10 Books Every Photographer Should Read

Grab a cup of coffee, put on your slippers, and curl up in your favorite arm chair with one of these texts and learn something new about the art of photography! I have a rather large and ecclectic collection of photography texts, and this list represents my 10 favorites - texts I would recommend to anyone wanting to improve their photography.

What have I missed on the list? Leave me a comment and let me know what you'd add!

  1. "The Camera" & "The Negative" & "The Print" - Ansel Adams
    The author needs no introduction, and this is really three texts in one, but they are the definitive texts for all technical things film photography. So you're a digital photographer? Read anyway. Seriously, these books are #1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 on my list for a reason. The fundamentals of photography are the same no matter the medium, and I promise you'll learn something. Plus, its awesome seeing how Ansel thought about his work.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  2. "Black and White Photography Workshop" - John Blakemore
    This is without question one of the best all-in-one books on using the Zone System to create incredible black and white film images. Like with the texts from Ansel Adams, this is a great material for any digital photographer who wants to build their foundational knowledge.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  3. "Vivian Maier: Street Photographer" - John Maloof
    Vivian Maier was a nanny in the mid-1900s who travelled around Europe and the United States taking photographs with her Rolleiflex 120mm film camera. She was a very private woman and never shared her work - it was only discovered and she became famous after her death. There is a documentary (currently on Netflix) about her story, but the book is fantastic as a resource to study the work of another photographer. What I find so inspiring about Vivian is that she took photographs for personal joy and satisfaction - not to share them. That's opposite of most of us (myself included) who have blogs, Facebook, etc where we share our images. There is something particularly special about her work because of the private nature of her images.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  4. "From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man" - Vincent Versace
    Vincent is a Nikon Ambassador, and an exceptional black and white digital photography artist. His text differs from the above black and white books in that he spends more time on the details of the digital workflow, and how to create masterpieces in the digital era. A must-own for any black and white photographer. Seriously.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  5. “Chasing Light: An Exploration of the American Landscape” - Frank Lee Ruggles

    Frank is a friend of mine. He was my first mentor in photography and sold me some of my very first lenses (I’m embarrassed to say it was a Tokina). Needless to say, after years of studying his work, I have found him to be one of my greatest inspirations. This isn’t a how-to book, it’s a fine art photography book, and it will inspire you. A good photographer is always looking at the work of others — I have spent hours reverse engineering Frank’s images and learning from them, and suggest this book to any landscape photographer. Plus, Frank’s an all-around awesome guy, so it’s no wonder this book is so high on my list of must-reads!

    Buy on Amazon.com

  6. "Eyes Wide Open - 100 Years of Leica Photography"
    Some of the best books for photography aren't instructional - they are collections of work from which I can draw new inspiration or ideas. I love to deconstruct other photographer's images, and this book is full of inspiration. And if you ever need a paperweight or door stop, it'll cover those bases too!

    Buy on Amazon.com

  7. "Captured: Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer" - Moose Peterson
    So you have an interest in wildlife photography? Moose wrote the definitive guide on all things wildlife and bird photography - its a fun read complete with great images and some amusing stories of his time spent shooting in the field.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  8. "Surreal Photography: Creating the Impossible" - Daniela Bowker
    This is a fun and entertaining text - a great way to see how some photographers express creativity by creating surrealist images. While I rarely (if ever) will use the techniques taught in this book, it's another great resource to draw new inspiration and pull new techniques from. Certainly one of the more bizarre and fun books on my shelf.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  9. "Black and White Magazine" - Subscription
    I am not a fan of most photography magazines - they push you to buy crap and gadgets you don't need. And just like the exercise magazines that routinely re-run the same articles with the "best weight loss tips," most photography magazines don't offer new content, or content that will make you a better artist. Black and White is the exception. There is a great showcase of various artists (real artists) and inspiring pieces. I would recommend the paper subscription over e-version - the printed quality is exceptionally good.

    Subscribe Online

  10. “Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash” - Joe McNally

    This addition to my list might surprise you, considering how little I use flash in my photography. I only ever use a flash for macro images, so it should speak volumes that I recommend a book about something I don’t use. Why? Because photography is all about light, and Joe McNally is arguably the master of light. The things he can do with a flash boggle the mind, and I think it’s important to study light as a photographer. So might as well learn from the master. Besides, my flash is the sun, and if you can control a AA-battery powered flash, you’re that much closer to making the sun work for you,


    Buy on Amazon.com

Writing Revolutions: What is Involved in Authoring a Photography Book?

Writing "Revolutions" represents the greatest professional accomplishment of my career as a photographer, but it was also far more difficult than I ever expected. Today I am reflecting back on the experience to share a look behind-the-scenes at what it took to write "Revolutions".

Mindset

It was important to me that "Revolutions" was done correctly. First, this was the first book I was going to write, and if I did a poor job, it would be the last book anyone would ever buy. The success of any future second book hinges on the first. Secondly, there is something very motivating about knowing you are making something with your name on the front. People can come read my blog and form an opinion about me without ever knowing my name, but that's just not the case with a book. My reputation is right there, front and center. Pride is a good reason to do something the correct way.

Beyond those motivations, I was also compelled by the desire to produce art. Each image contained in the book is artwork, and I wanted the final compilation of these images to be its own piece of artwork. This book is like a miniature gallery exhibit of my work - one that fits in a bag or sits on a coffee table. Most photo books do not feature a narrative story to accompany the images, so "Revolutions" represented two art forms - photography and writing - that needed to be combined into one perfect medley.

Finally, every accomplished photographer I know has written a book, and I believe that is one of the many ways to distinguish between photographers who really care about their craft, and those who consider this a hobby. Sure, you don't have to write a book to be a serious artist (there are many photographers who make a full-time living without writing books!), but I have always seen the time and resource commitment needed to publish a book is a good measure of how serious the artist is about their tradecraft.

Wedding photographers have the benefit of paying customers, but I have never been paid by any of the trees I have photographed. Sadly, writing a book is one of the harder ways to make money as a photographer, because the financial investment required to generate the product is insanely high. In the era of free blogs, who is going to pay money to read?

The Writing

Writing "Revolutions" was the easy part. During the course of the month long road trip that makes up the narrative and photographic story, I took detailed notes and transcribed records of the days. At the end of the journey, I had nearly 40 typed pages of notes and 60 pages of handwritten notes. The book is basically an edited version of those notes; I removed the "blah blah blah" and adjusted the story to articulate only the best parts of the adventure.

Originally I had structured the book into two sections: one with the photographs and one with the narrative story. The reason for this was that I did not want to have to display the photographs in chronological order, which was the logical ordering of images if they were intermixed with a story that was told in chronological order. 

But when we got to editing, that plan was scrapped.

The Editing

Asking someone to edit a book like this is a tricky prospect; I needed someone who would be brutally honest and unafraid of hurting my feelings. Someone who can write better than I can. Thankfully, I know someone just like that! I enlisted the help of a trusted friend and worked on preparing a manuscript that I could present for editing.

A few weeks later, Clara, my editor, was given a hard copy printed transcript of the book that was made at Office Depot. I had generated PDFs of the book from my computer, but that would be hard for her to mark up. I felt like the editor should benefit from being able to turn real pages! With $20 and a copy machine, I created a manuscript that could be viewed in "book form" and allowed Clara to write, scribble, and mark up the thing mercilessly.

Good thinking on my part, because I got a red pen (and permanent marker!) covered book back! Clara suggested some major edits to the story, including to tell it as one story with photographs and text intermixed. At first I was down on the idea - I had spent months putting the book into this format - but upon reflection, I realized Clara was right. There was too much text at one end of the story and the photographs lacked context when not paired with words. 

So I rewrote the whole book.

The transcript I provided to my edtor, Clara. Not only did she mark up the whole document, she even attached additional pages of comments.

The transcript I provided to my edtor, Clara. Not only did she mark up the whole document, she even attached additional pages of comments.

The original version of the book was too text heavy - pages were full of content that really didn't add to the story and would ultimately put a reader to sleep. Clara helped me find that content and remove it, resulting in a cleaner and more enjoyable finished product.

The original version of the book was too text heavy - pages were full of content that really didn't add to the story and would ultimately put a reader to sleep. Clara helped me find that content and remove it, resulting in a cleaner and more enjoyable finished product.

The Re-Write

Following my review of Clara's edits, I re-wrote the entire book. This took months longer than I expected. I would read it one day, like it, then hate it the next. I had to walk away from the project for days at a time to regain the vision needed to see the project clearly. My motivation waivered; I had exhausted months of work and had almost nothing to show for it. On several occassions, I thought about throwing in the towel and declaring the book a source of personal memories.

But I persisted.

Slowly and steadily, I wrote, deleted, wrote, re-wrote, deleted, and wrote again. After a few months, I was ready to look at a transcript again. This time, I decided to order a printed copy of the book that was actually bound and printed in color. I figured this would help me visualize those errors and improvements that still needed to be made, but that I couldn't visualize on a computer screen.

The First Final

Printing a transcript in book format turned out to be a great strategy. I found lots of content, typos, and aesthetics that I wanted to adjust. For instance, the font needed to be smaller, section titles more prominent, and more blank space on every page. These aesthetic tweaks needed to be seen to be recognized.

After a few more weeks, I had re-built the whole book for (what felt like) the millionth time.  Before ordering another copy, I decided to set the whole thing aside for a month. I needed time to forget what the book looked like. To forget how each word read. To detach and come back fresh.

A month later, I returned and found that I was very happy with the text. There were a few typos that I had missed, but I didn't find any major changes. So I shelled out for another bound copy of the book.

A screenshot of the internal page layout of pages 2 and 3 in the final copy of the book. The photo will be creased down the center to form both pages, and if you look carefully, you can see where part of the image repeats just slightly in the center where the binding is placed.

A screenshot of the internal page layout of pages 2 and 3 in the final copy of the book. The photo will be creased down the center to form both pages, and if you look carefully, you can see where part of the image repeats just slightly in the center where the binding is placed.

The Final-Final

Alas, I had nailed it. Almost nine months after the first words were typed into a Microsoft Word document, the final book had taken shape. You don't have to work hard to see the evolution in the book between the various versions! With the book done, it was time to move onto the public relations part - promoting the sale of the book.

Two proofs of the book - opened to the same page. The top book (right) is the first version, while the one in the background (left) was the final transcript of the book. You can see the font size, spacing, title, and asthetics of the pages changed significantly between each version.

Two proofs of the book - opened to the same page. The top book (right) is the first version, while the one in the background (left) was the final transcript of the book. You can see the font size, spacing, title, and asthetics of the pages changed significantly between each version.

Two book covers - the cover had minimal changes to the front, just a slight shift in the location of the author name.

Two book covers - the cover had minimal changes to the front, just a slight shift in the location of the author name.

The back cover got a major overall; the top book is the final product, while the bottom one was the earlier draft.

The back cover got a major overall; the top book is the final product, while the bottom one was the earlier draft.

The Printing

With the book finished, it was time to look at printing it. This was the part I was dreading - asking people for money. But the reality was that there is no way to make a book even quasi-affordable without raising enough money to print several hundred copies. Each individual copy, if purchased al le carte, ran upward of $120/book! My target price was $50/book, meaning I needed to raise enough money to get several hundred copies printed at once, in a process called offset printing. 

In the End

This was, without question, much harder than I ever anticipated. Getting a book that qualified as artwork, a book I would put my name on, and a book I could share with the world was a pain in the butt. I have learned an incredible amount about writing a book and the process, which is good - because I'm going to need all the help I can get in generating motivation to ever write another book! I hope you have found this short write up about the process of writing a book helpful and enlightening.... and I hope it gives you a new appreciation of the arts.

Purchase a copy of Revolutions as a book or e-book today!

Posing with the final copy of my book, Revolutions.

Posing with the final copy of my book, Revolutions.