette photos of the algae.
It was produced by English botanist Anna Atkins and was intended to help the scientific community identify marine specimens with nearly 500 images.
Currently it is believed 17 copies of the book still exist, with at least three of the copies being housed in museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the British Library in London and the New York Public Library. In 2004, a copy of the book sold for over $300,000 making it one of the most expensive photography books ever sold.
In 1874, Julia Margaret Cameron published the first photography book designed to illustrate a literary work. Cameron made 12 images specifically for Idylls of the King, which was written by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Her images were reproduced as wood engravings so she went on to publish her own copies of the book that included her original album prints.