5 photography books you must read right now!

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Whether you are new to photography, a seasoned veteran, or somewhere in between, learning and relearning the ins and outs of your profession is an essential part of the continuing education that comes with being a photographer. If you are a professional who makes a living taking photos, this is even more vital. Here are the most influential authors of the past 10 years who have helped me understand everything from the light itself to building my own office / studio.

I realize that we live in an age where physical books are used less and less. However, I strongly recommend that you get your hands on tangible copies of the books I’m about to recommend for several reasons: while shelves allow you to carry infinitely more “books” at a time, engage in a real book. printed on paper allows you to stay focused on what you are reading and block all social media and other electronic notifications that may distract you while reading on a tablet or smartphone; second, the ability to write in the margins, to underline important parts or sections, and to highlight key ideas on the page of the book is something that I personally love to do when reading (textbooks from instruction in fiction or poetry), and you can’t really do that on a tablet; Finally, you can often save a lot of money by buying second-hand books, or by borrowing them from friends. So go ahead and use your tablet to search the internet and find a tangible, inexpensive copy that you can sit on the toilet with, curl up on the couch, or lie in the pool on a sunny day drinking a margarita. Now on to the list …

Understanding how light works

This is the first part of what it means to be a photographer. If you don’t understand the light then you don’t understand what you are doing. Just like a guy with a hammer and nails and wood can still build things, a guy with a camera can still take pictures. They can both create something, but neither will really understand how to repeat what they’ve created or progress further without understanding the how and why. So when it comes to photography, I recommend Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting. Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua learned to explain the nature of light in any style and how to handle the practical application of its control. One of the most valuable lessons in this book is how reflections work and how to avoid them. This is one of the most crucial things to know if you are planning to take portraits or product photographs. I have an old edition of this book, but the new 5th edition comes out in March and seems to cover even more! The authors take what could turn out to be a boring science lesson and write in simple, easy-to-understand language. This makes learning exciting and also provides fun examples to recreate. Light Science and Magic is the must-read book that I recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about how light works. It’s great for newbies and oldies all around!

Inspiration and instructions on taking illuminated portraits

When it comes to off-camera lighting (especially with small flashes), there are few people more knowledgeable or more creative than Joe McNally. Even though he writes in a very Nikon-centric manner, his stylized approach and painstaking methodology for creating dramatically lit portraits can be applied universally to any camera or lighting system. His book Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash offers both creative inspiration as well as detailed behind-the-scenes sketches and examines its setups that are invaluable references for budding and discerning portrait photographers. Combine this captivating preview with a relaxed, humorous writing style, and you’ll find yourself on the last page of the book wanting to start over in no time. Joe offers real-world solutions for creating stunning portraits, and this book is a truly motivating second read once you understand the science behind light.

Post-processing and workflow

An easy-to-learn approach to all Computer program is scarce, but Scott Kelby offers knowledge digestible in spades. Over the past ten years, I haven’t trusted anyone more than Scott to teach me what I need to know about post-processing. It covers features in an efficient way and provides a manual that you can read from start to finish or that you can refer to when you need to find something specific. I highly recommend Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 for Digital Photographers, although its Photoshop books are just as insightful. I chose to share his Lightroom series in this article because it’s a tool that accomplishes so much more than just photo editing, and I think most photographers use Lightroom first before diving into Photoshop for retouching. more complicated. Whichever software you prefer, Kelby has written a guide that includes everything from the basics of operation to using advanced hidden features so you can master your workflow and fine tune your photographic vision.

Make it all work together

I am the guardianship of Zach Arias since his first DVD One Light. It has always been an open book of information on how he struggled and succeeded as a photographer over the years, with a much appreciated frankness about what to do and what not to do. After enjoying his ever popular Tumblr Q&A blog, I couldn’t wait to grab a print copy of what this blog has become, Photography Questions and Answers: Real Questions. Real answers. As he states in the introduction, “I’m not trying to write the definitive book on any particular topic here. This book fills in the gaps. It’s a collection of questions and answers that range from what equipment to buy, to the merits of criticism or comparison with others. You’ll find information ranging from learning all the techniques to applying what you know to business – and it even includes inspiring landmark photographs you can also learn from. It is an excellent book to complete your journey, from learning your trade to knowing your trade.

Building a successful business

This is the part that is often the most difficult for photographers or for artists in general. I often see people focused only on the technical and artistic aspects of creating photos who think that selling this skill as a service will only follow. Hell, I was actually one of those people who thought money would come naturally with the skills I learned. The reality is that the business side of photography is the hardest part. To some extent, I agree with the generalization that “anyone can take a photo of something or someone” versus not everyone can sell that photo. This is where uncovering John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers has been so beneficial to me, and why this is the most important book on this list (if you want to make photography a business). In it, he discusses clients, contracts, licenses, taxes, and even what to do if you are audited by the IRS. This is essentially a complete business bible for every photographer who wants to make a living taking photos – providing the keys to success and the confidence and stability your clients deserve. This book is what helped me understand a pricing structure and proper business practices that enabled me to achieve a five year goal of having my own studio in my third year of operation. To this day, I continue to review this book and recommend it to anyone I know who is serious about making photography their career.

This is a solid collection of how and why books that are sure to spark your creativity and motivate you to become more than a person who just takes pictures for the fun of it. Reading these tomes back and forth will give you an understanding of how light works, how to control it, how to manage and edit your photographs, all the technical and psychological aspects of being a photographer, and how to successfully start and run your own business. But these are just my personal favorites. I’d love to know more, so share your favorites below with all of us and let’s continue to help us spread great information with each other!


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