The Best Photography Book - Digital Photography School

The Best Photography Book

A guest post by Louis Hamwey, tour leader with citifari, New York Photo Tours

20120127-IMG_0778.jpgAs photo tour guides in New York City we get a lot of different questions. They range everything from the newbie asking, “how did you make the background blurry?” to the experienced hobbyist looking to perfect exposing in high contrast settings. But the one question that comes up more often than most is this: “What photography book do you recommend to help me become a better photographer?”

The question itself is vague, but generally we interpret what the photo-enthusiast is looking for: an easy how-to book that explains all the little nuances of the medium in detail.

The first step comes with breaking the tough news that no such book exists. If you are looking for something that is going to solve every problem you may encounter in your picture taking you will always come up short. There are far too many variables, especially in the type of urban shooting many of us do, to be able to accurately predict every possible outcome. In the end practice and experience is the only remedy for solving the problems we are presented with everyday picture taking.

With that said, there are plenty of forums and blogs out there on the web available for free (none as good as DPS though) which go into much better detail than most books ever could. If you have any kind of specific issue you are trying to solve sometimes Google is the best spot to start.

Let’s say you are shooting some family pictures on Christmas morning. Your children are smiling brightly as they rip open presents. You take a few pictures and realize their perfect little faces are blown out and made flat by the flash. A simple Google search for “how to not blowout faces with flash” returns over nine million results with the first page alone giving you easy-to-follow tips about diffusers, how to make homemade ones, bouncing your flash and even instructions on how to lower your flashes power. Just like that all your questions answered and never again do you have to worry about running those precious moments.

As a professor I try to stress to my students that the ability to learn information is not nearly as important as knowing how to find it. Those that have the ability to memorize facts and figures are lucky, but for most of us things tend to go in one ear and right out the other if it something that will not help us in daily life. So while a couple ‘explain it all’ books are nice to have, it is just as effective (and less costly) to know how to obtain the information quickly online.

So does that mean the question of the book begins and ends where so many questions do, on the internet? Hardly.

One of the things that is often lost on photographers beginning their careers is that taking a good picture goes way beyond the technical functions of the camera. It does not even lie in the exposure or composition. Those aspects all play an important role and mastering them will ultimately help you find your own style and that style is what defines your photography.

The books we recommend to people are meant to help them figure discover their own style or voice. LIFE Magazine’s compilation of coffee table hardbacks, the very best of National Geographic, works of Robert Frank, Weegee, David Doubilet, Ansel Adams, David Gursky, Cindy Sherman and Edward Steichen. These are what I recommend people look at. By listening to other photographers voices, seeing how they use light and composition to create some of the greatest works of art the medium has ever produced, you yourself will begin to understand the subtleties that separate a truly great photo from a just a good one.

Yes these men and women have mastered the technical aspects of photography we all strive to perfect, but that alone was not what made their pictures special. It was the mastering of those techniques and applying them in their own unique way that made these figures the pinnacles of the medium.

So next time you find yourself browsing the bookstore for something to help your photo taking, get out of the how-to section. You will never be able to find your voice where the main theme of those books is all about doing something the way the author thinks is best. Wander over to the coffee table books or art section and pick up one of those finally printed pages that are works of art in themselves. Only by listening to others speak can you begin to find your own voice and once you have your photography will express itself on a whole other level.

Louis Hamwey is a tour leader with citifari. citifari offers photo tours in New York City. Structured as a 2-1/2 hour practical workshop, citifari tour helps you get comfortable with your camera settings and take great shots in New York City. Connect with them at their website, on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or Tumblr.

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  • Dennis Fahringer

    As one who’s been teaching others photography since 1970, the single best book I’ve found on photography is the one from fall last year, National Geographic Complete Photography. For only $23. in hardcover, it’s superb. :-)

  • http://www.kevinmcgloshen.com Kevin McGloshen

    I have been a pro shooter for over 10 years, and I still like to pick up Bryan Peterson’s “Understanding Exposure.” It’s a terrific book and was recently advised to include digital tips.

  • Corey

    This is exactly what I needed for the exact reasons you mentioned. I found it surprisingly difficult to find a list like this. Thank-you.

  • http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/ Mridula

    A very well written article and for now I have been happy with DPS and Google to work on my photography skills. Though I now want to visit some of the places that I did before I knew anything about the manual mode. I want to click these pictures again.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2009/10/skywatch-friday-the-sky-at-langza-spiti.html

  • http://disney-photography-blog.blogspot.com/ Alexx
  • Karen Newman

    I have taken a few tours with Citifari, and I was lucky enough to have Louis as my tour guide. He is a gifted leader and educator and I am glad to see his words of wisdom appearing in an article on my favorite website DPS.

  • ccting

    Dear Prof. Louis Hamwey,

    Great article.. are there any literature review & discussion on how those influential experts do the exposure, gamut measurement and settings & other stuff?

    Ty.

  • Mei Teng

    I guess there’s no one book that will tell you everything you need or want to know about photography. You shoot and learn along the way. There are ample resources available these days that cater to different photographic needs.

  • http://www.jpphotos.zenfolio.com Joe Parenti

    I started out with Scott Kelby’s book on digital photography, then I bought volume 2, then 3, now I am getting volume 4.

  • http://www.marketing-for-photographers-and-photography.com/ Kalem

    This is a very good article and I like the comments. I especially agree that in the end, practice and experience are the best teachers.

    When I am asked about the “best photography book,” I recommend their camera owner’s manual as the “best book.” I believe that our skills as photographers begin to improve and grow dramatically once we begin to build our “camera confidence.” The better we are able to manage and manipulate our cameras the better we are able to handle the ‘situations’ that we find in our shooting experiences.

    Our confidence in the use of our cameras is what determines the quality of the photos that we consistently shoot, in my opinion. And that camera confidence can be built by something as simple as reading the photo taking sections of our camera owner’s manual.

  • naz

    books on teachin g? National geographic and life and such aren’t teachign books- they are pictorial books- if a person who doesn’t know how to taqke photos looks at them, they aren’t goign to know why those photosw work- until it is explained to them that the photographers LEARNED thigns like composition that the mastwers learned- the average person also isn’t goign to know just from looking at photos that the photographer didn’t just bludner into a scene ande snap aq photo- that the photograher searched the area for the best composition, made sure elements within the photo were i nthe right spots compositionally, and finally, after hard work and a learned eye, they snappede the photo.

    P{roffessor- direct your students to Adam Marelli’s website where they will learn abotu the compisitonal trools used by hte masters- they will learn how to get elements within the scene i nthe right spots compositionally based on proven precepts, and tyour students will be well on their way toward more meaningful and satrisfying photography. He breaks down the master’s photos and hsows you exactly how they ARRANGED their photos when they took them, and yes, the photos were arraqnged based on advanced compositional guidelines- which is what set their photos apart from the rest- here’s thje link http://www.adammarelliphoto.com/

    Once you have the compiositon down pat, the rest of photography will be both easier and more enjoyable and will free you to experiment more freely with hte confidence that ytou know will show up i nthe photos you take- get the nalges and composition right, and other areas of the photo can be off and still work very well

  • naz

    joe- check out htel ink I provided, there is a course i nthere that I think might be of itnerest to you on composition- several actually, – kelby trainign is good too- howevwer, I think personally that leanring proper composition will benifit much more, at least i nthe beginning- it provides a solid foundation upon which to build and experiment later-

  • naz

    it’s called the barnstone method- you’ll see the add on the right down a bit- you can weatch exerpts to see if it’s soemthign you might like, and the individual lessons are only $35- not too bad a price for a wealth of info into how the masters learned their craft and composition-

  • http://www.nzphotoworkshops.com Allan Cox

    For me personally, that superb coffee table book is John Shaw’s Focus on Nature: the creative process behind making great photographs in the field. An oldie but a goodie.

  • Alastair

    I have found that Ben Longs book on digital photography is very useful in mastering the basics, as well as lots of other stuff. I still use it as a reference book from time to time. I find that photo e-books are also an inexpensive way to view others work and gain insight from them.

  • Craig_a_House

    Two things that have made the most difference in altering my way of seeing light were a) learning to turn my back or side away from my lifelong love/obsession with sunsets/rises and finding out how great everything else looked in those moments – my sunset/rise pics have also improved as a result , and b) reading about black and white photography and learning a little about ‘seeing’ in that medium, as light and contrast play a huge role in creating standout b&w images.

  • Kim Martinez

    I’ve read many photography books. What has help me to improve my photography skills, is take one or two concepts of these books and go to shoot. When I am with the camera in front of the subject, my mind is blank. What looked so easy in the book is not so easy. And after trial and error combined with what I have readen, i have improved a my skills.

  • http://none ca Coward

    The best book if there is one, I read and re-read is Developing the Creative Edge in Photography by Bert Eifer. I go to it, not for mastering my camera features, but my EYE. I have an extentive manual with my camera!. It is an OLD book before digital, but the ideas are timeless. And Yes my physician’s office has National Geographic magazines. No matter how old, I pick them up and read or look at the photos and marvel.

    A lot can also be learned from series on TV like Discover or PBS series Planet Earth–amazing, the Blue Planet, and now on on the Frozen Planet, most produced by BBS.

  • Arturomar

    Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    Perhaps you meant Andreas Gursky ¿did you?

Some older comments

  • Arturomar

    April 18, 2012 05:13 am

    Thank you for your words of wisdom.
    Perhaps you meant Andreas Gursky ¿did you?

  • ca Coward

    April 16, 2012 09:55 pm

    The best book if there is one, I read and re-read is Developing the Creative Edge in Photography by Bert Eifer. I go to it, not for mastering my camera features, but my EYE. I have an extentive manual with my camera!. It is an OLD book before digital, but the ideas are timeless. And Yes my physician's office has National Geographic magazines. No matter how old, I pick them up and read or look at the photos and marvel.

    A lot can also be learned from series on TV like Discover or PBS series Planet Earth--amazing, the Blue Planet, and now on on the Frozen Planet, most produced by BBS.

  • Kim Martinez

    April 14, 2012 04:59 pm

    I've read many photography books. What has help me to improve my photography skills, is take one or two concepts of these books and go to shoot. When I am with the camera in front of the subject, my mind is blank. What looked so easy in the book is not so easy. And after trial and error combined with what I have readen, i have improved a my skills.

  • Craig_a_House

    April 14, 2012 11:16 am

    Two things that have made the most difference in altering my way of seeing light were a) learning to turn my back or side away from my lifelong love/obsession with sunsets/rises and finding out how great everything else looked in those moments - my sunset/rise pics have also improved as a result , and b) reading about black and white photography and learning a little about 'seeing' in that medium, as light and contrast play a huge role in creating standout b&w images.

  • Alastair

    April 13, 2012 08:18 am

    I have found that Ben Longs book on digital photography is very useful in mastering the basics, as well as lots of other stuff. I still use it as a reference book from time to time. I find that photo e-books are also an inexpensive way to view others work and gain insight from them.

  • Allan Cox

    April 13, 2012 07:20 am

    For me personally, that superb coffee table book is John Shaw’s Focus on Nature: the creative process behind making great photographs in the field. An oldie but a goodie.

  • naz

    April 13, 2012 02:20 am

    it's called the barnstone method- you'll see the add on the right down a bit- you can weatch exerpts to see if it's soemthign you might like, and the individual lessons are only $35- not too bad a price for a wealth of info into how the masters learned their craft and composition-

  • naz

    April 13, 2012 02:18 am

    joe- check out htel ink I provided, there is a course i nthere that I think might be of itnerest to you on composition- several actually, - kelby trainign is good too- howevwer, I think personally that leanring proper composition will benifit much more, at least i nthe beginning- it provides a solid foundation upon which to build and experiment later-

  • naz

    April 13, 2012 02:15 am

    books on teachin g? National geographic and life and such aren't teachign books- they are pictorial books- if a person who doesn't know how to taqke photos looks at them, they aren't goign to know why those photosw work- until it is explained to them that the photographers LEARNED thigns like composition that the mastwers learned- the average person also isn't goign to know just from looking at photos that the photographer didn't just bludner into a scene ande snap aq photo- that the photograher searched the area for the best composition, made sure elements within the photo were i nthe right spots compositionally, and finally, after hard work and a learned eye, they snappede the photo.

    P{roffessor- direct your students to Adam Marelli's website where they will learn abotu the compisitonal trools used by hte masters- they will learn how to get elements within the scene i nthe right spots compositionally based on proven precepts, and tyour students will be well on their way toward more meaningful and satrisfying photography. He breaks down the master's photos and hsows you exactly how they ARRANGED their photos when they took them, and yes, the photos were arraqnged based on advanced compositional guidelines- which is what set their photos apart from the rest- here's thje link http://www.adammarelliphoto.com/

    Once you have the compiositon down pat, the rest of photography will be both easier and more enjoyable and will free you to experiment more freely with hte confidence that ytou know will show up i nthe photos you take- get the nalges and composition right, and other areas of the photo can be off and still work very well

  • Kalem

    April 13, 2012 01:08 am

    This is a very good article and I like the comments. I especially agree that in the end, practice and experience are the best teachers.

    When I am asked about the "best photography book," I recommend their camera owner's manual as the "best book." I believe that our skills as photographers begin to improve and grow dramatically once we begin to build our "camera confidence." The better we are able to manage and manipulate our cameras the better we are able to handle the 'situations' that we find in our shooting experiences.

    Our confidence in the use of our cameras is what determines the quality of the photos that we consistently shoot, in my opinion. And that camera confidence can be built by something as simple as reading the photo taking sections of our camera owner's manual.

  • Joe Parenti

    April 12, 2012 08:00 pm

    I started out with Scott Kelby's book on digital photography, then I bought volume 2, then 3, now I am getting volume 4.

  • Mei Teng

    April 12, 2012 10:43 am

    I guess there's no one book that will tell you everything you need or want to know about photography. You shoot and learn along the way. There are ample resources available these days that cater to different photographic needs.

  • ccting

    April 12, 2012 10:02 am

    Dear Prof. Louis Hamwey,

    Great article.. are there any literature review & discussion on how those influential experts do the exposure, gamut measurement and settings & other stuff?

    Ty.

  • Karen Newman

    April 12, 2012 07:09 am

    I have taken a few tours with Citifari, and I was lucky enough to have Louis as my tour guide. He is a gifted leader and educator and I am glad to see his words of wisdom appearing in an article on my favorite website DPS.

  • Alexx

    April 12, 2012 02:38 am

    Lovely Lovely.

    Thank you.

    http://disney-photography-blog.blogspot.com/

  • Mridula

    April 11, 2012 04:53 pm

    A very well written article and for now I have been happy with DPS and Google to work on my photography skills. Though I now want to visit some of the places that I did before I knew anything about the manual mode. I want to click these pictures again.

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2009/10/skywatch-friday-the-sky-at-langza-spiti.html

  • Corey

    April 11, 2012 02:16 pm

    This is exactly what I needed for the exact reasons you mentioned. I found it surprisingly difficult to find a list like this. Thank-you.

  • Kevin McGloshen

    April 11, 2012 11:16 am

    I have been a pro shooter for over 10 years, and I still like to pick up Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure." It's a terrific book and was recently advised to include digital tips.

  • Dennis Fahringer

    April 11, 2012 10:26 am

    As one who’s been teaching others photography since 1970, the single best book I’ve found on photography is the one from fall last year, National Geographic Complete Photography. For only $23. in hardcover, it’s superb. :-)

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