The 7 Best Books About Photography You Should Read This Year

Camera sitting on a bookshelf

Photography, much like any art form, thrives on continuous learning and inspiration. Whether you’re a professional photographer or just a hobbyist, books can be your best resource. And what better way to learn than from the experts themselves through books?

In a digital age, where quick tips and tutorials are just a click away and our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter, the depth and information offered by books can be incredibly inspiring. They not only teach you the technical aspects of photography but also offer a window into the creative minds of some of the best photographers and thinkers in the field.

From understanding the basics of photography to exploring complex concepts of meaning and purpose, books can be your best mentors. So let's go, from our libraries to yours, here are 7 must-read books for photographers.

The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum

This iconic book is regarded as the most readable, understandable, and comprehensive textbook on photography by many. Despite the technological developments in photography since its first publication in 1994, the core principles and approaches outlined in the book remain relevant for film and digital photographers to this day.

The book itself is beautifully presented, with high-quality reproductions of black and white images that are both inspirational and informational. It proves how technique and vision combine to create such compelling images.

The Art of Photography...A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression -- Second Edition
“The Art of Photography…A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression” has now sold over 100,000 copies. It has been translated from its original English into seven foreign languages: German, French, Russian, Spanish, Polish, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese. Many have labeled it “the finest

You can order a personally signed copy of the 2nd edition of “The Art of Photography...A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression” directly from Bruce Barnbaum's website!

From understanding exposure to fine-tuning composition, the book covers technical aspects of photography while stressing personal creative expression. It helps photographers see beyond the technical to how it can serve their artistic vision.

Barnbaum also blesses us with a discussion on the philosophical dimensions of photography. He encourages photographers to think about why they create and what they wish to express in their chosen art form. This can be particularly inspiring for photographers who are looking to inject more meaning and purpose into their work.

The Meaning in the Making: The Why and How Behind Our Human Need to Create by Sean Tucker

In this beautifully written book, Sean Tucker addresses photography as a form of personal expression and exploration. It is both an insightful guide and a deep reflection on the creative process, addressing the struggles, hurdles, and various aspects of an artist’s journey.

Tucker emphasises the importance of focusing on the bigger questions and deeper motivations behind our creative endeavours. While the book speaks directly to photographers, we believe it resonates with any creator.

“Artists make a common mistake, especially when starting out, of thinking that individual style, or creative voice, comes from our chosen technique or the tools we choose to use. We have to avoid wasting too much time on these things and get to the bigger questions as early on in our creative journeys as we can; otherwise, we are in real danger of getting stuck “majoring on minors.”

For photographers, especially those looking to imbue their work with deeper significance, Tucker’s guidance is invaluable. He encourages us to look beyond the surface and consider what our images say about us and the world we live in.

Throughout this book you push yourself to ask the big questions about authenticity and integrity in your work, which are crucial in a field as subjective and expressive as photography. Tucker does not chase easy answers; instead, he offers a compass for finding a path through creative work, making it a must-read for anyone creating Order out of the Chaos.

To Photograph is to Learn How to Die by Tim Carpenter

To Photograph is to Learn How is a profound read that every photographer should consider adding to their collection. In his seminal work, Carpenter delves into the philosophy and aesthetics of photography, offering readers an in-depth understanding of its unique power and significance. He elegantly states;

“Unlike any other aesthetic object, the photograph is a thing that embodies transience: it is an action made of time (its brief duration noted on the shutter setting) that results in a thing that endures in time. This peculiarity is one source of its unique power.”

Tim Carpenter brings a refreshing and philosophical angle to the act of photographing. He challenges readers to think about what it means to capture life as it moves towards its inevitable end, making you rethink your approach to photography. Each photograph represents a moment captured, and a moment passed.

This is a must-read book for photographers who want to explore the emotional impact of their work, go beyond technical skill and look into their soul. It will stretch your understanding of what it means to be a photographer and an observer of life. It goes beyond the surface to touch on how photography intersects with life’s finality, making you rethink your approach to photography.

Tim Carpenter photographs
Pictures and books by Tim Carpenter

Check out all of Tim Carpenter's books here.

Light: Science & Magic by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua

“Learn about the light and science. The magic will happen.”

If there’s one element in photography that can transform a good shot into a masterpiece, it's undoubtedly lighting. Light: Science & Magic is another top pick for photographers looking to deepen their understanding of photography, particularly in how to master lighting. It breaks down complex lighting concepts into understandable principles that you can apply, whether you’re in a studio or out in the field.

The authors, Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua, have done an exceptional job of demystifying the technicalities of light. They provide clear explanations backed by visual examples that bridge the gap between theory and practice. This approach is so empowering for photographers of any level to experiment confidently.

While the book is often used as a textbook in photography courses due to its comprehensive coverage of lighting principles, its scientific approach to understanding light makes it interesting for anyone curious about the physics of light and optics.

Magnum Contact Sheets by Kristen Lubben

This seminal compilation provides an unparalleled insight into the working processes of some of the world’s top photographers. Compiled and expertly edited by Kristen Lubben, this book allows readers to peek into the creative process, from the moment of capture to the final selection. This structure demystifies the elusive 'perfect shot' while highlighting the extensive experimentation and vision required to capture moments that feel both profound and organic.

Magnum Contact Sheets presents the work of 69 photographers, featuring some of the most famous photographs in history. Each section begins with a plate section that includes a reproduction of the entire contact sheet and then singles out images to discuss in detail. This allows readers to see the context in which the final shot was taken, providing a comprehensive understanding of the photographer's approach and the dynamics of each shoot.

In a sense, this book is kind of a backstage pass showing you the entire process behind the final shot, not just the highlight reel. You get to see all the trials and tweaks that go into creating those famous photos we all admire. Imagine sitting down with photography legends like Henri Cartier-Bresson or Robert Capa and getting a personal tutorial. This book is the next best thing, offering you insights into their creative methods and thinking.

On Photography by Susan Sontag

First published in 1973, On Photography is an essential read for anyone deeply involved in photography as an art form. What makes this book so special is that it isn't about how to take a photograph; it’s about understanding what photography means.

Sontag’s work is a thoughtful study of how photographic images are intermediaries between experience and reality. Her exploration challenges you to consider the profound effects that images have on perception and society. Her insightful analysis encourages photographers to adopt a thoughtful approach to their work, considering not just the aesthetics but also the ethical dimensions. She writes,

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person's mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time's relentless melt.”

This quote underlines how photography can capture fleeting moments, emphasising the short-lived nature of life and the lasting impact of photos.

It's a must-read for photographers who think about the broader implications of their work. Reading Sontag's analysis is inspiring and can significantly broaden your perspective, pushing you to see beyond the lens to the potential consequences and influences of your images.

On Being a Photographer: A Practical Guide by David Hurn and Bill Jay

Reading "On Being a Photographer: A Practical Guide" is like having a mentor guide you through the complexities of photography, offering straightforward, practical advice that you can immediately put to use. David Hurn is a respected Magnum photographer, and Bill Jay is a renowned photography historian and critic. Their combined experience offers invaluable insights into the craft and industry of photography.

David Hurn: A personal appraisal by Bill Jay
While still in my 20s, I showed David Hurn my photographs, the results of more than seven years of struggle to be a photographer. It took him about 30 seconds to look through the lot and deliver hi…

An amazing read for those who are intrigued by our introduction.

The book does an excellent job of cutting through the noise and focuses on what really matters in photography. It’s about understanding what makes a good photograph and how to use your skills effectively. Whether you're just picking up a camera or you're a professional, there's something in this book for everyone. The advice is easy to understand and apply.

Hurn and Jay push readers to develop a more thoughtful and intentional approach to photography. So beware, you'll think about why you take photos and what you hope to achieve. And embrace this introspective approach that compels you to define your own photographic voice and vision.

So, when you read this book, be prepared for it to change the way you approach photography. By being thoughtful and intentional, you can ultimately create more meaningful and fulfilling photography work.

Photography is as much about seeing as it is about making others see. These books offer a unique window into the broader, deeper aspects of photography that go beyond just capturing images. They encourage you to think, feel, and engage with your subjects and viewers in profound ways.

Photography books stacked on top of eachother.
A glimpse into a photographer's library.

As you flip through these books, you might find a new idea or a fresh way of looking at things. This list is carefully curated to give you the tools not just to capture excellent photos, but to tell stories and find meaning in what you do. So, we hope you pick up one (or all)! Who knows, you might surprise yourself with what you find!