Photography books are an amazing source of inspiration for those of us who don’t live our lives through social media (I’m not saying that’s a bad thing by the way.)
Maybe you prefer to learn through reading books. Having something you can refer to and regularly inspire and motivate your photography is a great asset to keep around.
In fact, our sister company, Write Academy, trains aspiring writers to create their own novels. If you’re interested in putting together your own photography book or essays about how to take amazing photos then check out their online courses.
I’ve compiled a list 5 creative photography books for beginners. These books aren’t instruction manuals about how to take a photograph. But if that’s what you’re looking for check out our free online photography course.
Instead, this list is aimed at awakening your creative mind. These photography books can help you find inspiration for the next step in your photo adventure.
I’ve chosen a range of books that approach photography from different angles. It’s not just a list coffee table art books of pretty pictures. In fact, it’s an unvarnished and insightful guide on how to become a better creative artist written by people who know.
Bystander: A History of Street Photography by Colin Westerbeck and Joel Meyerowitz (1994)
For those that have never heard of Bystander it is generally regarded as the bible to street photography. Therefore, it’s an important photography book to get your hands on if you love your street shooting.
Featuring a range of renowned photographers (such as Cartier-Bresson, Kapa, Arbus and Klein), Bystander, is a collection of essays discussing the ethics and responsibility of photography in our society.
This photography book will teach you that street photography is about disbanding traditional rules. Instead, you’ll learn to focus more on the lives of your characters.
If you class yourself as a ‘people watcher’ then this is the first (and only) photography book, you’ll ever need. Get your hands on the revised version, which has expanded to cover digital photography too.
Buy it Now – Bystander: A History of Street Photography
On Photography by Susan Sontag (1977)
Sontag created this photography book based on her assortment of papers dissecting the art forms position as a societal tool. It is a rather cerebral read and not for glossing over.
One of the points Sontag argues is how can a photographer faithfully record a moment and intervene at the same time, when both elements require separate attention. Does this make the photographer a vessel and not human? See what we mean, it’s a deep read.
But don’t let that you put you off. Sontag really hits a chord expressing how photography has levelled the playing field of information, allowing more events to become factual and less interpretative.
This is a very interesting position from when it was written. The juxtaposition to fake news makes you realise what photography was intended for, and how it’s being manipulated nowadays.
Buy it Now – On Photography
The Negative by Ansel Adams (1995)
This two series photography book of Ansel Adams’ work is an incredible insight to the man. His work is widely regarded as the greatest examples of landscape photography.
The Negative isn’t just a photography book lauding the celebrity of Adams but instead focuses on his revered skill as a technical photographer. The way he could naturally read light, create relationships in natural features as well as enhance his work through darkroom techniques.
It will cause you to appreciate how much easier life with a digital camera is. There is a lot of lessons to be learnt from Adams’ photography book which hones in on the practical process of bringing an image to life.
After reading The Negative you’ll be inspired to slow your shooting and consider every element as if it was the only picture you were allowed to take that day.
This is a crucial photography book for those who are wanting to treat their photography as a skilled art and not just a snapshot.
Buy it Now – The Negative
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
This is not strictly speaking a photography book. But that’s fine, because what it teaches can still be applied to photography I believe.
Austin Kleon’s photography book is a retrospective look on what he wished he was taught whilst going through college. You don’t have to a young gun to make use of his teachings.
It’s simply a truthful doctrine about how to self-motivate and prolong your passion as a creative artist. The idea of ‘stealing like an artist’ is a call to readers to stop waiting for an original idea. Use what you see around you to build your creativity.
He believes nothing is truly original – people just don’t know where the idea came from to begin with.
It’s a very good book to calm your anxiety and make you realise that borrowing ideas is better than no ideas at all.
Buy it Now – Steal Like an Artist
Photojournalism: Stories Behind Their Greatest Images by Andy Steel
My last recommended photography book for beginners sets the outer boundary for aspiring photographers. Photography offers beginners a starting point in the art; maybe it’s a snapshot or a quick selfie.
This photography book will show you the limits that you could venture towards. It may seem worlds apart, and it is, but that could be the journey you’re on.
Andy Steel’s compendium of the world’s greatest photojournalists showcases images from battlefields and conflict zones across the world. The book will make you feel uneasy, and that’s its purpose.
This harks back to Susan Sontag’s comments about photography levelling the playing field of events. You’ll have a newfound respect for photojournalists.
It should teach you to understand how important your camera can and maybe that will influence you to capture more meaningful images.
Photography books should never be overlooked as grandfather of Instagram, Flickr, 500px etc., where images are easily accessible.
Instead, they are sources of honest, raw and direct information about what photography was, is and could be in the future. I hope they find a place on your bookshelf and your space in your soul.
There are no doubt thousands of books that could be added to this list that you may have found influential on your photography. And if so, I would love to know about them.
I never profess that this list is absolute. It is a collection of works that I’ve found empowering during my career as a photographer. If you know of other photography books you think we ought to check out, then please get in touch.
You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and Instagram so there’s no excuse for holding back.
Tell me what you think is the best photography book for beginners. Have you read any of these books, or are you inspired to check one out?