People Photography and Portraits: Best Resources Toolbox

People Photography and Portraits: Best Resources Toolbox

portraits-2.jpgI’ll admit to you here and now: I am extremely picky about photography books. If you need proof to believe me, just look at the collection of 6 photography books sitting lonely on my bookshelf. Maybe this peculiar snobbery comes from the fact that I like photography books to have powerful photographs, be written very engagingly, and have good balance technical information. For whatever reason, these kind of books I have had great difficulty finding.

So then it is with great excitement I bring you the following resources as books that fulfill all my own personal criterion. These are books that I myself will be purchasing for my bookshelf, and strongly recommend to other photographers of all skill levels. I promise, study these books and your abilities will drastically improve and develop.

1. Photo Idea Index: People – Jim Krause

For those photographers who are exploring what it may look like to develop their abilities shooting people and portraits, but are running low on creative ideas. Krause has created a sort of “look book” for a resource that will help with just that. A thick one and half inch book, this photo index provides the most eclectic collection of people pictures in one piece. And don’t think these pictures are typical – if anything each image pushes the envelope of innovation. Any photographer can choose literally any area of interest within portraits or people photography and find inspiration, from motion, to drama, sports to quirky, Goth to kids. It’s a fantastic coffee table book sort of resource.

Buy Photo Idea Index: People by Jim Krause at Amazon

2. Focus on Photographing People: Haje Jan Kamps

Kamps has created a book that does a fantastic job opening the eyes of novice photographers and giving them wings to possibility in the portrait field. Innovatively designed, this book gives just enough technical details to inform without overwhelming.

Buy Focus on Photographing People by Haje Jan Kamps at Amazon.

3. The Hot Shoe Diaries – Joe McNally

Granted, this book is not quite as full of technical “how to” as some may like. However, McNally provides a unique perspective within this genre: What it looks like to add light (via flashes) in all kinds of varying environments. His writing paints a vivid picture of the shooting scenario, making you feel like you were with him as a part of the shoot. McNally shines in giving the viewer examples of his pictures as they progress through the shoot, before completing the “final image”. This certainly is not a book of “nuts and bolts” (though he certainly does state his opinion on this), but rather practical inspiration and craft.

Buy The Hot Shoe Diaries by Joe McNally at Amazon.

4. People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs: Chris Orwig

This book is hands down the best resource I’ve found which combines practical development ideas, technical aspects, stories, and inspiration. Best of all, the book is overflowing with profiles of real-life, successful portrait photographers who provide short industry vision and encouragement to the reader. Topics include connecting with your subjects by being empathetic, identifying the differences between mediocre and magnificent portraits, and how to be a catalyst with your portrait work.

Buy People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs by Chris Orwig at Amazon

5. The Portrait Photographers Lighting Style Guide: James Cheadle

With a book that perfectly balances technical details with inspiring imagery, Cheadle has created a resource by which creativity to be born. Interspersed through the book are powerful pictures, technical data, stories describing time and setting, and even charts of the lighting set up. An incredible variety in portrait styles represented, including street photography, action portraits, Hollywood vintage, and editorial portraits.

The author also provides a “Toolbox” of suggested equipment and workflow suggestions. This is a guide you won’t be able to put down until it’s been read from cover to cover.

Buy The Portrait Photographers Lighting Style Guide: James Cheadle at Amazon

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Paul February 29, 2012 03:36 am

    Thanks for these, can I also recommend Joe McNally: The Moment it Clicks

  • amandaggogo December 9, 2011 01:06 pm

    Will have to look into getting these.
    Glad to see one by McNaly on there, another great one by him I've just recently started reading is "The moment it clicks: Photography secrets from one of the worlds top shooters."

  • Julius November 28, 2011 07:48 pm

    Thank you I got my book. hope to get more over Christmas.


  • tonyjr November 25, 2011 08:21 am

    1st - I am planing on buying - does not help me .
    I want books that say if you do this this happens - and this happens when you don't .
    I end up paying full price at K & S in palo Alto Calif [ very good book selection on photography ] . I pick a subject , look in index and see if it explains it so I understand and tells me something I did not know . I look for examples .
    Other wise some one will post - I like this book because - """" , then if 4 or 5 people say they like it to , I will look for on Amazon - used . If it is a good book - then order a 2 nd copy new .
    Which books have I done that with ?
    Petersons - Understanding exposure -
    Petersons - Understanding shutter speed
    Farace - digital infrared photography
    Shaws - close ups in nature
    frost - night & low light photography
    Canon - lens works

  • Josh November 24, 2011 04:25 am

    Always looking for new resources, especially on portrait photography, and it's tough wading through Amazon reviews! Thanks for this list!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 22, 2011 04:38 am


    OK, I HAVE to share this one! One of our friends asked to get some pre-wedding shots at the beach in California. She was a bit Plus Size then. Over time she has been working her assests off and showed up for a Boudoir Shoot!

    This shows before and after of kinda the same pose, but NOT the same figure. This should be an inspiration to all who would like to tone their bodies, and live long and healthy!


  • Michael Mark November 21, 2011 03:56 pm

    SIX books?

  • ccting November 21, 2011 03:50 pm

    I borrow many photography books.. Among the books that i recommend for noobs like me are

    a) The photographer's eyes
    b) Light science and magic..

  • Erik Kerstenbeck November 21, 2011 06:55 am


    Love this article and have learned so much! Thank you!

    Yesterday I tried some people High Key shots in the Studio. Still perfecting, however first attempts wer pretty awesome!