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They say your first 1,000 photographs are your worst; a sentiment meant to humble you, but one also meant to remind you to keep the mindset of a student. When it comes to the art of photography, there is always more to learn, more to see, and more to capture. Becoming a photographer, or even using photography as a mode of self-expression, requires commitment to your craft, commitment to a student's mindset, and, most importantly, work. You have to work to improve your skills, to experiment with new techniques and new ideas, and you have to keep yourself inspired and motivated along the way. That's why many photographers turn to books for a little know-how from time to time, and why they can help you find your way, too. The amazing photobooks that will inspire you to become a better photographer out there will give you a new lens onto what your craft entails, and how to pursue new angles to capture the world as you see it.
Annie Leibovitz at Work by Annie Leibovitz
Annie Leibovitz is an American photographer known for her portraits, which were always viewed as intimate and engaging no matter who it was taken of or what subject matter she was capturing within the photograph. In this book, Leibovitz reflects on everything she's learned about photography throughout her life. The tone is set around addressing young photographers, writing about a range of topics in order to encourage the beginner's growth and commitment to the art of photography. It's through her photography lessons that Leibovitz manages to create a personalized, historic account of those years of her life. What she saw, what was going on in the world, and how she used photography to react to those things all form a perspective for aspiring photographers to emulate. It is one of the few essential books every photographer must read.
The Negative by Ansel Adams
Ansel Adams was a famous professional photographer in the 1900s. He was known for his black and white landscape photography, and was known most notably for those that captured the Western US.
In this book, Adams discusses his concept of "The Zone System," which was a process he developed in order to figure out the optimal exposure settings for developing film photos. He also utilized something he called "Visualization," which was just his term for conceiving a photo in your mind before it could become something that can be shared and touched. The Negative is a classic manual on photography featuring those concepts, and as such, it's a priceless resource. It also boasts many of Adams' most famous photographs, and is a great coffee table book as well.
Within the Frame by David Duchemin
This book by David Duchemin provides you with the guidance you need to use your photography skills and tools in order to tell stories and capture your own vision of the world around you. Especially as a beginner, it can be difficult to see the image and subject matter that you want to capture in your mind, only to find that your technical skills are too lacking to manifest that into a tangible piece of art. David Duchemin provides his readers advice to help them navigate through that predicament, as well as all the emotions that come along with that process. He also provides readers a framework to help aspiring photographers get closer to manifesting their vision into a real, viewable photograph.
National Geographic Spectacle: Rare and Astonishing Photographs by National Geographic
Having National Geographic Spectacle: Rare and Astonishing Photographs as a resource will do as much for your photography as it will for your soul. These stunning photographs of natural landscapes, capturing all the beauty that the world has to offer, can serve as immense inspiration for any of your next projects. This is one of the best photography books for beginners to serve as a a reminder that there is inspiration and beauty all around us. We only have to approach the world with wonder, and open our eyes to see it. Hopefully, one day, those with a camera in their hands will be able to capture it with their shots, too!
Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs by Henry Carroll
If you're concerned that looking at the work of a professional photographer, and listening to their lessons, will seem a bit daunting to your early photographic ventures, then Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs will be a welcome addition to your home library. Carroll's book is more accessible than other titles, as he breaks down the major ideas and components that build a great photograph, while breaking down the complex photography jargon that can make the hobby seem difficult to start.
The Art of Photography: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression by Bruce Barnbaum
While The Negative by Ansel Adams is a great resource, The Art of Photography brings all of that same photography knowledge (and more) into a comprehensive textbook, which is written in a way that can be easily understood. This book is meant to be a resource as you begin your photographic journey since it not only supplies you with basic information you'll need to approach taking a photograph, but it also covers how to make the photos that you take your own. Not only does it provide you with advice to help you discover your photography style though, it covers both film and digital approaches so that you can be certain you'll be reading tips for the exact tools you already have. It was originally published in 1994, but because it is a classic, it has proved to remain relevant and useful since its first publication.
Vivian Maier: The Color Work by Colin Westerbeck
Vivian Maier was an American photographer in the second half of the 1900s; however, photography was only one of her hobbies during her life, and her photos weren't discovered until 2007. Upon discovery of her talent, it was clear that Maier's work deserved so much more attention, as she captured what urban life in that era was like. Unsurprisingly, she has become famous for her street photography in New York City.
This book is one of the most comprehensive collections of her color photographs to date. It can serve as immense inspiration to remind you that what you're doing with your camera is capturing what your subject looks like, and what it means to live in the world right now. You're capturing moments, people, landscapes; the whole of life at this point in time. If that's not inspiring, what else is?
Dorothea Lange: Politics of Seeing by Alona Pardo
Dorothea Lange became famous for being the only professional female photographer looking at the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression on the West Coast. This book collects her stunning photographs, which captures the realities of living in 1930s-era poverty; and as such, this collection of photographs develops a kind of argument through Lange's photos that seems to say, "You have to look at what's hard to see."
Lange was very aware of the subject matter she was capturing, and as such, she put in the effort to ensure that she would create engaging and evocative photos that would provoke a response from anyone who viewed them.
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
You cannot find a more contemporary example of inspiration than what you will find in Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton. Stanton's work started as a social media project on his Instagram account as he explored New York City and took photos of strangers that he chatted with. In their conversations, Stanton would ask these strangers hard questions, and take their picture as, or after, they answered them. His work has touched so many because, surprisingly, these random strangers would reveal their deepest struggles to Stanton (and all of his Instagram followers as a result of his work).
It's through these photos that Stanton captures the spirit of not only the place he's living, but the people living in that same space with him. This book of his photographs, and all the stories that come from them, can be a nice reminder that when you're taking anyone's photo, you're capturing them wherever they're at in their current story. As such, your image can, and will, reflect that. This book pays homage to the fact that photography is a form of art and storytelling, and that it should be approached with a kind of reverence; especially if you're taking portraits.
50 Paths to Creative Photography by Michael Freeman
In this book, Freeman has collected work from a series of great photographers, and he encourages the reader to explore each of these photographs with him to figure out what makes them so great. In keeping with this idea, he provides 50 different ways you can approach the process of taking a photograph. This can be an incredibly inspiring resource, as Freeman is encouraging you to think about photography in new ways. This is certain to help you make new and creative connections.
Photography as a Form of Art
In today’s world, in which social media is such a big part of our lives, it can seem funny to think of photography as a fine art. Lots of people start attempting photography as a hobby without realizing how much goes into snapping that perfectly composed, professional photo.
If you really want to improve your photography skills however, you’ll have to seriously consider all the aspects of a great photo, and you’ll have to think about how you’ll manipulate each aspect of it in your own work. You’ll have to think of the subject matter, the exposure, composition, shutter speed, color, ISO, and that’s not even including what to do if you're capturing a shot with a model. If this doesn’t prove that photography is a fine art, or that the amazing photobooks that will inspire you to become a better photographer are the key to mastering all these aspects of photo taking, then I don’t know what will.