The best photography books 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.
The best photography books in 2019
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 on the web today.
From the best photography books for beginners through to advanced-level skills guides – and including beautiful coffee table photography books, insightful guides to the business of photography and more – you're sure to find a wealth of photography books here to boost your bookshelf.
The best photography books for beginners
1. The Beginner's Photography Guide
The best photography book for beginners
Publisher: DK Publishing | Author: Chris Gatcum | Pages: 192 | ISBN-10: 1465449663 | ISBN-13: 978-1465449665
If you're new to digital photography, this step-by-step manual is a great place to start. It does a great job at explaining how the camera works, what the different settings do, and the techniques you need to master, from exposure to shutter speed to aperture. To stop you getting lost, there are handy checklists to make sure you're keeping up, and comparison images that show you how camera settings produce different results.
Also note that the latest version of this book was released in 2016, which means it's pretty up to date in terms of the tech (anything new that's appeared on cameras since then won't really be something beginners should be worried about).
2. Complete Digital Photography, 9th edition
The most comprehensive photography guide for beginners
Publisher: CDP Press | Author: Ben Long | Pages: 416 | ISBN-10: 1732636923 | ISBN-13: 978-1732636927
Another great book for beginners, this guide to digital photography tells you everything you need to know to get started with your camera, and is particularly strong on explaining the inner workings of the technology in the words a non-techie can understand.
(That might not sound like something you need to know, but he does tie it into photography technique in a way that really helps you wrap your head around what you're doing.)
In this weighty book, fully updated in 2018, photographer, writer and teacher Ben Long covers everything you need to know, from how to choose a camera to taking pictures and editing them. Plus there are some great step-by-step tutorials to help you get started and improve your process and workflow.
Ranging from the very basics to more advanced topics like exposure theory, composition, lighting and complex masking, this is more of a reference book than something you'll read from start to finish, but that in itself is no bad thing.
3. BetterPhoto Basics
The friendliest beginners' guide to photography
Publisher: Amphoto | Author: Jim Miotke | Pages: 240 | ISBN-10: 081740502X | ISBN-13: 978-0817405021
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 BetterPhoto.com - 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 book sets out to make learning photography fun and rewarding, and ultimately whether it succeeds will be down to you.
4. Tony Northrup's DSLR Book: How to Create Stunning Digital Photography
The best book + video training for photography beginners
Publisher: Mason Press | Author: Tony Northrup | Pages: 233 | ISBN-10: 0988263408 | ISBN-13: 978-0988263406
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 photo.net, 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.
How to improve as a photographer
5. The Digital Photography Book: Part 1
The best photography book for insider tips
Publisher: Peachpit Press | Author: Scott Kelby | Pages: 256 | ISBN-10: 0321934946 | ISBN-13: 978-0321934949
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 colourful, 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. 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
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.
7. 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
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.
8. Studio Anywhere: A Photographer's Guide to Shooting in Unconventional Locations
The best photography book for thinking outside the box
Publisher: Peachpit | Author: Nick Fancher | Pages: 264 | ISBN-10: 0134084179 | ISBN-13: 978-0134084176
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.
9. The Photographer's Eye Remastered 10th Anniversary: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photographs
The best photography book on composition
Publisher: Ilex Press | Author: Michael Freeman | Pages: 192 | ISBN-10: 1781574553 | ISBN-13: 978-1781574553
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 in 2017, 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.
10. Extraordinary Everyday Photography
The best photography book on seeing the world differently
Publisher: Amphoto | Author: Brenda Tharp, Jed Manwaring | Pages: 160 | ISBN-10: 081743593X | ISBN-13: 978-0817435936
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, colour, 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.
How to develop your technical skills
11. Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers
The best photography book on lighting a studio
Publisher: Amherst Media | Author: Christopher Grey | Pages: 128 | ISBN-10: 160895689X | ISBN-13: 978-1608956890
Aimed at intermediate and advanced studio photographers, this book offers expert advice on how to light your studio portrait subjects properly. Author Christopher Grey walks you through the process from start to finish, with step-by-step walkthroughs and before-and-after images demonstrating how each change you make to your lighting equipment affects the look and feel of your portraits.
This book is not suitable for beginners, but anyone with some experience of taking portraits in the studio will find this practically focused and comprehensive book a useful resource in improving your understand of this essential skill.
12. Understanding Exposure
The best photography book on exposure
Publisher: Amphoto | Author: Bryan Peterson | Pages: 176 | ISBN-10: 1607748509 | ISBN-13: 978-1607748502
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 www.ppsop.com, 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.
13. Mastering Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO & Exposure
The best photography book on the Exposure Triange
Publisher: CreateSpace | Author: Al Judge | Pages: 70 | ISBN-10: 1482314452 | ISBN-13: 978-1482314458
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.
14. Speedliter's Handbook
The best book on the Canon Speedlite system
Publisher: Peachpit | Author: Syl Arena | Pages: 456 | ISBN-10: 0134007913 | ISBN-13: 978-0134007915
If you're new to flash and have invested in a Canon Speedlite, this is the perfect book to help you get the most out of it.
It starts with a general exploration of light and colour in photography before moving to a comprehensive breakdown of the Canon Speedlite family and all of its accessories and related equipment.
Then comes the meat of the book, as the author walks you through the process of creating the right light for your shoot, whether that be an individual portrait, a group shot, an event or whatever.
This updated second edition includes the radio-enabled 600EX-RT Speedlite and ST-E3 Transmitter; there's also a downloadable online supplement on the 430EX III-RT Speedlite. But whatever the kit you have, the real joy of this book is how it walks you through the practices and workflows that will help you make the most out of flash photography using your Canon Speedlite gear.
15. 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
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.
The best photo-editing books
16. Adobe Photoshop CC for Photographers 2018
The best reference guide to Photoshop
Publisher: Routledge | Author: Martin Evening | Pages: 768 | ISBN-10: 1138086762 | ISBN-13: 978-1138086760
It doesn't matter how great a photographer you are, every now and again your images can benefit from a little photo editing. Photoshop remains the industry standard software, and this book by digital imaging professional Martin Evening takes you through the features of the latest (2018) version.
All the tools and techniques you need to know to edit photos successfully are here, and there's also guidance on how to organise your workflow so it doesn't become too much of a drain on your time.
There are lots of real world examples, plus an accompanying website that features sample images, tutorial videos, and bonus chapters to help you get the most out of this guide. Note that this is more of (big) reference book than a training guide though; there's a lot of material here and would take a very long time to get through absolutely all of it.
17. Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book (2018 release)
The best book for learning Photoshop
Publisher: Adobe | Author: Andrew Faulkner | Pages: 400 | ISBN-10: 0134852486 | ISBN-13: 978-0134852485
Want to learn Photoshop? Then it makes sense to learn from the creators. This guide from Adobe Press walks you key step-by-step techniques for working in Photoshop via 15 project-based lessons.
You'll learn how to correct, enhance, and distort digital images, create image composites, prepare images for print and the web, master essential elements of the interface, and try out the latest features such as Content-Aware Crop, Select and Mask, Face-Aware Liquify, multiple artboards and enhanced brush presets.
This revised edition is bang up to date for the latest 2018 release of Photoshop. Downloadable lesson files are available online, and you also get access to a web edition of the book containing interactive quizzes and videos.
18. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC Classroom in a Book (2018 release)
The best book for learning Lightroom
Publisher: Adobe | Author: John Evans, Katrin Straub | Pages: 416 | ISBN-10: 0134540026 | ISBN-13: 978-0134540023
This official training book from Adobe, developed with the support of the company's own experts, contains 11 lessons that will help you get to grips with the 2018 release of Lightroom Classic CC.
The companion volume to Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book (see above), you can follow this guide from start to finish, or choose only those lessons that interest you.
Downloadable lesson files are available online, and you also get access to a web edition of the book containing interactive quizzes and videos.
How to improve your business skills
19. The Photographer's MBA: Everything You Need to Know for Your Photography Business
The best motivational book for business photographers
Publisher: Cengage Learning PTR | Author: John Harrington | Pages: 523 | ISBN-10: 1435454294 | ISBN-13: 978-1435454293
Sal Cincotta is an international award-winning photographer and one of the most sought-after business consultants in the photographic industry. Her book aims to help you create a solid plan and vision for your business, and at the end of each chapter, there are exercises that challenge you to actively implement the lessons you've learned.
However, don't be misled by the book's title: it's not anything to do with an actual MBA program of study. With just nine chapters, think of it more as an introductory class than a full-fledged academic course.
Also, be aware than as the author is American, some of the information on tax and legal affairs, for example, will not be relevant to non-U.S. citizens.
The lure, though, of this publication lies less in the information that it contains than its motivational nature. If you want to be enthused by someone with a real passion for the business of photography, who will give you a good-natured push to make more of yourself, then this is the book for you.
20. Photography Business Secrets: The Savvy Photographer's Guide to Sales, Marketing, and More
The best business book for wedding photographers
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons | Author: Lara White | Pages: 336 | ISBN-10: 1118488407 | ISBN-13: 978-1118488409
Want to set up shop as a professional photographer? Well good luck, because there's a lot of competition out there for your business.
You can give yourself a bit of an edge, though, by buying this book by wedding photographer Lara White, which basically collates the best advice from her website, Photomint.com.
This useful reference book covers establishing your brand, defining policies, setting prices, creating a marketing plan, networking, and a lot more. Note, again, that White is American so if you live elsewhere some of the information won't apply; but most of it is pretty universal stuff.
21. Best Business Practices for Photographers
The best business book for commercial photographers
Publisher: Cengage Learning PTR | Author: John Harrington | Pages: 523 | ISBN-10: 1435454294 | ISBN-13: 978-1435454293
Best Business Practices for Photographers delivers exactly what it promises in the title. This updated and expanded 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 coffee table photography books
22. Annie Leibovitz: Portraits 2005-2016
Iconic images by a living legend
Publisher: Phaidon | Author: Alexandra Fuller (Contributor), Annie Leibovitz (photographer) | Pages: 316 | ISBN-10: 0714875139 | ISBN-13: 978-0714875132
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. This beautiful collection of her work between 2005 and 2016 brings together both world-famous portraits and never-before-published images which highlight exactly why Leibovitz has become a household name.
A large and beautifully produced coffee table book, this is relatively light on text, but the stunning and fascinating images more than speak for themselves.
23. 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
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 colour 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.
24. Gregory Heisler: 50 Portraits
Evocative portraits and revealing insights
Publisher: Armphoto | Author: Gregory Heisler | Pages: 224 | ISBN-10: 0823085651 | ISBN-13: 978-0823085651
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.
25. Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment
A classic photobook that inspired a generation
Publisher: Steidl | Author: Henri Cartier-Bresson | Pages: 160 | ISBN-10: 3869307889 | ISBN-13: 978-3869307886
Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) was an early user of 35mm film who more or less pioneered the genre of street photography. He famously described photography as capturing a "decisive moment", hence the title of this book, which is one of the most famous in the history of the discipline.
Bringing together Cartier-Bresson’s best work from his early years, this 1952 publication, originally titled 'Images à la Sauvette', influenced generations of photographers and become part of the world’s collective memory.
This new version is the same book, just beautifully reprinted with modern technology. It also comes with a bonus booklet containing an essay on the history of The Decisive Moment by Centre Pompidou curator Clément Chéroux.
26. 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
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.
27. 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
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.
28. Chasing Light
Travel photography to take your breath away
Publisher: teNeues Media | Author: Stefan Forster | Pages: 220 | ISBN-10: 3832769161 | ISBN-13: 978-3832769161
Swiss photographer Stefan Forster, who runs his own photo academy, spends six months of the year travelling the world. And this stunning volume brings together some of his incredible work capturing the planet's most beautiful locations, including deserts, ice, rivers, mountains, forests, canyons, volcanoes, glaciers and the Northern Lights. Full of vivid colours and eye-opening panoramas, this is a document of nature's wild and unpredictable landscapes that will leave you breathless. Landscape photography doesn't get better than this.
29. 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
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.
30. 1001 Photographs: You Must See Before You Die
History's greatest photos, all in one place
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company | Author: Paul Lowe | Pages: 448 | ISBN-10: 0821227262 | ISBN-13: 978-0821227268
Looking for a guide to the most iconic and loved images of the last couple of centuries? Want to familiarise yourself with the biggest names, from Henri Cartier-Bresson to Annie Leibovitz; Ansel Adams to Helmut Newton? Then you'll love this encyclopedic book, which features 1001 of history's greatest images, from the oldest surviving photograph from 1826, to a shot of Trump's election win in 2016. With so many pictures to fit in, there isn't room to print every one of them across an entire page, so it's not quite the visual indulgence that some of the coffee table books on this list offer; but it's certainly the most educational and comprehensive.