25 photography books that will inspire you

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Most photographers underestimate the power of a good book. While browsing Pinterest and Instagram can be inspiring at times, it’s a very different thing to hold in your hands a book of quality impressions that are meant to be seen as a whole. Here, we’re going to list (in no particular order) some of the most inspiring photo books ever published that will help spark your creativity and rekindle your passion for photography.

1. The decisive moment by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The photography book. The work of French photographer Cartier-Bresson has influenced almost all photographers, or at least inspired the inspirations of all photographers. The defining moment is a study of timing in photography and ultimately the best place to start if you are starting a photography book collection.

Wilderness-to-Wasteland-HERO

2. From wilderness to wasteland by David T. Hanson

Taken early in Hanson’s career in the 1980s, these documentary landscapes depict the environmental ruin that resulted from some of America’s worst business practices. This is a great example of a photograph with a message. Read our full review here.

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3. AIR by Vincent Laforêt

Contemporary photographer Vincent Laforet does what no photographer has ever done before – take high-resolution night aerial photographs of cityscapes. The wild yet precise colors of this book reveal something deeper about humanity and civilization. Read our full review here.

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4. The negative by Ansel Adams

The father of landscape photography goes into the details of his zonal exhibition system. If you want to learn more about its methods, you can also search for part one and part three of this series, The camera and The imprint.

Why do people photograph Adams

5. Why do people photograph by Robert Adams

The title says it all. This collection of essays does not focus on actual photographs, but contains some of the most inspiring and influential opinions of the most famous photographers of the early to mid-20th century.

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6. Robert Cumming: The Difficulties of Nonsense by Robert Cumming

In it, the artist plays with the line between reality and the mistaken interpretations of reality inherent in photography, which will make you rethink the entire medium.

Capa in color

7. Capa in color by Robert Capa

Famed war photographer Robert Capa roams the streets and photographs in color, giving a unique and raw interpretation of everyday life.

Magnum contact sheets

8. Magnum contact sheets by Kristen Lubben

If you haven’t heard of Magnum Photo Agency, you should definitely look for them. Frankly, I could have filled this whole list with books from this agency, but instead I suggest you check out this collection of Magnum’s best work for a healthy dose of elite and modern photography.

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9. Infra by Richard Mossé

This book is unlike any other because it uses film that almost no other photographer has ever used: infrared film. Originally used by the US military to spot soldiers in thick brush, Mosse uses it to document child soldiers in Congo in this devastatingly beautiful series.

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ten. Andreas Gursky by Glenn Lowry, Peter Galas, etc.

It is actually a collection of works by German photographer Adreas Gursky, curated by other artists. It is packed with Gursky’s signature style that shows pattern and detail within society in a miniaturizing way.

The best of Leifer

11. The best of Leifer by Neil Leifer

As you can see from the cover of this book, Leifer has taken some of the most iconic sports photographs in history. He has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to create beautiful, memorable images that tell a story.

Man ray

12. Man ray by Guido Comis, Marco Franciolli

One of the most influential figures in ancient photography is recognized and summarized in this book, with biographical notes accompanying the photographs that have helped shape the aesthetics of modern photography.

Double life

13. Double life by Kelli Connell

These portraits may appear to be documentary images of lovers, siblings, or twins, but they are in fact skillfully manipulated images of the same person twice, illustrating the subtle difference between external and internal relationships.

Americans

14. Americans by Robert Frank

One of the most famous photography books of all time, Americans captures the life and times of 1950s America in simple yet powerful images that still resonate today.

Viewing Photographs

15. Viewing Photographs by John Szarkowski

This curation was carried out in 1973 by the curator of photography of the Museum of Modern Art John Szarkowski and is still considered an excellent source of photographic grandeur. This book focuses on the images themselves, but gives an excellent and insightful explanation of what the curator looks for in an image.

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16. Man’s family by Edward Steichen

It is perhaps the most successful and respected photography book of all time. It is a collection of images that the curator describes as “a mirror of the essential unity of humanity across the world.” Photographs taken in all parts of the world, from the full range of life from birth to death.

On the Sontag photograph

17. On the photo by Susan Sontag

Ok, so this isn’t really a photo book, it’s a collection of Susan Sontag’s essays on the nature of photography. While it might not give you visual inspiration, it will make you think more about what a photograph really is than almost any other book.

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18. William Eggleston, 2 1/4 by William Eggleston

Widely regarded as the father of color photography, Eggleston has shaped the way color is used and interpreted in photos from the very beginning. This book is a collection of his photos, taken on 2 1/4 inch color film, of ordinary people and is a study of American life in the 1960s.

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19. Bowie by Steve Schapiro

This recent publication is a collection of photographs of David Bowie taken in the mid-1970s by renowned portrait photographer Steve Schapiro. It’s a great example of a collaboration between photographer and subject, with each image revealing a different side of the iconic pop musician. Read our full review here.

Aveldon Fashion

20. Fashion Avedon 1944-2000 by Richard Avedon

Richard Avedon is widely regarded as the leader in 20th century fashion photography. In this study of his work, you can see his creative development unfold as he shaped popular culture for more than five decades.

Shadow and light

21. Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light by Bill Brandt

This is another book that lives up to its name, as it explores the important interplay of shadow and light. Although the images in the book depict British life from the early to mid-1900s, it is the tonality and interplay of densities that deserve close observation.

Bad shape and full vacuum

22. Bad Shape & Full Empty by Laura Letinsky

In this highly conceptual book, contemporary artist Laura Letinsky builds on her earlier work photographing dining tables by collecting images from a variety of sources including magazines, friends, and her own order book. Many of these images break down the barriers between private and public life while challenging the very nature of perception.

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23. The visual palette: defining your photographic style by Brian Matiash

For those looking for a little more direct advice in their own work, Matiash walks you through his systematic method of developing a unique and recognizable style of photography that will keep you shooting for years to come.

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24. Pomodori A Grappolo by Jean Gossage

This set of three books explores the connection between photography and the books themselves, and is more about layout than any photo or individual subject. Using a variety of materials, sizes and color schemes, Gossage studies the physical form of a photograph.

Photographers from A to Z

25. Photographers from A to Z by Hans-Michael Koetzle

If you’re still not ready to dive into any of the individual artists listed above, this book should have you covered. It lists, explains, and gives examples of hundreds of important and talented photographers, so you’re sure to find something to spark your creativity.

There are certainly plenty of other great photography books out there that didn’t make this list, so let us know what you think should have been included in the comments below.


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