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10 of the Best Books for Professional Photographers

There's nothing that can enhance your creativity like some highly regarded books for professional photographers.

The creative field of photography is one that juxtaposes itself, in a sense. While there have been plenty of advancements in technique and technology, the goal still remains the same—capture a beautiful moment in still time.

While the idea seems crude at its core, it's far from it. In fact, it's one of the more extensively studied forms of art there is. That's why there is a seemingly endless amount of books for professional photographers out there. But which ones are the best ones for those trying to better themselves and their careers?

Well, as someone who considers themselves a professional—I've been freelancing for the last few years—I've read a few different resource materials to help me perfect my craft. Let's go through some, and you can be the judge yourself.

A History of Photography by David Wooters

The first book that helped my career immensely was A History of Photography. This may sound like a given, but this was the book that I read in college which sparked my interested in the intricacies of the art and technology that goes into creating excellent photography. This book covers everything—analogue, digital, different types of photography like macro, portrait, travel photography, and so much more.

If it wasn't for my first photography professor insisting that we study the rich history of still imaging in this book, I may not have been brave enough to declare myself a photography major. While any creative field can be a bit risky, learning about the long history of photography gave me comfort that it's a craft that's here to stay, so long as you work hard at it.

Humans of New York—Stories by Brandon Stanton

For a more contemporary photography book, look no further than Humans of New York—Stories by Brandon Stanton. If you're unfamiliar with Humans of New York, in general, it's a page on Facebook (and Instagram) that captures photos of everyday people, throughout every day walks of life, in the bustling city of New York. Along with each photo is a small, yet powerful quote from said person. This book is essentially an extension of the popular internet endeavor, and it's certainly one of the better modern books on photography out there.

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

In contrast to the aforementioned books on this list, Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure is more of an educational tool than it is a gallery of art. The acclaimed book has sold over 350,000 copies to both casual and professional photographers alike. The latest edition includes over 100 new images and a brand new chapter, making it both an in-depth read and aesthetically pleasing resource guide for all great photographers. 

There's always fuel being added to the fire waging between Canon and Nikon users, but this book has information that can be applied to almost any photographer's camera.

The Photographer's Eye by Michael Freeman

Perhaps the most important aspect of photography is the design, or eye of the photographer. You can have all of the fanciest equipment and resources, but you don't have an eye for the craft, you're not going to be a very adept picture taker. Composition is vital in every shot.

If you don't have a natural eye, however, Michael Freeman's The Photographer's Eye will help you acquire one. With a bunch of easy tips on how to see and shoot digital photographs, there's no doubt the quality of your work will improve exponentially after sifting through this book. After all, digital cameras are becoming the norm more and more with each passing year.

Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs

There is really no doubt, at least throughout my experiences, that the best way to learn photography is simply looking at great photos. If you live by that sentiment, then there is no better photography book than Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs, a book that has largely withstood the test of time since its initial release. The book spans five time periods—from 1916 all the way until the 1960s—and gives readers a comprehensive guide to some of the most famous Ansel Adams photos ever captured.

National Geographic the Photo Ark: One Man's Quest to Document the World's Animals by Joel Sartore

There's no doubt that National Geographic is a household name, even a world-class purveyor of nature photography, but with the prevalence of paper magazines rapidly waning, the once-proud magazine has seen its fanbase dwindle. However, for hardcore fans, getting a book like National Geographic The Photo Ark, could serve as a nod to the good old days. And for photographers with a specific interest in nature and wildlife, this is definitely a slam dunk purchase. Plus, this book is a whole lot more durable than a simple magazine.

Digital Photography Boxed Set, Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 by Scott Kelby

Everyone needs a digital photography book in their collection. While some of the older photography books might be, admittedly, a bit dated—especially when you factor in the shift to digital photography—it is still enlightening to learn some of the history of the art form. 

However, for those looking for a more modernized guide to photography, Scott Kelby's The Digital Photography boxed set is a great place to start. With plenty of interesting source material for new-age photographers, Digital Photography certainly serves an adept step by step guide to those just breaking into the field. It's also one of the best gifts for your favorite photographer friend, so if you're in the market for an impressive gift, look no further than this expansive collection.

Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual by Henry Horenstein

History buffs and old souls rejoice—there is, in fact, a book out there that solely revolves around classic black and white photography. The third edition of Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual can serve as a comprehensive manual of sorts for new photographers—it provides plenty of black and white photography tips and tricks. 

I'd even go as far to say it can supplement taking an entry-level photography course. When it comes to actual teaching and learning, this book is among the best. It also makes for a pretty good coffee table book, but that is a whole different discussion.

Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography by Roland Barthes

Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida is one of the more acclaimed photography books over the last several decades. First published back in 1979 (what a year!), the book focuses on the work of famous photographers such as Nadar, Mapplethorpe, and Clifford. The book starts out as a bit of a slow read, but begins to pick up once Barthes gets into the deeper issues entrenched in photography.

The Nature of Photographs: A Primer by Stephen Shore

My last entry, The Nature of Photographs: A Primer by Stephen Shore, is a must-have for any aspiring photographer. Shore is one of the only artists to have a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, making him more than qualified to give photographers some in-depth life lessons. The book focuses, primarily, on "the physical and formal attributes of a photographic print," while also helping readers decipher the true underlying beauty of photography. 

It is, without a doubt, one of the best books for professional photographers, and a mainstay on my own bookshelf. If you're tired of looking like an amateur photographer, you should definitely get your hands on one of, if not all of these books.

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