Photography book list for beginners

by Leo on April 18, 2011

Over the past years I have been asked many times what books I would recommend for aspiring photographers to learn the craft.  Instead of repeating it for every one individually, I have compiled the list here.

Not everything in life can be learned by doing.  Sometimes, a bit of reading can save you countless hours of making unnecessary mistakes.  There are some simple theories involved with photography, and it’s good to learn it, understand it, so well, that you can free yourself from thinking about it later.  Besides being creative, photography is a play of light, and light is physics.  Digital technologies are all electrical engineering related, and so knowing a little of the background of this craft would get you a long way.  I have intentionally left out any books that involve math, and these books are all written to be pretty easy to read.

So here’s the list:

For the absolute basics:

Kodak 35mm guide to photography – the best $0.99 you would spend on learning the basics.

Kodak’s “Guide to Better Pictures” - The free version of the same book online, effectively. Must read.

For Lighting:

Light, Science and MagicLight, Science and Magic – Light is physics, and this book teaches the fundamentals without using any math at all.  I don’t like recipe books, and by mastering the fundamentals, there would be nothing you cannot light.

Matter of Light and Depth – Beyond the physics, lighting master Lowel talks about layers, depth, and creating drama with light.  Not a recipe book, but a more thoughtful, fundamental based approach.

For Post Processing/Digital:

Lynda.com – In my opinion the most logically laid-out online video learning course for Photoshop. It is perfect for learning the fundamentals and specific tools, so you can free up your creativity. I like that many courses, even the advanced ones are not recipe based. Cheap, too.

Real World Camera Raw – Deals with the usage of RAW file and its advantages/disadvantages, and at the same time how to optimize your data.

Intro to Color Management by Dry Creek Photo – In my opinion the best introduction to color management, a topic that no serious photographer (and graphic designer) should ignore. Free.

A field guide to digital colors – For more technically savvy photographers with a lot more background and details in color management.  It is mostly written for layman by an engineer who has mathematical understanding of the theory behind it. It’s easy to read but it’s definitely not needed for amateurs.

Art and Fear by David BaylesPhotography “philosophy”:

Art and Fear - probably the single most important book any artist or aspiring artist must read for sanity.  Highly recommended.

On Photography – again an essential read.  A very thoughtful essay on the why of photography.

I will continue to update this as time goes by.  Hopefully this is helpful to some of you!

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