30 Inspirational Books For Photographers

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I recently read Jonathan Canlas’ excellent FIND Biz Guide which deals with a range of topics to ultimately help you book more clients. One of the big takeaway points for me was his section on reading.

Dedicating time to study the photographic masters is the hustle activity I don’t see anyone else doing… Studying the masters means I never end up copying what I’ve seen at a wedding through someone else’s eyes because I’m not paying attention to the wedding industry’s images at all.

In photography, imitation is inevitable. Even if you’re not outright copying another photographer’s photo, everything you see becomes your inspiration, whether conscious or not.

[UPDATE: Check out this more recent list of the best books on photography. If your budget can’t stretch to investing in some new books, I’ve also done a post on free photography books too.]

The point that Jonathan is making above resonated with me, since there is an awful lot of similarity in the wedding photography industry. Obviously, if something looks good, it’s only natural that others will want to emulate it, and in an industry where there is a lot of competition, it’s only natural that people want to imitate those who are successful.

This has meant a huge growth in popularity of wedding photography featuring ‘film-look’ presets with their fake grain and unsaturated colours, often combined with a few tilt-shift portraits for good measure. What was once a fairly niche style in the wedding industry has become more and more prevalent due to the ease of imitation.

I must admit that I too was initially drawn in by this ‘trend’, often looking at other photographers’ work for guidance and inspiration, particularly when I was just starting out in the industry. Nowadays however, I am trying to follow Jonathan’s words more and more and limit my viewing to the ‘masters’, or at least to inspirational books that have nothing to do with the industry in which I shoot.

It was with this in mind that I decided to reach out to a handful of popular photographers to ask them what were their most inspirational books, photography related or otherwise. It was interesting to see a couple of titles popping up multiple times, as well as the sheer range in topics that these photographers considered helpful in both providing motivation and expanding their creative minds.

In no particular order, here are the books that were recommended as the 30 most inspirational books for photographers.

If you have any other recommendations for books that provide creative inspiration, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

As recommended by Nordica:

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
The Brand Gap – Marty Neumeier
Rework – Jason Fried & David Heinemeier Hansson
Trust Me I’m Lying – Ryan Holiday
Art of War – Sun Tzu

As recommended by Ross Harvey:

The Suffering of Light – Alex Webb
The Photographer’s Eye – Michael Freeman
Evolve Your Brain – Dr. Joe Dispenza

As recommended by Vittore Buzzi:

Early Color – Saul Leiter
American Color – Costantine Manos
On Photography – Susan Sontag

As recommended by Nirav Patel:

The Suffering of Light – Alex Webb

As recommended by Dixie Dixon:

The Photographer’s Survival Guide: How to Build and Grow a Successful Business – Amanda Sosa Stone & Suzanne Sease |
How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie
Annie Leibovitz at Work – Annie Leibovitz
It’s Not How Good You Are, Its How Good You Want to Be: The World’s Best Selling Book – Paul Arden

As recommended by Ryan Brenizer:

“I had actually had already been a professional photographer for years before I read a single book or took any sort of class. My initial education came in newsrooms from hold-overs from the “good ol'” pre-digital days of hard news and hard liquor in the desk drawer. These were guys absolutely unafraid to swear at you if they didn’t like what you were turning out, or ask how much you were drinking if you swerved too much into Dutch angle territory. But I am a voracious reader in general, and many pieces have inspired me along the way.

Although not a photography book, Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell is popular with creatives of all types and for good reason — we get into creative fields because we want to stand out from the pack. Everyone focuses on the idea that you have to work for 10,000 hours to become an expert in anything, and that in part is why I keep a shooting schedule about twice as heavy as average in my field. But the main thesis is that true outliers were people who were handed tremendous advantages in life and who capitalized on those advantages as much as they could. It forces us to ask what our greatest advantages are and how well we are using them. Probably the only smart thing I did in the early years of my career was that whenever a door opened for me, I took a running jump through it.

I know that not everyone is a fan of wedding photography as an art form, which is fine — in the end it’s really only for the clients and their families, but there is a lot that artists from differing fields can teach each other. That’s why the next two books are from photographers primarily known in fields that I don’t have much interest in.

Gregory Heisler just looks like a genius, and 50 Portraits – Gregory Heisler shows that the Ivy League Professor look tells know lies. I love the portraiture aspect of celebrity portraiture, but the celebrity part usually leaves me cold. The greatest geniuses in the portraiture field unfortunately work so often with the greatest geniuses of self-promotion, giving the camera only what they want to give. But Heisler is such a fantastic experimenter that it’s fascinating to see how his mind works, and how his vision and incredible preparation allows him to work in extremely challenging schedules to produce exactly what he wants.

Alex Webb is primarily revered in street photography, and photographers can (and do) debate endlessly about whether his is the best style for documentary photography in war-torn areas. But The Suffering of Light – Alex Webb is genius through and through, the pinnacle of compositional work. Even the imperfections are perfect, and this exctitude shows sweat and forethought in every moment, as well as phenomenal skill at editing and culling the work of three decades into an astounding collection.”

As recommended by Ben Sasso:

“The only book that I feel strongly about enough to recommend is How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie. It has been amazing for working with people both on the business side and when directing people on set.”

As recommended by David Bicho:

“Christopher Grey is one of few authors that write about lighting in a really useful way, and I recommend everything he publish. Here is one example: Advanced Lighting Techniques – Christopher Grey.

A “must have” if you are into understanding light. Less inspirational, but packed with important knowledge: Light – Science & Magic – Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul Fuqua

As recommended by Dave Hill:

Annie Leibovitz at Work – Annie Leibovitz
Uncommon Places – Steven Shore

As recommended by Robert J Hill:

Untitled – Blaine Hogan
Fast Track – Dane Sanders
War of Art – Steven Pressfield
Guerilla Marketing – Jay Conrad Velinson

As recommended by Jonathan Canlas:

In the American West – Richard Avedon  If you don’t own this, I’m not sure we can be friends.
Uncommon Places – Steven Shore I love this guy, and my work shows it.
Street Photographer – Vivian Maier  This came out recently, but it’s essential.
A Couple of Ways of Doing Something – Chuck Close This guy has influenced me more than anyone would guess.
The Daybooks of Edward Weston Two Volumes in One – Edward Weston He may not be much of a family man, but his passion for photography shines.
Some Photos – Aaron Ruell Lessons in composition and color theory.

(- excerpt taken from the excellent FIND Biz Guide by Jonathan Canlas. )

Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post contain affiliate links which help support Shotkit.

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  1. Giles Farrington on May 2, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    Would like to of seen ‘One Minds Eye’ by Arnold Newman considered to be the father of environmental portraiture. I’m sure it beats some of the books on the list even though it is over 40 years old.

    • Mark on May 3, 2016 at 3:37 am

      Thanks for the tip, Giles – I’ll look into this one for sure.

  2. Roberto on February 1, 2016 at 5:51 am

    Ansel Adams’ instructional book series (“The Camera”, “The Negative” and “The Print”) is a great opportunity to learn technique from a true master and great inspiration as well.

  3. Photler on January 15, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    The best part is when you close the book and start creating!

    • Mark on January 16, 2016 at 1:56 pm

      Using everything you learned! Well said Photler!

  4. Bob Zamudio on May 5, 2015 at 4:37 am

    AWESOME LIST! I am actually the owner of a lot of books on this list, and bought them even before I became a Photographer… they are generally awesome books

    • Mark on May 5, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      That’s good to know Bob! I’m planning on doing another of these book posts soon actually :-)

  5. Riz Crescini on June 29, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Great list! Time to stock up for my summer reading.

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