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These are ALL books I've found to be very helpful. I first list photography books, then books helpful for photography business, then books about where to shoot.

Most photo books are either boring technical books about f/stops and shutter speeds, or portfolios of other photographers' work. Today, most photo books have decayed to books full of computer screen shots. Very few actually help you create better photographs by combining the necessary technical fluency with creative inspiration.

These below are the few that stand out from among the thousands that I recommend.


Video Tutorials     Bruce Percy    Ed Verosky


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Art & Technique

Jay Maisel Light Gesture and Color

A NEW CLASSIC: Light, Gesture and Color.

A new classic is born! This is a fantastic book in which Jay Maisel, one of the world's very greatest photographers of all time, finally writes down everything he's learned in over 60 years of professional photography and the fine-art world.

As a native New Yorker, Jay doesn't beat around the bush. Jay's book gets to the point. Unlike Bruce Barnbaum's superb Art of Photography which is a very long and difficult read, I finished Jay's book in one evening. I bought The Art of Photography a few years ago, and I'm still not finished, while with Jay's book, I'm done and can get back to shooting.

Jay stresses that photography is all about relaxing and finding the picture, not futzing with camera settings or Photoshop.

Light, Gesture and Color is a mandatory read for everyone interested in photography. Jay finally writes down all the secrets I've been trying to write down myself.

Better and faster than any other book, Light, Gesture and Color teaches us how to go out and find the picture, which is the most important thing in photography. It says nothing about technique, which is the easy part covered in the next book, Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography:


Brenda THarpe



Creative Nature and Outdoor Photography


CLASSIC: Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography.

Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography has always been my favorite single book for most people who want to learn the technique behinde taking better pictures. It is profusely illustrated and is a much more casual read than The Art of Photography. If you're willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a new camera or lens, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of each of these three classics above and below here.

What makes both editions of this Brenda Tharpe book stand out so far from every other book about how to take pictures is that they are the only books I've read that cover everything you need to know, like seeing light, shadow, balance, composition, color, interpretation, texture, and everything that matters in just one book, and wastes no space on the things that only get in the way.

The first edition covered the same things, but covered them from a film perspective. I suggest the first edition for those of you upgrading to film since it explains subtleties like when to use an 81C versus 81B filter and film types. The new edition is all you need for shooting digital.


The Art of Photography

new 2011 edition


Art of Photography

old 1994 edition

CLASSIC: The Art of Photography.

The Art of Photography is the best book I've read in over 40 years of reading about photography.

Bruce Barnbaum goes further and deeper into explaining the intangibles that make a great photograph than anyone else ever has.

If you want to learn how to create powerful photographs instead of just snapping away and hoping something turns out later in your computer, this is the one book that you must read.

I try to explain what makes a great photograph on this website, while Bruce Barnbaum goes far deeper and into far more levels on the critical topics that define a magnificent photograph.

The Art of Photography does more to explain composition and seeing than all of the other books I've tried to suggest below, combined.

This book is for people with visual imagination. If you're a scientist or engineer looking for some fast 1-dimensional formulae that will let you pop out great photos without having to stop and think long and hard about your subject and your message, you won't understand this book. This isn't a book about rules and exposure. It's a brilliant book that finally explains everything that goes into making a serious photograph — and why rules are "...mindless things that raise you quickly to a level of acceptable mediocrity, then prevent you from progressing further."

If you are willing to expend the mental effort required to create great photographs, this is the book that explains what matters and about what you need to be thinking to create extraordinary images.

I've been shooting and learning for many decades. This is the first book which lays it all out clearly and completely. If at first you don't understand this book, keep reading it until you do, because The Art of Photography is the book that says what needs to be understood in order to create meaningful, deliberate, interesting photographs.

I'm astounded at how Bruce Barnbaum is able to write about all photographic and artistic styles in this book, not just his own. I find this book helpful to everyone, not just people interested in Bruce Barnbaum's particular style, which is fine photography. He later gets into even more technical detail about his own techniques, however it's his first hundred pages about enthusiasm, communication, composition, visualization, light and color that alone make this large duotone masterpiece a bargain, even at three times the price.

The Art of Photography is a very serious book for people deeply interested in creating exciting photographs. It's not the best book for your coffee table or for people only casually interested in pretty pictures. It is the best book for people willing to invest the time and effort demanded to create brilliant photographs.

Like all these books, it also comes from Amazon.

DEAL: Use super-secret code "kenrockwell" on checkout if you get the eBook from the Rocky Nook site linked above for a 35% discount. If you use the Amazon links, different discounts are already there.


Jay Maisel Light Gesture and Color

NEW: The Essence of Photography.

An all-new book from Bruce Barnbaum, author of the superb Art of Photography.


Fast Track to Photoshop


Fast Track to Photoshop CS e-Book.

Bruce Percy has an e-book that finally shows clearly how to do all the difficult image tweaks that are critical in making good images great. He shows step-by-step how to use adjustment layers and masks for localized image adjustments, which are the most important things you can do to your images in a computer.

More precisely, Bruce finally explains, for the first time I've ever seen it written down, how to do burning and dodging properly in Photoshop. This is the most important image correction you can do in a computer, and it's critical for people and landscape and every kind of shot, and I have yet to see it in a book.

Creative use of adjustment layers and masks is the most important part of Photoshop, and something few hobbyists ever learn.

I use this process all the time for lightening faces and darkening corners and backgrounds to make my subjects pop!

Bruce goes into a whole lot more, too, and it's all easy to understand.

If you use a computer to process your images and don't yet know how to use layers and masks, you need this e-Book. (sorry, this one's not free.)

This is so important I've wanted to write this up since the 1990s, but it's also so difficult to explain well that I've never been able to write it this clearly — so I haven't written it. Now Brice has; get it.


Photo Inspiration

Photo Inspiration: Secrets Behind Stunning Images is a book with about a hundred different great pictures by about a hundred different photographers, each with an explanation from the photographer about how he created the image.

This book is exactly what so many of you have wanted: a modern book with explanations of how each shot was made.

As an added bonus for folks who get the book, go to pixu.com/offer for 6 months of a free online portfolio service which gives you an online location where the world can see and buy your own images. It usually costs $99 a year. (After one month you'll be asked for a secret code found in the book to weed out freeloaders who don't actually have the book.)


Bruce Percy The Art of Adventure

The Art of Adventure: 40 Photographic Examples by one of the world's foremost photographic artists, Bruce Percy, describes the thought processes behind the making of 40 photographs.

It's a limited-edition book that only comes directly from the artist.

I've got one, and it's beautiful. For those of you who want to learn more about the seeing process of the photographic artist, the descriptions are very helpful.

It's loaded with both nature and people photos.

It's just over a foot square, and you can preview it online. For those of you outside the UK, note that the price is in pounds sterling (about $1.55 to the pound). Enjoy!


Galen Rowell: The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Chasing the Light by Ibarionex Perello is also one of the very, very few books that talks about what actually matters in making great photos, instead of just being another book filled with computer screen shots.

Chasing the Light is filled with great photos, and not a single computer screen-grab. Much more importantly, it talks about the broad issues critical to creating great photos, and stresses that your camera just doesn't matter.


Galen Rowell: The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography

Galen Rowell's Inner Game of Outdoor Photography is an eye-openingly clear book that explains many of the reasons most people don't get the photos they want, and what to do about it. Galen says more in a few pages than most photo books say, period.

The original hardcover edition, which used to sell for about $23, sold out and then people were scalping them for up to $1,000. Wait, and the new soft cover edition should be available in May 2010 at under $20. The paperback has a different cover, but the same page count and size.


The Best Camera

The Best Camera is the one that's with you, say most great photographers, and especially Chase Jarvis, who created all the brilliant photographs in this art book on his iPhone.

If you're like many beginner who think it takes a good camera to make a good picture, just flipping through this book should show you that it's never about the camera.


Ansel Adams The Camera

Ansel Adams: The Camera Most everything you need to know about cameras from the master himself. He covers not only 4x5, but also medium format and even 35mm.

These Ansel Adams books have been the primary references from which most other technical photo books and magazines derive for decades. The Master loved to teach, and in these books Ansel reveals how he did what he did. You need to read these. They are a slow read because Ansel packs every paragraph with more useful information than entire chapters of lesser books.


Ansel Adams The Negative

Ansel Adams: The Negative Here's how I learned the Zone System and everything I ever need to know about exposure. Ansel even explains the system for use with color and point-and-shoot cameras! It may be a bit advanced, and is also the clearest explanation there is. Read carefully. You need to know this.


Ansel Adams The Print

Ansel Adams: The Print Most of the skill for which we appreciate Ansel was in his printing. Here he explains everything he did to make them. He also explains everything from setting up a darkroom to mounting the finished prints.


Ansel Adams: An Autobiography

Ansel Adams: An Autobiography Little, Brown & Co. 1985: This is great! Ansel spills everything about how to do commercial photography for a living and how to make expressive images. You need to read this if you think it's easy being a photographer. Ansel explains how he had to slave away doing commercial photography full time from 1930 through the 1970s just to make ends meet . He had to get fellowships (grants) to afford to get away to make the photos we all love today.

He slaved away for AT&T, PG&E, Life, and Fortune. He's pretty clear about his complaints with this sort of work. He shot for money since he was a teenager, starting in 1920 shooting class photos. He ran ads in 1940 offering to make photos and offer private instruction. He faked it all with the best of them, photographing altered loaves of bread, cement plants, clothes and turkeys for money.

The book is loaded with experience about getting in business and getting into art. How did he ever sell any art at all? He had a friend in the art world introduce him to existing art buyers who insisted they buy Ansel's work.

He also explains how to make an expressive work of art as opposed to a simple snapshot when talking about his Monolith image. Actually he talks a lot about art, what it means, and how to create it. This is a magnificent book. Ansel is quite clear: he considers himself an artist who uses technology to express himself. He was not a photographer or a technician.

He stresses importance of getting written contracts, and even with them he was cheated.

This great book coincidentally is the same size (but weighs more) than my 12" iBook laptop computer.


Mountain Light

Mountain Light. Galen Rowell is and was the world's foremost alpine photographer. This book is a classic. It's loaded with fantastic photos, which alone inspire many to making great photographs, and also is loaded with Galen's explanations of how and why he sees and how he gets to thee places.


duChemin: Journey of Phtographic Vison

Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision is David duChemin's book written for travel and people photographers, and is one of the best books I've read about how to see and make great photos.

It's written from a humanitarian photojournalist perspective, and its wisdom applies to every sort of photography of people and places.


understanding exposure: Bryan Peterson

Understanding Exposure Bryan Peterson profusely illustrates not just exposure, but many other critical components of photography. Personally so many people have found this a great book that I just ordered one myself from Amazon and will let you know more when I finish it.


Designing a Photograph

Designing a Photograph by Bill Smith. It starts off with examples to illustrate points by which to analyze photographs. It then gets to the good stuff about how to create great photos out of nothing. It offers exercises and assignments to get your creative juices flowing, and finishes with specific suggestions for every sort of photography.


Photographic Composition

Photographic Composition by Grill and Scanlon. One of the very few books that explains the most important aspect of photography: composition.


John Shaw

John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide Loaded with current information about nature photography.



Using the View Camera

Using the View Camera by Steve Simmons very clearly explains everything you need to get started in large-format photography. If you want to learn everything you need to know about 4 x 5 photography, get this one book.


Large Format Nature Photography Dykinga

Large Format Nature Photography Jack Dykinga is one of my favorite photographers. Jack is one of the few guys who really gets out in the middle of nowhere and brings back striking images. Jack is responsible for waking many people up to the sandstone formations of the American Southwest.


Nikon Compendium II

The New Nikon Compendium is my favorite guide to the Nikon system. The first edition Nikon Compendium from 1993 and the slightly older second edition from 2003 here published by Hove are also good.

These compendia are loaded with refreshingly correct information as to what was made when and what features work on which cameras, answering exactly the sort of emails I get from people all the time. They also cover all the cameras, motors, finders, lenses, flashes and other accessories. The newest edition covers digital cameras and historic rangefinders. It's not cheap and it's worth every penny since you won't have to buy all the other Nikon guides out there.

Nikon guides are like light meters: are are all useful, but no two agree 100%. Even Nikon's own printed catalogs can disagree with themselves. For instance, Vol. 6 of the Nikon USA full line product guide shows a photo of the 300/2.8 AF-S next to the listing for the 300/4 AF, and the AF-S 80-200 is shown for the 80-200 non-AFS. These goofs are common, which is why you shouldn't spend much time reading guides and why I started making my own observations and writing them down. That's how this website came to be: personal notes about my own gear so I wouldn't forget.

The original Nikon Compendium was at least as good.

Of all the other Nikon guides, Moose Peterson's are my favorites. Unfortunately for gearheads he's gotten out of the guide business and fortunately for photographers he stresses photography itself. Unlike most guide writers who are authors first and photo hobbyists second, Moose is a real photographer. His guides are written from a seasoned point of view.


123 Digital Imaging

123di - The 123 of digital imaging Interactive Learning Suite. If you like the technical part of this site, you'll LOVE this electronic education program here! This author is a genius and has already explained all the technical aspects of digital photography that I've only dreamed about writing. The book is also packed with practical tips and editing tutorials.


David Hurd

On Being a Photographer by David Hurn. This book also is unusual in that it addresses what is actually important in photography as opposed to pointless technique.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. This may help you to see better, which is the most important part of photography. Yes, it's aimed at artists who draw as opposed to photograph, and yes, the concepts of seeing are identical. You can see previews at the link.


LensWork Magazine

Lenswork is an exquisitely-printed magazine loaded with extraordinary black-and-white photographic artwork.


View Camera

View Camera Magazine I subscribe to this. This is the best, and possibly only, magazine covering large format photography. Each issue is loaded with a couple of artists' portfolios as well as news, and even very useful technical articles. It's edited by the author of the book "Using the View Camera" above. Amazon keeps moving it around so you'll probably have to search for it.



Macworld I also subscribe to this. I find that every issue has some Photoshop or other tip I find genuinely useful so I bite the bullet on price. Amazon keeps moving it around so you'll probably have to search for it.


How to See

How to See: A Guide to Reading Our Manmade Environment and Visual Adventures in a World God Never Made Both are out of print by George Nelson. These links take you to Amazon who has them used.


Whack on the Side of the Head

A Whack on the Side of the Head : How You Can Be More Creative Exciting photos are made by creative thinkers. Creativity comes from thinking differently from everyone else and having a lot of fun. I found this book very helpful to keeping me in my usual playful and creative mood.


How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci

How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci This book is also helpful just like the one above; it just takes longer to get to the point. They are both required reading. It explains how Leonardo had an insatiable curiosity and went out and tried everything for himself to see what happened. The same applies to photography, photo technique and equipment evaluation. You need to try everything yourself; not just rely on the work of others.


Photographer's Market

Photographer's Market has come out every year for decades loaded with thousands of listings of magazines, ad agencies, stock houses, books, card and calendar publishers, galleries and zillions of places for you to start selling your photos. It also lists submission guidelines, names and contacts and payment info. This is the one book to get if you really want to start selling your photos.


National Geographic Photography Field Guide

National Geographic Photography Field Guide This is the current edition of the classic. Every edition is good. Pay attention to the important aspects of subjects and compositions, but don't take the camera equipment examples as Gospel, since they they focus on the tools used in journalism.


Learning to See

Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color & Composition in Photography by Bryan Peterson. Exactly what it says; a very helpful book for making real photos.


Beyond Portraiture

Beyond Portraiture by Bryan Peterson covers just about everything I'd want to know about photographing people. It has a lot of new information about how to walk up to total strangers and get them to pose for you.


Nikon Rangefinders Rotoloni

The Complete Nikon Rangefinder System by Robert Rotoloni is the authoritative work documenting the 1950s Nikon rangefinder camera system for collectors. This is the largest and most complete compilation of everything Nikon made, excepting the SLR cameras and lenses, from 1932 - 1964. It even includes many never-manufactured prototypes. See my full review of this book.


Eyes of Nikon

Eyes of Nikon is Nikon's own March, 1985 book covering their AI-s manual focus lenses at their peak. The world didn't know, but Nikon was done designing manual focus lenses. It was time to document them forever in this soft-cover art book that came in its own slip-case. Internally, Nikon was busy working on the still secret AF lenses.

Every AI-s lens has it's own page or two of fame. This book has been out of print since 1985, never again repeated in Nikon's 90 year history.

Luckily, like the manual lenses, there are plenty of these books around, so they go for about $10 used.




How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. If you want to be a professional photographer you need to know this more than photography. Some few people already have this knack. Most people, including myself, don't. I read this in 1986 and it changed my life forever. I used to think that arguing my point and telling people what to do were the way to get them to do what I want. Nope! You have to swallow your pride, stroke their ego, appeal to nobler causes and voila!, you can get almost anyone to do what you need them to. If everyone read this we'd have no fights and everyone would get along for the better. It's the best eight bucks you'll ever spend.


You Can Negotiate Anything

You Can Negotiate Anything by Herb Cohen. I've read many books and spent many days in seminars back when I was a Senior Manager in a multibillion dollar company. Nothing ever taught me anything that wasn't covered in one read of this great book. Want to get top dollar from happy photo customers? Read this. It's the second best eight bucks you'll ever spend.


Krages Legal Handbook for Photographers

Legal Handbook for Photographers by Bert Krages, Esq. covers everyone's rights to make images as well as the liabilities. He explains away popular misconceptions and details why hobbyists may pretty much photograph anything and why no one is allowed to take your film or camera, and how to get them to pay you if they do. He details issues of privacy, permissions and how to avoid getting yourself arrested or sued.


Lighting - Neubart
Location Lighting Solutions by Jack Neubart shows many examples of fantastic lighting and how to create it. It's aimed at the full-time commercial photographer, not the casual amateur, but if you follow along, the results will put you ahead of all the other hacks competing for the same jobs.


Where to Shoot

People often ask me where to go photograph in San Diego. These Andrew Hudson "Photo Secrets" books are my best suggestion. Not only do they tell you where, but they also tell you when and how and any other restrictions and details you'll find helpful. Laugh if you want, but he even shows drawings of where to put your tripod, so if you want suggestions, this book has it all, maybe too much for most people! They are very well organized and easy to use in the field. I have both the Northern California and San Diego books and love them. Pay attention: the San Diego book also covers Balboa Park and the Northern California book also covers Yosemite; I'm unsure if the two other books offer any more details on those places.


Backroads of Northern California

Backroads of Northern California Photographer Dave Wyman's book details just about every scenic back road throughout half of California.

It's loaded with great photography and detailed explanations of what's historic and interesting everywere. It's not specifically a photography book; it's loaded with great places and details to find great pictures. It also covers the areas around Yosemite, Bodie and San Francisco.

There are more interesting back roads described in this book than I've ever read anywhere else, and I look for these kinds of books.

Dave also wrote Backroads of Southern California: Your Guide to Southern California's Most Scenic Backroad Adventures, which covers the rest of our scenic state.


Photosecrets San Diego: The Best Sights and How to Photograph Them This book lists every scenic location in San Diego county, tells the best times of day to be there, and even shows you where to plop down your tripod and the direction in which to point the camera! These are the best photo hot-spot books I've ever read: it really is filled with secrets!


Photosecrets Balboa Park This is an extract from the San Diego book. It includes the same general sections and sections on Balboa Park and the San Diego Zoo. Everything in this book is included in the San Diego book, so of course I suggest the San Diego book and skipping this. Get this only if you're only going to the park.


Photosecrets San Francisco and Northern California: The Best Sights and How to Photograph Them I have this book. It's great, and you'll see that it also got four and a half stars at Amazon.


Photosecrets Yosemite: The Best Sights and How to Photograph Them This book is just an excerpt from the San Francisco book above. I suggest the San Francisco book instead, unless you're only going to Yosemite and prefer a lighter book.


The Photographer's Guide to Vermont: Where to Find Perfect Shots and How to Take Them Self explanatory.

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