Those who know me know that I’m a bit of a bookworm. My house is a veritable library of books, from my favorite literary works (I love Nathaniel Hawthorne) to an insane collection of children’s books to books on writing, social studies, parenting, bioethics, you name it, to – of course – an overflowing accumulation of photography books. I’m asked often for my favorites, and while “favorite” seems to change from week to week (and I’m constantly seeking out new resources; I’m probably Amazon’s favorite preorder customer), here are — in no particular order — some of the books that I always come back to …
Exposure and Lighting
Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
The quintessential starting point for new photographers who wish to really begin to take charge of their DSLRs. Learn all about aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and how they work together to generate beautiful images consistent with your vision as an artist.
Michael Freeman’s Perfect Exposure: The Professional’s Guide to Capturing Perfect Digital Photographs
Purists stick with Ansel Adams’ The Negative (also an outstanding book), but I find Michael Freeman’s update and variation on the Zone System for digital photographers to be a much more enjoyable and equally enlightening read.
Light: Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Learn about the importance of light size, angles, exposures in tricky situations, and the way surfaces influence reflectivity. Primarily oriented towards photographers working in a controlled setting, but nonetheless indispensable for any photographer who is serious about mastering light.
On-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Wedding and Portrait Photography
Neil van Niekerk is a master of on and off camera flash, and there’s no better resource for those who are shooting (or want to learn to shoot) with a speedlight. His explanations are nicely broken down and accompanied by beautiful photographic images (and settings) to illustrate the principles he covers. Pick up a notebook and pen before you sit down and start reading – you’re guaranteed to pick up a number of tips and some fantastic ah-ha moments. Also not to miss: Neil’s Off-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Photographers. Those who work regularly with speedlights will certainly want to follow Neil’s blog (Tangents) as well.
The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers
When it comes to Lightroom and Photoshop, Martin Evening is my go-to expert. This book covers both beginner tips and must-have tools to much more advanced and lesser-known tools and approaches that aren’t covered in most Lightroom books. It’s a necessary resource for anyone who wants to really explore the power of Lightroom (my preferred program for everyday work).
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers: A professional image editor’s guide to the creative use of Photoshop for the Macintosh and PC
Lightroom is fantastic, but there are some things that it simply can’t do. For more complex edits or adjustments that require an extreme level of precision — or if Photoshop is simply your processing program of choice — most photographers need to learn the ins and outs of Photoshop as well. I own at least half a dozen Photoshop books, but I always come back to this one, by Martin Evening.
Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies
This book is one of my favorites, and it’s always my first recommendation when I’m asked for suggestions from photographers working on improving their portrait work, especially for those who struggle with skin tones.
Professional Photoshop: The Classic Guide to Color Correction (5th Edition)
For those who are ready for something considerably more intense and really want to take their understanding of digital color theory and practical application to the next level, head straight to the foremost authority on the subject: Dan Margulis. Not a light read, but very worthwhile. Want to go even further in your drive to become a master of color? Check out the equally astounding Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace, also by Margulis.
Composition and Vision
Photographic Composition: A Visual Guide
A wonderful book for a quick tidbits on beginner-intermediate composition that also includes some fabulous exercises for those interested in doing a self-study course on composition or who just need a creative kick in the pants.
Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision
Let me preface this by saying that anything by David DuChemin is well worth the read — his work, his words, his experience, and his knowledge will astound you. This is my favorite of his many books (and is the book which introduced me to with his work), but I also recommend checking out his blog (Pixelated Image), which is always filled with beautiful imagery and words of wisdom.
Photojournalism, Sixth Edition: The Professionals’ Approach
This – the sixth edition of a classic text utilized in photojournalism courses across the country – is a beast of a resource and well worth its hefty weight. Whether you’re interested in lifestyle photography, street photography, every day captures of your own life and family, or more traditional photojournalism, you’ll want to pick up this incredible book by a photographer and professor whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Time, Business Week, the San Francisco Examiner, and more.
The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos
A more advanced work for those who have mastered basic composition, “the aim of this book is to explain what makes a photograph great, and explore the ways that top photographers achieve this goal time and time again.”
The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression
Another upper level book on photographic composition and the development of personal style, plus techniques for processing and shooting both film and digital photography.
Why Photographs Work: 52 Great Images Who Made Them, What Makes Them Special and Why
This fantastic exploratory book includes technical descriptions (equipment used) and 104 evaluations — the author’s analysis + the photographer’s perspective — of the images within. It’s fascinating to read an objective viewer’s take on a work and then supplement it with the vision and motivation that came into play from the actual shooter. Also useful: a list of nearly 100 recommended photographers – from Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon to Maggie Taylor and Ami Vitali – that you’ll want to be sure to check out!
Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art
A classic collection of images taken between 1845 and 1969 (some well-known, some less so), this book explores the vision and story behind remarkable photographs. This is a wonderful volume for those exploring deeper levels of critique and the development of personal style, as well as a good study for anyone interested in black and white work.
Humanity: A Celebration of Friendship, Family, Love & Laughter
This is a book that I come back to time and again when I need a reminder of the ways that an exquisite, emotionally charged image can tell a simple (or sometimes complex) story about life and human relationships. A must-have for any photographer that wishes to capture life.
Clickin Moms’ first photographic compilation is chock full of gorgeous imagery by many photographers whose names you’ll recognize from the CM forums. Get inspired by a variety of styles and the artistic excellence of photographers who, like you, balance their love of photography with their busy lives as mothers/wives/sisters/friends. Want more luscious inspiration from some of your favorite CMs? Look no further than the CMpro Daily Project, a group-based personal challenge in which a number of members of CMpro have joined together to sweep out creative cobwebs, gain artistic momentum, and support each other along the way.
Tao of Photography: Seeing Beyond Seeing
This book focuses on introspection and heightened awareness to bring forth your personal vision and creativity. Read just a few pages, and I guarantee that you’ll walk away feeling refreshed, inspired, and ready to shoot!
A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
Perhaps an unexpected addition, writing books are always high on my list when it comes to developing a new personal project or kick-starting my creativity generally. Like written works, photography for me is about conveying a message or telling a story, so writing prompts are great artistic fodder. This book in particular focuses on daily exercises — an important approach in any discipline. Substitute “photographer” for “writer,” “shoot” for “write,” and “image” for “paragraph,” and get your creative momentum going!
Is your favorite photography book missing from this list? Tell us about it in the comments! We’re always looking for new sources of inspiration and information.
Sarah Wilkerson, New York
CEO | CMU Instructor
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Duke graduate and former attorney Sarah Wilkerson joined Clickin Moms as a member photographer in 2008 and quickly became a leader in the community. Together with Kendra, Sarah has led the evolution of the company’s mission, program development, and position within the greater photography community. She currently resides in New York with her Army JAG husband, three sons, one daughter, and two dogs. Sarah shoots with a Nikon D4, enjoys tilt-shift and atmospheric black and white work, and instructs CMU’s upper level composition courses: Elements of Design and Composition and Creativity.