This list of the best photography books for beginners will help you learn and improve your skills.
They’re also a great way to complement your studies if you attend a photo school.
Often young photographers don’t consider photography books because there are so many resources online.
However, there’s still great value in them.
Some of the most famous and talented photographers shared their knowledge and work in these books.
It’s not uncommon to find more of their images in a book than whatever they share online.
Easy to understand book for beginners to learn how to take better photos in less time.
Also, they often dig deeper into the theory and concepts in a book than they do in a video tutorial. This doesn’t mean that online resources aren’t helpful.
They cover different aspects of learning, and they teach you in different ways. They complement each other.
If you’ve ever thought – how can I teach myself photography? Then the books in this list can be beneficial.
Some of these photography books are scholarly, and others have a more lively style or a Q&A format. We all learn in different ways, so you can look for something that better fits you.
I also included books covering many aspects of learning photography, from camera basics to retouching to forming a business.
If you want to start your photography journey but don’t know where to begin, you’re in the right place.
Table of Contents
What Should a Beginner Photographer Learn?
Every teacher has their method, and every student has different needs. However, there are some things that every beginner photographer should learn.
You need to know how to use your camera. This way, you’ll learn to measure the light and control all the settings. Getting the correct exposure is just the first step. Then, you’ll learn how to use those settings to achieve your desired results.
You’ll also need to learn about light. Remember that the camera uses light to create your images. So, you need to understand how it works. Then, learn how to control and modify it.
It’s also essential to learn how to process your images. In digital photography, this is done with editing software. In film photography, it’s done in the darkroom.
Either way, it’s an integral part of the process, and you must learn how to do it.
Lastly, I recommend that you learn how to communicate with your images. This involves finding a photographic genre that interests you, developing a creative style, and executing it.
You can learn all these aspects through photography books. I tried to include options targeting all these steps in this list.
If you plan to make a living from photography, you must also learn how to create and grow your business. You’ll find a few books on this topic here on the list as well.
- Related: What is the best coffee table book on photography?
15 Best Free Books for Beginners in 2023
You don’t need to start your photography training by spending lots of money. There are many free resources online that can get you started.
Here, I made a list of the best 15 free books for beginners, but you should check out Shotkit’s comprehensive collection of free photography books.
Most photographers start by capturing images using natural light. This free e-book helps you to take great photos using different types of natural light. Anne McKinnell discusses how to shoot at different times of the day, with different light quality and directionality.
This is a 50-page photo book that tells you about 20 steps you can take to improve your images. The primary purpose is to help you focus and offer a clear direction to your photography education.
It’s not about buying new gear – it’s about applying yourself.
Many photographers struggle to capture sharp images. One of the issues why this is so difficult is the multiple things that could cause this problem f from low light to improper focus.
This 20-pages photography book covers all the possible reasons why your images aren’t sharp enough. It tells you how to prevent this from happening again and possible solutions for the images you already have.
A successful photograph is the result of hard work and good planning. To capture images that inspire, you need to do the legwork. In this free e-book, Anne McKinnell shows you the process of creating professional-looking photos, starting way before the shot and finishing long after.
This book accompanies a 4-week online photo course. You can download the pdf for free even if you’re not enrolled in the course.
Since it contains only the course notes, it doesn’t go very deep but explains some key concepts like color temperature. You can consider taking the course if you find it interesting and like Nigel Hicks writing.
Darwinn Wiggett is a talented landscape photographer. In this photography book, he shares real-life examples of bad weather conditions and how to make the most of them.
In this book, Robert Rodriguez Jr shares an insight into his personal approach to landscape photography. The content is based on his Beyond the Lens blog.
While he shares the behind-the-scenes of his images, he also encourages the reader to focus on their motivation, passion, and vision.
In this book, you’ll find all the photography basics you need to start shooting. While it doesn’t explore each topic in depth, it goes through many technical aspects, from camera settings to composition.
9. Lighting 101
David Hobby gives invaluable tips for using artificial light in this book. From the basic gear to the technical aspects of using flash as your only light or balancing it with environmental light.
This photography book helps you to give the first steps in the vast world of lighting for photography and video. It covers natural light, flashes, and continuous lighting. If you enjoy the style, there are many other online resources at the UNSW.
This photography book gives you useful tips for getting off the automatic and shooting in manual mode. Keep in mind that this is the first step to taking control and making the images you want to do.
This e-book is dedicated to digital photography with DSLR cameras. Some chapters are helpful for other types of cameras, such as the ones dedicated to exposure. However, there’s much about the best cameras and lenses, which is applicable only if you’re a DSLR photographer.
Digital photographers need to learn about editing. Adobe Photoshop is the industry standard for photo editing and retouching. This is one of the best photography books for beginners. You’ll find for free to take your first steps into the subject.
In this photography book, Melanie Heinrich shares all the basics you need to work in the studio.
As you know, National Geographic photographers are famous in the photography industry for creating stunning images of nature, wildlife, and travel. This free photography book will give you useful tips about gear, composition, and technique.
50 Best Photography Books for Beginners in 2023
Even experienced photographers use books to find inspiration, stay updated, or learn new photography skills. This is even more important for beginners.
While free photography books are a great way to start, sometimes it is necessary for new photographers to invest in their education.
That’s why I’ve made this list of the best photography books for beginners, so you know which ones would give you the best value for your money.
Remember that using paid books doesn’t necessarily mean you must spend a lot of money. You can look in public or university libraries to see if you can loan them. Also, consider buying them second-hand if you don’t have a big budget.
Annie Leibovitz is one of the best portrait photographers. If you’re interested in this photographic genre as an art form, this is one of the best books you can get.
Here you can see how her work developed over the years. You’ll find some of her most famous and never before published images in this collection.
Ansel Adams is one of the most famous landscape photographers in history. He also developed the zone system and studied the black-and-white photography technique to perfection.
If you’re interested in film photography, Ansel Adams’s trilogy of books is a must-read. Composed of The Camera, The Negative, and The Print, you’ll get all the technical knowledge to achieve incredible images.
If you prefer digital photography, you can still learn from his great images how to approach landscape as fine art photography.
This is one of the best photography books for beginners who want to make a living out of this craft. You won’t find any advice on how to take great photos.
Instead, it’s all about pricing, negotiating with clients, getting insurance, and everything you need to make a career in photography.
John Harrington is aware that it’s not only the cameras and technique that evolve, but the photography business is constantly changing too. That’s why he did this reviewed and updated version of his book Best Business Practices.
Even if it was published in 2010, this is still one of the best photography books for beginners. Here you can find all the tools to learn photography.
You’ll also find many photo assignments to put theory into practice and start taking great photographs.
Beyond the basic tools, it also teaches you some creative, more advanced techniques, such as capturing fireworks, using HDR, etc.
Henry Horenstein is a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. Thanks to his teaching experience, he gives clear explanations and how-to guides in this book. In fact, it’s used as a manual in many schools and universities, including Harvard, Yale, and MIT.
21. Capture Your Style. Transform Your Instagram Photos, Showcase Your Life, and Build the Ultimate Platform
If you want to build your brand on Instagram, this photography book can be very helpful. Here, you can learn how to prop and style fashion and food photography. Also, how to edit your images and use them to ‘craft your voice and story’ on Instagram.
This book is perfect if you want to learn how to create stunning digital photography.
You’ll find the ninth revision currently on sale, so you can be sure that the information is updated. It includes everything from mastering your camera, lighting, post-processing, etc.
If you want to get a glance before you buy it, you can download the chapter on composition completely free on their website.
In this great digital photography book, you’ll find everything you need to plan, shoot, and edit your night landscape images.
The book is also packed with great photographs with all the information on when, where, and how they were taken.
Bryan Peterson – Amphoto Books
This is one of the best photography books for beginners who want to learn creative and complex exposures. In this book, you can learn everything from exposing high-contrast scenes to paint with shutter speed.
This book aims to help you stimulate your artistic expression in everyday situations. If you keep thinking that you can’t take great photographs because you can’t travel to an exotic location, this book is for you.
Joe McNally – LIFE
Joe McNally was a LIFE magazine photo editor and photographer. In this book, he teaches beginner photographers how to make the best out of their digital cameras.
He also aims to show you that sometimes it is good to “outthink your camera or push your camera to go for the gold.”
If you want to learn how to improve your smartphone photography and build a profitable Instagram account, you should check out this book.
You’ll learn how to shoot ad edit photographs for Instagram, find your storytelling voice, and grow your followers.
Henry Cartier Bresson is one of the most famous photographers in history. There’s much that you can learn from his images and method.
If you can afford it, go for The Decisive Moment – one of the most groundbreaking photography books you can find.
Since having this type of budget is difficult, look for Henry Cartier Bresson by Clement Cheroux. This will give you a nice introduction to his life and work.
If you think photography books aren’t enough, you’ll love this one. Your purchase also gives you access to 20 hours of online video training and entrance to a private classroom-style Facebook group.
You’ll also get continuous updates of the book and video for free. This digital photography book covers beginner and advanced techniques and proposes exercises for practicing what you learned.
If you’re interested in photographing food, you’ll love this book. Beata Lubas explains in an easy and approachable everything you need to know. You’ll find information about gear, lighting, and post-processing your images like a pro.
This book mixes scholarly and practical information that’s continuously updated to keep its place as one of the best photography books for beginners.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know for digital and film photography. It will take you from the preparation to the realization to the post-production – both digital or in the darkroom. You’ll also learn how to finish and present your work.
This is one of the best photography books if you want to become a professional photographer. David Molnar helps you to identify your vision and execute it. Then, it explains how to create a photography business and start earning from your passion.
Light is the raw material you need to make photographs. As such, you need to understand how it works and how to use it. To do it, this is one of the best photography books you can find.
Light – Science & Magic is a must-have in every photographer’s library. The latest edition is updated with all the flash, fluorescent, and LED light advances.
If you’ve read your camera manual and you’ve learned all about how to use it, Syl Arena teaches you how to use light.
This book teaches you how to influence and modify light to help you translate your artistic expression in your photographs.
If you want to take control of your camera, this photo book will help you do it in just a few hours. Al Judge teaches you how to use aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to expose your photographs properly.
If you’re interested in going ‘old school,’ this is one of the best photography books for beginners from the digital age.
It starts with a crash course about film photography and choosing your camera. Then, you’ll learn how to expose, use filters, use a flash without TTL, and more.
This is another must-have of the photography books. Learning to use natural light and flash photography is key to achieving professional-looking images.
This book teaches you how to choose and create the right light. Then, it dedicates a chapter to different genres, from portrait photography to interiors to cars. It also includes lighting tips from commercial photographers.
Histograms are an essential tool in digital photography, which every beginner photographer needs to know. This book teaches you about all the types of histograms, how they relate to Ansel Adams’ zone system, and how to use them to improve your images.
If you’re interested in doing portraits that communicate with the viewer and say something about the subject, you need this book.
The authors explain everything you need to know, from choosing the equipment, the lighting, and the posing for a dynamic and exciting portrait.
In the book The National Geographic Image Collection, you’ll find the most famous examples of nature, wildlife, and travel photography.
Starting with the first images collected in the 19th century, you’ll journey all the way to the current days with a behind the scene profile of the collection.
From gear to post-production, this book tells you everything you need to know to do night sky photography. It’s not a book for all beginners, but if you’re a beginner landscape photographer looking to shoot at night, this book may interest you.
Michael Freeman is one of the most prolific and recognized authors of photo books. In this volume, he talks all about composition.
By the way, all the books from the series Michael Freeman On… are great for any beginner photographer.
Joel Sartore & Heather Perry – National Geographic
The great thing about this book is that it’s useful for any photography enthusiast. It doesn’t matter what type of camera you have – you may even be taking photos with your phone. Still, this book will give you valuable tips from framing to archiving your images.
This book aims to take you out of auto mode to take the photos you want. If you’ve ever seen your pictures and felt disappointed because they look nothing like they did in your mind, then this is the perfect book for you.
If you don’t like the scholarly approach of reading a photography book from cover to cover, this is the one for you. You can read a rule per day in random order or devour the book in a day – your choice.
Whichever way you choose, you’ll find it helpful and inspirational, with tips and tricks covering all photography aspects.
Zack Arias chose over 100 hundred questions received from the public and answered them clearly and honestly in this photography book.
The topics range from photographic practice to career advice. This book is easy to read and full of helpful and practical information.
This is one of the best photography books you can get if you believe – like the author – that the best way to learn photography is by doing it.
Here, you’ll find a series of challenges and how to solve them. The book is divided into location, posing, and execution. Each contains chapters that will help you handle everyday situations and make the best of them.
If you don’t like technical and scholarly photography books, you’ll love this one. Instead of using complicated terms or graphs, it uses “iconic images and playful copy.” This way, you can learn with an easy and hands-on approach.
In the same style as Read This if You Want to Take Good Photographs, you can continue with the series to specialize in your preferred genre. Whether you like photographing people or places, these photo books will help you improve your images.
50. Shooting film
Not all photography books about shooting film are old – this one was released last year. Thanks to this, you’ll find an updated guide to buying second-hand cameras and images from a new wave of film photographers to inspire you.
You’ll also learn beginner and advanced shooting techniques and analog processes.
51. Shooting in Sh*tty Light. The Top Ten Worst Photography Lighting Situations and How to Conquer Them
This is one of the best photography books for beginners because it deals with everyone’s worst fear – sh*tty lighting.
You’ll often find yourself doing a photo shoot in less-than-ideal situations – what can you do? Well, that’s the answer that you’ll find in this book. The authors present you with the ten worst situations and help you to overcome them.
Joe McNally – New Riders Publisher
If you’re a beginner photographer starting to use artificial light, this is one of the best photography guides. Joe McNally explains how to use, shape, and modify flash lighting. It covers everything from the Nikon Speedlights to big flashes.
Nick Fancher – Peachpit
This is one of the best photography books for beginners because it’s dedicated to people with minimal equipment and shooting in a garage or some other unconventional location.
Here, the author talks about how to make the most out of what you have so you can make portfolio-ready images.
While this book does cover some technical aspects, it aims to go beyond. Bruce Barnbaum goes into the philosophical and creative part of photography as one of the visual arts. It helps you to find a personal approach to the medium.
The second edition is updated and revised, but if your budget is limited, you can buy find the original version, which is one of the most famous photo books on the subject.
James Abbott – Illex Press
Adobe Photoshop and Affinity Photo are two of the most popular editing programs in the business. This book teaches you the essentials with step-by-step tutorials. It also explains the tools and how to make the best of raw images.
Whether you used to shoot film and want to pick it up again, or you’ve never done it before, this book is the perfect resource.
With a revised third edition just released as an e-book and soon to be released in print, you’ll have the most updated information to start shooting film.
57. The Flash Book: How to Fall Hopelessly in Love with Your Flash and Finally Start Taking the Types of Images you Bought it for in the First Place
I think this book’s subtitle says it all. Most photographers own a flash, even a basic one. However, very few of them know how to make the best of it.
In general, it’s used as a last resource for low-light situations. This book can help you to fall in love with your flash.
This photo book is as beautiful as it is helpful. Here you can learn from Joe McNally’s experiences while enjoying quality reproductions of his images.
Each teaching has a concept or a technique you’ll learn, followed by an image that exemplifies it, and ends with a behind-the-scenes story on how he got the photo.
The Photographer’s Eye Remastered is the revised version of the classic book by the same name released to celebrate its 10th anniversary.
In the Photographer’s Eye, original and remastered, Michael Freeman teaches you to see the graphic elements in the pictures and how to compose them for the best results.
Aerial photography has never been as accessible as it’s now with the commercialization of drones. If you’re a beginner photographer looking to do drone photography, this is one of the best books you can get.
Whichever drone you have, you can use this book to learn about safety and regulations, how to shoot videos and photos, composition rules, and more.
If you’re a beginner portrait photographer, I don’t need to tell you how hard it is to pose your models. In this book, Lindsay Adler put together a guide to help in any situation.
First, she discusses the many things that impact how the person looks in a photo – from focal length to camera angle. Then, she moves on to some posing essentials.
Lastly, she gives you some go-to poses for specific subjects, from single to couples to groups.
This is one of those photography books that help you find your own vision. Beyond the photographic technique, learning how to make photos that communicate and move the viewer is important. This is what the 5-step course of Finn Beales aims to teach you.
If you’re into street photography, this is one of the best photography books you can get. Here you’ll find some of the best photographers in history and their work to inspire you.
You’ll also learn some practical techniques for street photography, such as “how to shoot a face in a crowd.”
This book is a compilation of 60 lessons which include a concept and an assignment on each one. The idea is not just that you learn to use your camera but that you improve the photographs that you take with it.
If you’ve already learned all the basics but feel that it didn’t make you a better photographer, check out this book.
This book explains everything you need to know about exposure and light. It also covers filters and flash for more advanced photographers.
This is the latest revised version, so you can be sure that all the information is current. If you want to read an excerpt before buying, visit the Penguin Random House website.
Can I learn photography on my own?
Absolutely. Many famous or successful professionals are self-taught photographers. This doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from others. You can use many resources, such as books, video tutorials, and podcasts. Of course, there’s great value in attending a photo school.
Are books a good way to learn photography?
Yes, books are a great way to learn. This doesn’t mean that it’s the only way, though. You can complement your reading with online tutorials or by attending workshops. Please remember that any resources you use need to be put into practice. The best way to learn is by doing.
Is it worth buying photography books?
Yes, books are always an excellent investment. Free books are a good starting point, but they don’t usually cover advanced techniques or go deep into them. If you can afford them, get some paid books. If you don’t have the budget or the space to keep them, look for them at your library.
Which books are the best to start learning photography?
The best photography book might be different for each person. It depends on your interest, your current level, and the way you learn. I recommend you start with a book that teaches general techniques, from exposure to composition. Then, move on to a book that talks about light. Once you have these technical aspects nailed, find books that help you to find your creative style and develop your vision.
As you can see from the wide variety of books, there’s much more to photography than just learning how to use your camera.
This is especially so if you plan to build a business with your photography. Fortunately, many established and famous photographers have shared their experience and knowledge in these books.
Check out this guide if you want to find more free resources to grow as a photographer. The Shotkit team makes sure that it’s constantly updated, so keep coming back to it to see the newest releases.
I hope this list of the best photography books for beginners is helpful. If we missed one you love, let us know in the comments.