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42 best books on photography for beginners and pros in 2021

Included in this guide:

The best books on photography

The best books on photography will help you improve your skills, give you a fresh perspective on how to approach a shoot, and provide a burst of inspiration and ideas for new projects.  

It doesn't matter whether you're an experienced pro or a total novice: there are always new things you can learn about taking pictures. So in this post, we've gathered together our favorite photography books, for every skill level. 

From the best books on photography for beginners right through to advanced-level skills guides – plus beautiful coffee table photography books, insightful guides to the business of photography and more – these are the best photography books money can buy. If you're on the hunt for a shiny new camera to put these skills into practice with, don't miss our round-up of the best digital cameras in 2021 money can buy. 

Best photography books for beginners

(Image credit: Henry Carroll)

1. Read This if You Want to Take Good Photographs

The best book on photography for beginners overall

Publisher: Laurence King Publishing
Author: Henry Carroll
Pages: 128
ISBN-10: 1780673353
ISBN-13: 978-1780673356
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks advanced techniques

Getting to grips with the basics of photography has never been easier – or more fun – than with Read This if You Want to Take Good Photographs. An easy-to-follow, accessible guide, this book is perfect for anyone knew to using DSLRs, compact system and bridge camera. The author – teacher, writer and photographer Henry Carroll – has dialled down the technical jargon and instead opted for handbook that champions the art of photography via iconic images, playful dialogue and expert tips. 

Inspired by the greats, Carroll draws on acclaimed photographers such as Sebastião Salgado, Nadav Kander and Daido Moriyama to help illustrate technique and encourage readers to get involved. 

• 12 essential photography tips for beginners

2. BetterPhoto Basics

The friendliest book on photography for beginners

Publisher: Amphoto
Author: Jim Miotke
Pages: 240
ISBN-10: 081740502X
ISBN-13: 978-0817405021
Reasons to buy
+Fun and friendly approach+Easy to follow explanations
Reasons to avoid

If you're a photography novice looking for a relatively light and friendly read, this guide from Jim Miotke, the brains behind online photography school, should be just up your street. 

Explaining everything an absolute beginner needs to get started taking great photos, it's packed with tips and advice, and explanations are friendly sounding and written in plain English. 

Once you've got to grips with the basics, Miotke walks you through taking 20 common categories of photos, including family and pet portraits, flowers, sunsets, candids, close-ups and monochrome shots. 

Suitable for children and adults, this is one of the best photography books to make learning photography fun and rewarding, and ultimately whether it succeeds will be down to you.

• 10 best online photography courses

3. Tony Northrup's DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography

The best book on photography for beginners with video training

Publisher: Mason Press
Author: Tony Northrup
Pages: 233
ISBN-10: 0988263408
ISBN-13: 978-0988263406
Reasons to buy
+An excellent resource +Includes video
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks fine detail

When it comes to learning photography, reading from books and watching videos are two approaches that each have strengths and weaknesses. So why not combine the two for the best of both worlds?

That's exactly what this package from Tony Northrup, the founder of, offers. As well as this 233-page book, you get over three hours of supplementary online training videos, and free help from the author and other readers via an online readers group. 

This is very much a practical, hands-on course that requires you to grab your camera and get shooting right away. There are exercises at the end of every chapter to give you the real world experience you need, and the emphasis is very much on learning by doing.

Improving your photography

4. One Face, Fifty Ways

Inspired ideas book for photography enthusiasts

Author: Mark Wilkinson & Imogen Dyer
Publisher: Ilex
Pages: 160
ISBN-10: 1781574308
ISBN-13: 978-1781574300
Reasons to buy
+160 pages+Paperback +Published in 2017

Mark Wilkinson is an enthusiast photographer, and Imogen – the model of the titular “one face” – an acquaintance. Their chance encounter spawned not only Europe’s most popular photography YouTube channel Weekly Imogen, but now this book. 

Its simple premise is to offering easy-to-follow examples you can use to getting as many different looks as possible with the same model. In so doing it also covers many basics of photographing all people (and there is a chapter with models other than Imogen). Since so many of us start out with family members or cooperative friends serving in that role, this light-hearted but informative guide is a good way to build your confidence shooting people. 

5. The Digital Photography Book: Part 1

The best book on photography for insider tips

Publisher: Peachpit Press
Author: Scott Kelby
Pages: 256
ISBN-10: 0321934946
ISBN-13: 978-0321934949
Reasons to buy
+Jargon free+Insider knowledge
Reasons to avoid
-Tone sometimes questionable-Some tips quite basic

This book takes an approach to improving your photography that makes perfect sense to us. Here's how author Scott Kelby, co-host of Photoshop User TV, explains it... 

“If you and I were out on a shoot, and you asked me, 'Hey, how do I get this flower to be in focus, with the background out of focus?,' I wouldn't stand there and give you a photography lecture," he says. "In real life, I’d just say, 'Put on your zoom lens, set your f-stop to f/2.8, focus on the flower, and fire away.'"

In exactly that spirit, this book offers more than 200 photographic tricks of the trade, to help you get looking, sharper, more colorful, more professional-looking photos, explained in the same way you would in a normal conversation. So you learn how using a different setting, tool or trick in a particular situation can truly transform the quality of your work, and make it look more like the work of a pro than an amateur. 

Kelby really does write like you're standing next to you, and while that might sometimes be off-putting (depending on whether you 'get' his sense of humour), there's no denying that these tricks really work, whether you're a beginner or an experienced photographer. 

6. Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs of People

The best book on photography for improving your portraits

Author: Henry Carroll
Publisher: Laurence King
Pages: 128
ISBN-10: 9781780676241
ISBN-13: 978-1780676241
Reasons to buy
+128 pages+Paperback +Published in 2015 

Henry Carroll’s series of books on photography are an example of exceptional publishing – and this one dedicated to portraiture is no exception. They show what a little academic knowledge can do when boiled down by great editors, skilled illustrators and an investment in the images – many publishers skimp on using photographs from famous photographers for books of this price because of the cost of licensing, but not LK. 

They’re also beautifully bound, with matt paper, some shiny (foil) and debossed lettering. That tactile experience and flickability is why, ultimately, they are superb gifts. They are inspiring to browse through, and contain some useful nuggets of information which any creative person of your acquaintance should enjoy. The recipient, in other words, will not be disappointed. Experienced photographers, however, will find every other book on this list more useful.

7. The Headshot: The Secrets to Creating Amazing Headshot Portraits

The best photography book on taking headshots

Publisher: New Riders
Author: Peter Hurley
Pages: 240
ISBN-10: 0133928519
ISBN-13: 978-0133928518
Reasons to buy
+Insider secrets+Invaluable tips
Reasons to avoid
-Not a comprehensive reference -Focused on one man's approach

In the modern social media age, having a decent looking head-and-shoulders portrait is something that concerns everyone, not just actors and models. So if you want to know how to take professional looking headshots, this book by professional portraitist Peter Hurley is just what you need. 

You'll learn the same techniques the author had used to take amazing headshots of Fortune 500 CEOs, actors and public figures, from lighting your subjects correctly  to putting them in flattering positions. 

Hurley also shares his trade secrets for getting genuine smiles and authentic expressions rather than people's standard 'photo face' that always makes a headshot look dull and lifeless.  

Note that this is not so much a step-by-step training manual or reference guide as an insight into how one man approaches his art. But when it's someone at the top of his game like this, there's a huge amount any photographer can learn here.

• See also The best books on portrait photography

8. The Art of Photography 2nd edition: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression

The best book on the philosophy of photography

Publisher: Rocky Nook
Author: Bruce Barnbaum
Pages: 408
ISBN-10: 1681982102
ISBN-13: 978-1681982106
Reasons to buy
+True classic+Potential game changer
Reasons to avoid
-Low on technical advice-Unsuited to beginners

First published in 1994, this book is considered a classic of photography instruction. It was fully updated in 2010 to incorporate digital photography. But actually, it's not so much a technical guide as a deep dive into the philosophical and creative side to photography. 

The author's main aim is to dissuade photographers from the approach of taking hundreds of shots in the hope of getting one good image, and instead understand the processes by which you can shoot fewer, but better pictures overall.

In other words, if you're at the stage of your photography journey where you understand all the tools and techniques, but you're still taking unimpressive pictures, this is the book for you.

9. Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations

The best book on photography for thinking outside the box

Publisher: Peachpit
Author: Nick Fancher
Pages: 264
ISBN-10: 0134084179
ISBN-13: 978-0134084176
Reasons to buy
+Insider knowledge+Real-world honesty
Reasons to avoid
-Niche appeal-Reliance on post-processing

There's something magical about the idea of a photo studio, a place where you can ensure the right lighting, space and ambience to capture the perfect shot. 

But in the real world, photography takes place in much more challenging locations, and that's where this book comes in.   

Whether you're shooting a corporate portrait of a CEO, a test shoot with a model, or a promo shoot with a band, professional portraitist Nick Fancher explains how to get great looking shots in less than ideal scenarios.

He takes you behind the scenes of his own photo shoots and explains how getting creative, from changing the lighting to post-processing, allows you to develop your own vision and achieve professional looking shots in the potentially worst places.

If you do a lot of portrait photography and want some tips on thinking outside the box, you won't find better.

10. The Photographer's Eye Remastered

The best photography book on composition

Publisher: Ilex Press
Author: Michael Freeman
Pages: 192
ISBN-10: 1781574553
ISBN-13: 978-1781574553
Reasons to buy
+Well-written and organised+Good visual design
Reasons to avoid
-Not much technical advice-Narrow subject area

There's no point in understanding the technical side of photography if you don't understand composition. This classic book, updated to celebrate its 10th anniversary, explains the principles of good composition, and how to put them into practice.

It's divided up into bite-size chapters to make everything easy to follow. And usefully the images (which are mainly from the author's travel photography) are shown with multiple crops, thus demonstrating how one particular composition of a picture works better than another. 

Following the author's reasoned and well-explained advice will help you develop your compositions and take better pictures as a result. In short, if you struggle with composition as a photographer, then you need this book.

11. Extraordinary Everyday Photography

The best photography book for seeing the world differently

Publisher: Amphoto
Author: Brenda Tharp, Jed Manwaring
Pages: 160
ISBN-10: 081743593X
ISBN-13: 978-0817435936
Reasons to buy
+Inspirational read+Full of tips and exercises
Reasons to avoid
-Focus on creativity not technique-Not suitable for pros

Great photography lies not so much in technical expertise but in learning to see things in a different way to the norm. The starting point for this book is that you don't have to travel to far-flung locations to take arresting pictures; great images are possible any where. You just have to scratch the surface and find them. 

Authors Brenda Tharp and Jed Manwaring encourage you to slow down, open your eyes and respond to what you see through advice, discussions and exercises. Throughout this book, you'll learn to use composition, available light, color, and different point of views to raise the quality and interest level of your shots. 

Aimed at amateur photographers who have technical knowledge but are lacking purpose and vision, this insightful read will help you rediscover your photographic soul and give you new ideas and enthusiasm.   

Develop your technical skills

(Image credit: Paul Wilkinson, Sarah Plater)

12. Mastering Portrait Photography

One of the best photography books for improving your portraits

Publisher: Ammonite Press
Author: Paul Wilkinson and Sarah Plater
Pages: 176
ISBN-10: 1781450854
ISBN-13: 978-1781450857
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Expert advice+Great photography resource
Reasons to avoid
-Aimed at beginners

If portrait photography is your area of expertise, or you want it to be, Mastering Portraits from Sarah Plater and multi-award winning portrait photographer Paul Wilkinson is one of the best photography books on the subject. The authoritative guide explains the essential techniques of portrait photography in a clear and concise way, with minimal jargon to make it as accessible as possible. 

Inside you'll find advice on choosing right camera and equipment for you, right through to understanding exposure, aperture, metering, shutter speed, depth of field and white balance settings. No matter what your subject, the technical know-how, tips and hints in this book will help you get the very best portrait possible. 

(Image credit: Ross Hoddinott & Mark Bauer )

13. The Landscape Photography Workshop

The ultimate guide to landscape photography

Publisher: Pepin Press
Author: Ross Hoddinott and Mark Bauer
Pages: 176
ISBN-10: 1907708979
ISBN-13: 978-1907708978
Reasons to buy
+Easy to follow+Practical assignments+For all skill levels

Get to grips with landscape photography with one of the best photography books around. A beautifully illustrated workshop-in-a-book, this photography handbook acts as a training session in the art of landscape photography, mixing detailed written explanations with easy-to-follow creative assignments to help you hone your skills. And you’re in safe hands with authors Ross Hoddinott and Mark Bauer – the duo are leading landscape photographers in the UK, who offer a range of workshops in South-West England. 

No matter what you’re skill level, there’s something here for everyone, starting with the basics of equipment and exposure right through to more advanced photography techniques, post-processing and printing.

14. Understanding Exposure

The best photography book on exposure

Publisher: Amphoto
Author: Bryan Peterson
Pages: 176
ISBN-10: 1607748509
ISBN-13: 978-1607748502
Reasons to buy
+Tightly written +Nicely illustrated
Reasons to avoid
-More theory than practice-Not for total novices

Updated for 2016, this popular book explains the fundamentals of exposure as it relates to light, aperture and shutter speed, in order to help you taking successful photographs in almost any situation. 

Author Bryan Peterson, founder of, demonstrates how to get sharpness and contrast in images, freeze action, take meter readings and more, as well as explaining everything you need to know about filters, flash and light. 

Peterson has a clear enthusiasm for his subject, and whether you're an experienced beginner or an intermediate photographer looking for a refresher, you'll get a deeper understanding of exposure from this guide that can't help but improve the quality of your images.  

15. Mastering Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO & Exposure

The best photography book on the Exposure Triangle

Publisher: CreateSpace
Author: Al Judge
Pages: 70
ISBN-10: 1482314452
ISBN-13: 978-1482314458
Reasons to buy
+Clear explanations+Jargon-free
Reasons to avoid
-Much of the content quite basic-Niche focus

Many of the most basic photography terms can be off-putting to the beginner, and even experienced photographers don't always understand them properly. So this book explains the fundamentals in a quick, easy and very accessible manner, allowing you to have more control over quality of your images.

By the end you'll fully understand exposure and its components, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO – also known as the Exposure Triangle – and how they work together. Every photographic term is clearly defined and thoroughly explained, as well as being highlighted by using bold caps, so that you can easily find them again to refresh your memory.

With handy charts and relevant photos included to aid understanding, this book is tightly focused on helping you explain what can be complex and confusing concepts, and so it's the ideal purchase for anyone who's struggling with them.

16. Shooting in Sh*tty Light: The Top Ten Worst Photography Lighting Situations and How to Conquer Them

The best photography book on lighting portraits

Publisher: Peachpit
Author: Lindsay Adler/Valind
Pages: 240
ISBN-10: 0321862694
ISBN-13: 978-0321862693
Reasons to buy
+Practical approach+Real-world advice
Reasons to avoid
-Only focuses on shooting people-Tips aren't particularly original

You don't always have the perfect lighting for the image you want to capture, and this can be particularly problematic for beginner and amateur photographers. In this provocatively titled book, pro photographers Lindsay Adler and Erik Valind discuss 10 challenging lighting situations and provide practical solutions for each. 

Each challenge and solution and is explained clearly and logically, and you'll come away with an array of tools at your disposal next time you attempt to take a decent photograph in poor lighting conditions. 

Note though that although the title doesn't suggest this, all the examples given involve photographing people (at weddings, etc) so there's nothing here on landscape or wildlife photography, for example. 

(Image credit: Ilex Press)

17. How to Photograph Food

The best photography book for shooting food

Publisher: Ilex Press
Author: Beata Lubas
Pages: 192
ISBN-10: 1781576912
ISBN-13: 978-1781576915
Reasons to buy
+Clear and comprehensive+Beautiful layout+Expert author
Reasons to avoid
-Niche appeal

Written by Instagram sensation Beata Lubas, who has 163K followers and rising, this hardback is a must-read for food bloggers or anyone looking to diversify into food photography. It covers both the art and science of food styling and camera skills, not to mention the business side, too. 

You'll learn how to tell food stories using light, colour and shape to evoke atmosphere, and discover methods for shaping natural light to produce magical images in any environment. This book is beautifully designed, with gorgeous photos and a layout that gives everything room to breathe. 

Best books on photography business skills

(Image credit: Sara Tasker)

18. Hashtag Authentic

The best photography book on building a community

Publisher: White Lion Publishing
Author: Sara Tasker
Pages: 192
ISBN-10: 1911127616
ISBN-13: 978-1911127611
Reasons to buy
+Expert tips+Highly affordable +Friendly, relaxed approach
Reasons to avoid
-Lack of practical photography advice

Instagram looks like it's here to stay. And love it or hate it, it can work wonders for building a business when used in the right way. Sara Tasker is a woman who has done just that, and luckily for us, she's decided to generously note her recipe for success in this rather wonderful book, Hashtag Authentic. 

Having given up her job as a speech therapist when she was pregnant, activating her Instagram account and three months later having over 35,000 followers, we don't know about you, but we were very interested to hear what she had to say. If you need help building an social following, want to turn your account into profitable creative outlet, or just need a few pointers on how to present your imagery online, this is a resource you'll visit time and time again. 

(Image credit: White Lion Publishing)

19. The Photography Storytelling Workshop

Hands-on guide to creating unforgettable images

Author: Finn Beales
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
Pages: 176
ISBN-13: 978-0711254701
Reasons to buy
+176 pages+Hard cover+Published in 2020

It’s all in the title – author Finn Beales walks the reader through five steps towards creating unforgettable photos (‘Pitch’, ‘Prep’, ‘Shoot’, ‘Edit’ and ‘Deliver’). 

Beales’ journey to amassing 600,000 followers on Instagram started after he gave up his career as a designer to shoot better images than what he was getting from commissioning other photographers. 

This in itself is something of a tell, because The Photography Storytelling Workshop is a well conceived and structured book, with an easy-to-navigate design and a good balance between text and images. 

What it exhorts the reader to go out and do feels achievable, but it’s only the beginning – as the title of the final heading in the book puts it, ‘There Is No Finish Line’. There’s always more to learn, whatever your level of experience. A wise buy for any photographer seeking to hone their craft to tell better stories. 

20. Best Business Practices for Photographers

The best business book for commercial photographers

Publisher: Rooky Nook
Author: John Harrington
Pages: 864
ISBN-10: 1681982668
ISBN-13: 978-1681982663
Reasons to buy
+Comprehensive+Clear and concise
Reasons to avoid
-US-focused-Focus on commercial photography may not suit

Best Business Practices for Photographers delivers exactly what it promises in the title. This updated and expanded third edition of a 1980s classic is a comprehensive guide to succeeding in your business as a photographer, including negotiating contracts and licenses, making a profit, hiring staff, making the career change from staff to freelancer, and so on. 

Once more, quite a bit of this is specifically American, so non-US residents will want to skip the chapter on How to Survive an IRS audit, for example. Also note that it's largely focused on commercial photographers, which is where the author's speciality lies. But with that said, there's still plenty of useful information to be had for photographers of all types, wherever you are in the world.

The Best books on Photography - Capture Your Style

(Image credit: Aimee Song)

21. Capture Your Style

Build yourself a robust brand

Publisher: Abrams
Author: Aimee Song
Pages: 208
ISBN: 1419722158
Reasons to buy
+Practical advice+Expert author+Clear and easy to follow

With over 3 million Instagram followers, Aimee Song has mastered the art of capturing an image that's going to appeal to a wide audience and draw them in. Song reveals her secrets behind creating an engaging feed and drawing thousands of followers to help gain you opportunities and connections. While this might be more helpful to fashion, lifestyle and portrait photographers, it's still an engaging read for anyone who wants to break into the Instagram game. 

Best books on photography for inspiration

(Image credit: Rizzoli International Publications)

22. Play

The best of Rankin's music portraits

Publisher: Rizzoli International Publications
Author: Rankin
Pages: 208
ISBN-10: 0847868818
ISBN-13: 978-0847868810
Reasons to buy
+Incredible images+Insightful commentary+208 pages

If you want to learn from the best, then check out this collection of work by Rankin, one of the most celebrated portrait photographers of modern times. This book brings together almost 200 of his most iconic music portraits, including Tom Jones, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Blondie and Marianne Faithfull, as well as images of ‘Cool Britannia’ in the late 1990s. 

As well as these inspiration visuals, Rankin provides commentary to set them in context. He outlines his process and explaining how he empowers his subjects, so they give him part of themselves in return. 

(Image credit: Pan Macmillan)

23. Look Again

Entertaining and revealing memoir by David Bailey

Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Author: David Bailey
Pages: 384
ISBN-10: 1509896848
ISBN-13: 978-1509896820
Reasons to buy
+Rich in detail+Full of detail+Endlessly entertaining

Released in 2020, this no-holds-barred memoir by the world's most famous living photographer was well worth the wait. It's riveting from start to finish, packed as it is with evocative anecdotes and vignettes, featuring veritable Who’s Who of the movers and shakers of late 20th century culture. Co-author James Fox sits in on some conversations between Bailey and his collaborators to provide added insight and analysis of this great man and his work. 

(Image credit: Annie Leibovitz)

24. Annie Leibovitz At Work

Iconic images by a living legend

Publisher: Phaidon
Author: Annie Leibovitz
Pages: 260
ISBN-10: 0714878294
ISBN-13: 978-0714878294
Reasons to buy
+Incredible images+High print quality
Reasons to avoid
-Not much text -Some small images

With a career spanning five decades, Annie Leibovitz is one of the world's best known portrait photographers and has shot some of the last half-century's most famous people. If, like many, you've ever fancied watching her in action, this new edition of the bestselling book Annie Leibovitz At Work is the closest you'll come to the real thing. 

First released in 2008 and recently out of print, At Work is aimed mainly at young photographers and those interested in how an image comes to be. Subjects covered include photojournalism, studio work, working with writers, and making the transition from film to digital cameras. If you're a fan of Leibovitz, it doesn't get much better than this. 

See also: Best books on portrait photography

(Image credit: Sebastião Salgado)

25. Sebastião Salgado: GENESIS

A masterclass in monochrome photography

Publisher: TASCHEN
Author: Sebastiao Salgado (Author), Lélia Wanick Salgado (Author, Editor)
Pages: 520
ISBN-10: 3836538725
ISBN-13: 978-3836538725
Reasons to buy
+Hundreds of inspirational images+Well presented
Reasons to avoid
-Very heavy-Expensive

One of the world's most respected contemporary documentary photographers, Sebastião Salgado is renowned for his spellbinding black and white imagery of the world as we don't know it. For his latest book Genesis, Salgado documents some of the very few areas of Earth that remain relatively untouched by man with a epic collection of imagery. 

There are several hundred images to peruse, which take you on a journey through polar regions, the African savannah and rainforests of Amazonia. "In Genesis, my camera allowed nature to speak to me. And it was my privilege to listen" – Sebastião Salgado. 

With over 500 pages and hardcover to boot, you're not going to want to carry this book around. But as a firm fixture on your coffee table, this rare look into Earth's somewhat unseen environments is a gift that keeps on giving. 

(Image credit: Ammonite Press)

26. Masters of Street Photography

Ideal introduction to this ever-developing genre

Author: Rob Yarham (editor)
Publisher: Ammonite Press
Pages: 176
ISBN-13: 978-1781453605
Reasons to buy
+176 pages+Hard cover+Published in 2019 

Sixteen leading practitioners of street photography are chosen to showcase their wares in this cleverly curated collection of images. Printed on quality paper, the reproduction of the photographs, a mixture of color and black and white, is of a high standard. 

The clue to the organisation of the book lies in the title. Individual photographers are each assigned to a ‘Master of…’ chapter – for example, Flash (The Bragdon Brothers), Urban landscape (Sally Davies), Noir (Giacomo Brunelli) and Hidden stories (Melissa Breyer) – and contribute six images. 

Interviews with the photographers within each chapter allow the readers to get an insight into their artistic missions and working methods, while image thumbnails at the close of each chapter contain at-a-glance technical information. 

With these themed chapters permitting a clear focus on a particular area – especially one you may not have considered before – this cleverly curated book is an ideal introduction to the possibilities of street photography. 

The best books on street photography

(Image credit: Amazon)

27. Street Photography Now

Leading street photographers showcase the 'invisible'

Publisher: Thames and Hudson Ltd
Author: Sophie Howarth and Stephen McLaren
Pages: 240
ISBN-10: 0500289077
ISBN-13: 978-0500289075
Reasons to buy
+Over 300 photos+Quality finish 
Reasons to avoid

Successful street photographers recognise and capture the beauty of everyday life. Street Photography Now showcases the work of 46 photographers, all recognised for their inspirational depictions of the day-to-day. 

Included among them are Magnum Photo members Bruce Gilden, best known for his candid close-ups of people on the streets of NYC, and Alex Web, whose colourful and complex images have made their way in to the New York Times Magazine and National Geographic. There's also a collection of work from some emerging street photographers depicting life in New York, Tokyo and Delhi. 

With over 300 images to look through and multiple conversations between the photographers on the genre, you sure to find some street art inspiration here. 

See also: Best books on street photography

[Image: Amazon]

28. Humans of New York

A modern street photography classic

Publisher: St Martin's Press
Author: Brandon Stanton
Pages: 304
ISBN-10: 1250038820
ISBN-13: 978-1250038821
Reasons to buy
+Great street photography+High quality finish
Reasons to avoid
-Short captions-May disappoint fans of the blog

In the summer of 2010, Brandon Stanton left his job in finance to do "something artistic" but wasn't sure what it should be. He began crisscrossing New York City, talking to passers-by and asking to photograph them. This ultimately became the source material for Humans of New York, a blog that now attracts more than a million followers. 

With 400 color photos, including exclusive portraits and all-new stories, this collection of Stanton's images is a stunning achievement. Capturing a breathtaking sweep of humanity, these images are a heartfelt and moving tribute to the spirit of a city. 

However, do note that unlike with the blog, this book is all about the images. The captions that accompany them are a few words at most, rather than the detailed stories the blog followers will be used to.

(Image credit: White Lion Publishing)

29. The World at Night

See the night sky at its best all across the world

Author: Babak Tafreshi
Publisher: White Lion Publishing
Pages: 240
ISBN-13: 978-1-78131-913-0
Reasons to buy
+240 pages+Hard cover +Published 2019

Six continents, 40 countries and some of the most remote corners of Planet Earth feature in this collection of night-sky images – all of which makes The World at Night a great introduction to astrophotography. 

Author Babak Tafreshi has drawn together the work of a team of photographers from 20 countries for this partnership with international bodies The World at Night (which Tafreshi founded) and Astronomy Without Borders. 

Organized into six chapters covering themes including UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Night, celestial events, dark sky refuges and the threat posed by grey-light polluted urban skies, the book features no end of astonishing images, many previously unseen. 

Fascinating for anyone faintly interested in photographing the night sky (and there’s a ‘how to’ section on p235), and inspirational for those already doing it, The World at Night really is a journey to some of the most far-flung places on the earth. 

But it also strikes a note of caution: “By losing the night sky [to light pollution] we risk the loss of a deep-rooted connection to our origins.” 

30. Portraits – Steve McCurry

An in-depth guide for the aspiring professional

Author: Steve McCurry
Publisher: Phaidon
Pages: 496
ISBN-10: 0714865379
ISBN-13: 978-0714865379
Reasons to buy
+496 pages+Hardback +Published in 2013 

Sometimes you just need to flick through the work of an undisputed master of the genre, and it’s impossible to argue with Steve McCurry’s credentials on that score. The Afghan Girl, the cover photo, is the leading contender for most famous photograph of all time, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to see more of the Kodachrome master. This is, too, very accessibly priced for a collection of 255 books because it’s presented in a compact hardback format which makes it a nice gift (or self-gift) for photo lovers. It’d be nice to have a little more detail in the captions, and it is a monograph so variety is limited, but this is far from Phaidon’s most expensive book – really you can have no complaints.

(Image credit: Phaidon)

31. Steve McCurry Untold

The Career Story of the Photographer’s Photographer

Author: Steve McCurry & William Purcell
Publisher: Phaidon
Pages: 304
ISBN-10: 0714877341
ISBN-13: : 978-0714877341
Reasons to buy
+304 pages+Hardcover published 2013+Softcover published 2018

Several photographers told me I had to put a Steve McCurry book in this list, and for me this is the obvious pick – this are bigger books out there, but at 11 inches (27cm) on the long side this is big enough to enjoy Magnum-photographer McCurry’s amazing assignments for National Geographic back in the day, while being small enough to make it readable. 

That’s a good thing too – this book doesn’t just caption photos with location and year as other McCurry collections do, but tell the story, partly in his own words, of being on those assignments over 30 years. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard to read too much with out self-assigning your self, grabbing your camera, and setting off right away.

32. Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits

Evocative portraits and revealing insights

Publisher: Armphoto
Author: Gregory Heisler
Pages: 224
ISBN-10: 0823085651
ISBN-13: 978-0823085651
Reasons to buy
+Beautiful portraits+Explains the process behind them
Reasons to avoid
-Some explanations lack depth -Some of his best images not included

Photographer Gregory Heisler is best known for his work for Time magazine, including a number of Man, Person, and People of the Year covers. This first-ever collection of his work includes 50 evocative portraits of celebrities, athletes and world leaders, along with fascinating tales of how the images were made. 

From his controversial portrait of President George H.W. Bush to his Time magazine cover of Rudolph Giuliani, and including shots of Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Hillary Clinton, Michael Phelps, Muhammad Ali, and many more, Heisler reveals the creative and technical processes behind the creation of each frame. 

With a foreword by New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, this is both a gorgeous collection of world-class portraiture and a revealing insight into the work of a master photographer.

33. National Geographic Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary

Eye-popping images of nature's most amazing sights

Publisher: National Geographic
Author: National Geographic, Stephen Alvarez (foreword)
Pages: 400
ISBN-10: 1426215614
ISBN-13: 978-1426215612
Reasons to buy
+Incredible photography+Large format lets images breathe
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks technical info about photos-Not much text in general

Over several decades, National Geographic has made a name for itself bringing the epic, the eye-catching and the unusual into people's home. And this large-format photography book is brings together some of the world's strangest and more wonderful sights. The desert flower that only blooms once a year; a priceless Egyptian artefact buried for years in King Tut's tomb; 30,000-year-old cave art; volcanic lightning; giant crystals that weigh more than 50 tons... all life is here, and all brilliantly captured by world-class photographers. 

34. Henri Cartier-Bresson

A great value history of Cartier-Bresson

Author: Clément Chéroux
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Pages: 160
ISBN-10: 0500301247
ISBN-13: 978-0500301241
Reasons to buy
+160 pages+Softcover+Published 2008

If your goal is understanding Henry Cartier-Bresson but your budget doesn't stretch to a big volume like the Decisive Moment, above, then this is a great alternative. Published a few years after his death in 2004, the book features images from Cartier-Bresson’s entire working life, and gives a thorough overview of his own story, from experiences in WW2, the development of his own style, and, of course, the founding of Magnum (which goes such a long way to maintain his legend today). All this in a book the size of paperback which can be had for less than the latest dystopian novel (or seasonal take-away coffee).

35. Ansel Adams in the National Parks: Photographs from America's Wild Places

Best of the master landscape photographer

Publisher: Little, Brown US
Author: Ansel Adams (Author), Andrea G. Stillman (Editor)
Pages: 352
ISBN-10: 0316078468
ISBN-13: 978-0316078467
Reasons to buy
+Superb selection+Nice layout
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks technical detail about how photos were taken-Photos printed quite small

Ansel Easton Adams (1902-1984) was a landscape photographer whose black-and-white pictures of the American wilderness have been widely reproduced and become iconic and historic images. He worked in more than 40 national parks over five decades, and some of his most stunning work features in this volume, including 50 never-before-published images. There's also an essay by  critic and historian Richard B. Woodward about Adams' role in the conservation movement. 

36. Bystander: A History of Street Photography

The definitive history of street photography

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Author: Joel Meyerowitz and Colin Westerbeck
Pages: 448
ISBN-10: 0821227262
ISBN-13: 978-0821227268
Reasons to buy
+Scholarly and detailed+Great selection of images
Reasons to avoid
-Solely focused on Europe and America-Small type may be difficult to read

A collaboration between an esteemed curator and a distinguished photographer, this book brings together the work of some of street photography's greatest names, including Arget, Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson, Brassai, Walker Evans, Frank and Winogrand, along with some impressive work by complete unknowns. Colin Westerbeck's delightfully detailed text explains the story behind each image, and the photographers who took them. An excellent overview of street photography from the earliest Victorian experiments to the end of the 20th century.

Best photography books for students

(Image credit: Routledge)

37. Langford’s Basic Photography by Michael Langford

An excellent resource for photography students

Publisher: Routledge
Author: Michael Langford
Pages: 568
ISBN: 9780415718912
Reasons to buy
+Industry standard textbook+Detailed charts & diagrams
Reasons to avoid
-Focuses heavily on film

This seminal photography text is in its 10th edition, which should go some way to show what a popular resource it's been over the past 50 years or so. This book is written by Michael Langford (former Photography Course Director at the Royal College of Art, London), Anna Fox (Professor of Photography at University for the Arts, Farnham) and Richard Sawdon Smith (Professor of Photography and Dean of Media at Norwich University of the Arts).

While previous editions focused heavily on film photography, the 10th edition has been revamped, reorganized and modernized to include the most up-to-date information for photographers. However, the heart of the text still retains the same comprehensive mix of scholarly and practical information. 

(Image credit: Penguin)

38. On Photography by Susan Sontag

One of the most infamous photography texts

Publisher: Penguin
Author: Susan Sontag
Pages: 213
ISBN: 0312420099
Reasons to buy
+Required reading for many photography courses+Deeply insightful
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't really focus on technical aspects of photography

This groundbreaking critique of photography should be required reading for every photography student. In six essays that were originally published serially in the New York Review of Books, 'On Photography' delves into the meaning and purpose of a photograph. While it might be light on technique, it's heavy on philosophy and passion. Read this to rediscover your love for the art of photography. 

(Image credit: Thames & Hudson)

39. On Photographs

A book to redefine how we think about photographs

Author: David Campany
Publisher: Thames & Hudson
Pages: 264
ISBN-13: 978-0500545065
Reasons to buy
+264 pages+Hard cover+Published in 2020 

This could well become a classic of photography writing, says its publisher. 

The author, a leading writer and curator, has gathered a collection of photographs from across various genres to produce a personal and playful take on the history of the medium, and what images mean. 

Images from many greats of photography appear in this book, on the right-hand page of each spread, with commentary and analysis from the author opposite. 

This intriguing selection of images with erudite commentary will appeal to any photography lover. Whether you choose to dip in and out, or read it for prolonged spells, the sequencing of this book will always have you coming back for more. 

(Image credit: Frances Lincoln)

40. Photography Rules, Paul Lowe

Dos and don’ts from great photographers

Author: Paul Lowe
Publisher: Frances Lincoln
Pages: 240
ISBN-13: 978-0711242586
Reasons to buy
+240 pages+Soft cover+Published in 2020

Imagine having some of the most significant insights and memorable aphorisms about photography in your camera bag. 

Dream no longer… Photography Rules is a compendium of wisdom gleaned from photographers and industry professionals including Robert Capa, Diane Arbus, Martin Parr and many more. 

Helpfully arranged in three discrete sections, ‘Making Photographs’, ‘Being a Photographer’ and ‘Professional Practice’, Photography Rules doesn’t over-egg its messages; each image featured is accompanied by text that’s as digestible as it is concise – making this book a handy reference guide for keeping on or around you when you’re in the field. 

Read more: The best books on street photography

(Image credit: Laurence King)

41. From Above: The Story of Aerial Photography

Enthralling history of shooting from above

Author: Eamonn McCabe & Gemma Padley
Publisher: Laurence King
Pages: 256
ISBN-10: 178627521X
ISBN-13: 978-1-78627-521-9
Reasons to buy
+Detailed history+Stunning images+Insightful analysis

Wondering how aerial photography happened before drones? In this enlightening book, Eamonn McCabe and Gemma Padley pull together some fascinating images from the 1850s up to the modern day. They trace the evolution of the discipline masterfully, with balloons and airships giving way to airplanes, helicoptersand satellites. And along with the work of pioneers like Edward Burtynsky, Sebastiao Salgado and Yann Arthus-Bertrandt there are some incredible images, including San Francisco after the earthquake in 1906.

(Image credit: Constable)

42. Behind the Lens: My Life

Actor David Suchet's photography memoir

Author: David Suchet
Publisher: Constable
Pages: 320
ISBN-10: 1472130286
ISBN-13: 978-1-4721-3028-0
Reasons to buy
+Photography insights +Celeb gossip+Wonderfully written

He's best known as the actor behind Hercule Poirot on British television. But leading character actor David Suchet is also one of those celebrities who take pictures. And that gives this unusual autobiography a distinctive hook. 

He traces this lifelong passion back to being inspired as a young child by his press photographer grandfather Jimmy Jarché, and it resulted in more than 8,000 images to choose from when putting this book together. This is neither, then, your usual celeb memoir nor photography monograph, but it brilliantly combines both approaches, and is hugely entertaining and inspirational.

Read more:

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• 25 celebrities who also take pictures 

Tom May

Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.