Learning Photography: Books

By Roger (9 August 2015)

We're out at Photoshop World, this week, but I wanted to keep the series going. Let's talk about learning from photography books.

I've always loved books. My mother was a librarian. I can read a paperback and never break the spine. I'm lucky enough to have my own library with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Many of my books traveled with us, while I was being transferred around the world, in the Army. I still buy books and will probably bring back a couple from the expo floor, at PSW. They just feel good.

Just a few photo books from my library.

Just a few photo books from my library.

When I started photography, the internet wasn't really a thing – as in, it didn't exist. Photography books and magazines were the way I learned the sport. I joined one of the photography book clubs because there weren't any American bookstores in Germany, where we were living, but they would ship them to an APO address, which got them to me in Augsburg.

For beginners, books allow you to move at your own pace; provide examples of great photos to amplify the author's instructions; and give you a handy reference you can go back to.

Michael Freeman's books are great for a comprehensive overview to photography. I have several old film books he wrote, and he's still putting them out there. One of his latest titles is The Photographer's Eye (link), and, don't worry, he has moved on from film to digital. Since we're at PSW, I guess I should also mention Scott Kelby's series, The Digital Photography Book. The series has five different books, each one with different topics and different photos. Here's a link to the boxed set (link).

As you start to get a better handle on the mechanics of the camera, you might want to move to books from some of your favorite photographers. Besides being filled with photos from a photographer you admire, you get a better sense of how they approach their subjects and some good stories about their adventures. I really like Joe McNally's sense of humor and admire his lighting skills. I have all of his books. His first book, The Moment It Clicks (link), is still a favorite read for me. Art Wolfe comes across well in his book, The Art of the Photograph (link), too.

When I get to meet some of the authors of my books, during conferences and workshops, I feel like I know a little more about how to they'll teach from reading their books. If I liked the books, I'm more likely to spend the money on their workshop. As I said, in my last blog, Photoshop World is ideal for meeting these photographers.

If you want to read about photography theory or philosophy (yes, I'm that geeky), there are plenty of good reads out there. You can go deep into your artist mode with these books. I have found answers to questions I didn't even know I had and new approaches to try.

The first book like that for me was Susan Sontag's, On Photography, (link). It's a classic that came out in the late 70s. There is still good stuff in there for today's photographers. I still go through it every now and then.

For something a little more recent, you should read a book Mark and I have recommended before: Jay Maisel's Light, Gesture, and Color (link). You'll never find Jay without his camera. And, the lens cap is always off.

If you think you'd like to start a photography business and make it your entire income, I would suggest reading about the topic from those who have accomplished the feat. You'll find it isn't all happy snaps every day of the week. There are many things that can interfere with your dream. For straight talk, with no punches pulled, I like Zack Arias' Photography Q&A (link). He is an Atlanta-based photographer who has been through the fire – failed – and came back, again.

Enough examples? Wait, we haven't even started on the post-processing titles...

There is no denying books are still worthwhile resources to learn photography. Though it is getting harder to find a big bookstore to browse for hours, there are still some out there. You can buy a cup of coffee and sit on their couches as you scan the pages. Don't forget the used bookstores, either. You can pick up some good books for much less than new. Or stay home, and hit our Amazon link. There are thousands of books, ready to be delivered to your front door.

And, while we're talking convenience, tablets are great for taking several books on the road, without adding to the weight of your camera bags. E-books on a tablet make the airport layovers pass more quickly. Most new paper books now also published as e-books You can usually get both for only a few more dollars. The high quality screens make the included photos pop. I'll have my tablet, in PSW Vegas, loaded with a couple dozen photography books, and I'm sure I'll buy a couple e-books while I'm there.

So, turn off the computer screen, and curl up with an old-fashioned book. They've been a great way to learn for a long, long time. Feel the paper. Enjoy the quiet. And learn more about photography.

Read them; don't put them in a museum.

Read them; don't put them in a museum.