Light Show: The 25 Best Photography Books

Photo: Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

Photography is one of the most misunderstood art forms in the entire world. To the layperson, it looks like nothing more than pointing a camera at things and pressing a button. To the trained eye, there’s complicated angling and distance and lighting maneuvers going on with every photo. Given thousands of shots, many of us couldn’t emulate the stunning artistry that comes from the melding of man with machine in the way that occurs when you hold a camera. We wanted to celebrate this art, and give any up-and-coming shutterbugs a look behind the lens.

As good as a digital image may be, it is a pale shade when compared with full color photography seen in hard copy. Being able to hold and truly possess an image is something intrinsically human. As we looked at photography books, we sought out items with an unknown energy, an ethereal It factor. We chose some that were technically correct and some merely for their influence on the industry. In each of the 25 best photography books, we wanted to capture the breathing spirit of photography. To indulge in a celebration of the art.

Take Your Best Shot- Essential Tips & Tricks for Shooting Amazing Photos

Take Your Best Shot: Essential Tips & Tricks for Shooting Amazing Photos

Start Small: The world of photography is wide and deep. Start in the shallow end of the pool with this cute little read that’s a quick reference for how to get a good, mainstream photo without extra effort.

Purchase: $5

Understanding Exposure

Understanding Exposure

Light Work: When used properly, your aperture can be your greatest ally. If you want to know all you need about ISO, Understanding Exposure has it broken down in plain English.

Purchase: $16

tony northrup's dslr book how to create stunning digital photography

Tony Northrup’s DSLR Book

Modern Man: An investigation into how to get started with a DSLR, if you’re moving up from point-and-shoot to something with swappable lenses, you need this book yesterday.

Purchase: $17

The Photographer's Mind- Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos

The Photographer’s Mind: Creative Thinking for Better Digital Photos

Head Shot: Knowing your equipment will make you a good photographer. Knowing your own mind will make you great. This book changes you from the inside out, making you think like a photographer rather than just snap pictures.

Purchase: $17

The Best of Leifer

The Best of Leifer

Film School: More a 1960’s retrospective than anything else, The Best of Leifer celebrates the life and work of photographer Neil Leifer, who was behind the lens at some of the world’s greatest events.

Purchase: $26

The Art of iPhone Photography

The Art of iPhone Photography

Snap Chatter: The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry, but using the camera is still a trick few have mastered. You don’t need any equipment for this: Just an iPhone and a pair of eyes.

Purchase: $27

Danny Lyon- The Bikeriders

The Bikeriders

Rebel Riders: Coming out of 1968 at the peak of motorcycle culture, this book of images showcases the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. It’s a visual version of Hunter Thompson’s Hell’s Angels from a Windy City perspective.

Purchase: $28

I Went to the Worst of Bars Hoping to Get Killed. But All I Could Do Was to Get Drunk Again

I Went to the Worst of Bars Hoping to Get Killed. But All I Could Do Was to Get Drunk Again

Wordless: Artfully chronicling the world of severe alcoholism and the degeneration that comes with drinking to excess, there isn’t a word in this book, but the striking pictures speak volumes.

Purchase: $30

Ken Schles- Invisible City

Ken Schles: Invisible City

Urban Jungle: City photography is different. To see how to work with shifting street lamps, menacing shadows, and turn detritus-strewn alleys into masterpieces, you need a copy of Invisible City.

Purchase: $30

LaChapelle- Heaven to Hell

LaChapelle: Heaven to Hell

The Weirdening: Like a Salvador Dali print brought to life, there’s strange juxtapositions and odd thematic minglings to be had in this book; along with a unique style of photography to be learned.

Purchase: $30

The Art of Photography- An Approach to Personal Expression

The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression

Made to Order: Art is a meant to be subjective. Rather than focusing on technical know-how, this book imparts the ways of putting yourself onto the page to show the person behind the pictures.

Purchase: $32

Michael Freeman's Photo School Fundamentals

Michael Freeman’s Photo School Fundamentals

Nuts & Bolts: Knowing how to make art is foremost about having the skills to convey what you want. To get those skills, you start by reading and practicing the principles set down in this tome.

Purchase: $32

Steve McCurry- The Iconic Photographs

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

Greatest Hits: Steve McCurry knows how to frame a subject and capture its essence. This book is a lesson in emotional photography that is evocative and powerful. Truly a showcase piece.

Purchase: $37

Invisible Man- Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem

Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem

Race Riot: Photographer friend of Invisible Man author Ralph Ellison, Gordon Parks was passionate about race. He shows the life of minorities as seen by the people who lived in a time where the color of your skin could be a capital offense.

Purchase: $37

Joel Meyerowitz- Retrospective

Joel Meyerowitz: Retrospective

In Living Color: Part of the color-photography movement, Meyerowitz exemplified the use of hues and patterns in his work and has a dramatic flair that only classic film-camera buffs will understand.

Purchase: $49

Conversations With the Dead

Conversations With the Dead

Hidden Wonder: A true diamond that is often lost in the rough, Conversations with the Dead is inspiring in an indefinable way. You’ll reach for this again and again, because it just calls out to shutterbugs.

Purchase: $50

Anton Corbijn- 1-2-3-4

Anton Corbijn: 1-2-3-4

Counter-Culture: Celebrating photography in the music industry, 1-2-3-4 offers a jarring look at extremists who live on the fringes. Grimy and raw, this shows guerilla photography done by a master.

Purchase: $51

Edward S. Curtis- One Hundred Masterworks

Edward S. Curtis: One Hundred Masterworks

Century Club: Curtis was accused of “going native” because his photography of Native Americans was so powerful. An object lesson in portrait photography, it’s a master class in snapshots of people.

Purchase: $55



On The Street: Mark Cohen is a street photographer who knows how to get a quick, dirty shot. 250 photos adorn the pages of this book, many of them unpublished. When you’re ready to work mobile, here’s how to do it right.

Purchase: $57

Scott Kelby's Digital Photography Boxed Set

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set

Starter Kit: DSLR cameras are complicated machines that can take a lifetime to learn. Save yourself the trouble and hit the ground running with these 4 books that can give you digital camera skills, or hone those you already possess.

Purchase: $66

1:1000th- The Sports Photography of Bob Martin

1/1000th: The Sports Photography of Bob Martin

Action Shot: Capturing movement is still one of the most difficult undertakings a photographer faces. 1/1000th shows it done right, and offers help to those floundering in a sea of blur.

Purchase: $75

Drive by Andrew Bush

Drive by Andrew Bush

Behind the Wheel: Cars are very American things. In this book, Bush takes a look at the strange mix of privacy and publicity that comes from Los Angeles residents who are driving around town.

Purchase: $85

Julius Shulman- Modernism Rediscovered

Julius Shulman: Modernism Rediscovered

Triple Threat: A three volume set that takes a look at the modern movement in photography, Shulman’s work captures everything that contemporary photography is about with with grace and edginess.

Purchase: $300

Infra- Photographs by Richard Mosse

Infra: Photographs by Richard Mosse

Surrealist: Ifra shows war in the Congo region as done with strange plays of color and shadow. Satirical and impressive, Infra is a whole new way to look at both war and taking pictures.

Purchase: $350

Looking For Love

Looking For Love

Undercover: A hidden lens in a club during the latter part of the 80’s. That’s the premise of this book. It captures all the nuance of that time and place, but is also a picture of club culture and sexuality as it exists today.

Purchase: $500