Looking for a stocking-stuffer for the photographer in your life? We interviewed these fifteen pro photographers to uncover their favorite inspirational reads in their personal libraries.
With the holidays fast approaching, we reached out to fourteen talented photographers from the Shutterstock collection and asked them to recommend some of their favorite books. With contributors from all over the world and with all different backgrounds, this reading guide has a little bit of everything, whether you’re looking for something breezy and light or thought-provoking and academic.
Here, you’ll find classics, best-sellers, and some unexpected diamonds in the rough. While some photographers suggested biographies and monographs for inspiration, others gave us tried-and-true how-tos to help kickstart your creative process. It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting or have decades of experience under your belt. These books will motivate you to get out there and start clicking in the New Year.
Image by Paul Aiken
“There is one book that has made a difference to my photography, and that is The Moment It Clicks,” the Dubai-based photographer Paul Aiken writes. Join the world-renowned photographer and educator Joe McNally as he shares nuggets of wisdom gathered from years of experience, all illustrated with stunning images. See how a master puts technique into practice, and go behind-the-scenes with stories from some of his most memorable adventures. “Joe is the master of creating light, and his teaching introduced me to lighting,” Aiken tells us.
2. Large Format Nature Photography by Jack Dykinga
Image by Michele Vacchiano
In this book, Pulitzer Prize winner Jack Dykinga takes us on a journey to some of the most extraordinary and hard-to-reach locations on earth, providing practical tips every step of the way. “This is a book that changed my life,” the Turin-based photographer Michele Vacchiano says. “When I worked in large format—and taught Large Format to Italian photographers—I was fascinated by those landscapes, so I made two trips to the Western United States to breathe in those atmospheres.”
3. Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It: Learn Step by Step How to Go from Empty Studio to Finished Image by Scott Kelby
Image by solepsizm
From the wildly popular photographer and author Scott Kelby comes this how-to book for fantastic portraits. With detailed info on everything from lighting gear to editing software, Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It walks emerging and established photographers through nearly every facet of creating a successful image.
“Once, I decided to learn studio photography and took Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It on a ten-hour flight from Moscow to New York,” Shutterstock contributor Serg Makarov (solepsizm) tells us. “After reading the book, I arrived at JFK as ‘a new me.’ I was ready for a change, and I opened a photo studio in Long Island City. Before this book, I knew nothing about studio shooting. Studio photography for me is like alchemy—I look for books with recipes and try different ingredients to get a high-quality result.”
4. Take Your Photography to the Next Level: From Inspiration to Image by George Barr
Image by Dario Lo Presti
“I have read quite a few photography books, but if I had to choose the one that has most influenced me, I’d pick George Barr’s Take Your Photography to the Next Level: From Inspiration to Image,” the Italian photographer Dario Lo Presti says. “This book is all about composition (leading lines, negative space, etc.) and developing what’s commonly known as the ‘Photographer’s Eye.’ That, in my opinion, is the best set of skills to develop when taking your first steps as a photographer.” In this no-nonsense book, Barr takes a holistic approach to photography, tackling topics ranging from the theoretical to the practical.
5. Creative52: Weekly Projects to Invigorate Your Photography Portfolio by Lindsay Adler
Image by Natalia Ruedisueli
Geared towards photographers working across fields like portraits, weddings, fashion, and more, this fun and unexpected book will push you out of your comfort zone while improving your portfolio. With one project per week, Adler whets your creative appetite and gives you hands-on insight into achieving your goals.
“Creative52 gives you exactly what it promises,” the Swiss-based photographer Natalia Ruedisueli says. “It pushes your creativity to the moon. It provides you with tons of ideas and motivates you to try them or even to generate your own. It is a great book filled with knowledge, ideas, inspiration, and endless creativity.”
6. Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape by Galen Rowell
Image by Adonis Villanueva
“I picked up a copy of Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape around the time when DSLRs were still in their infancy,” the photographer Adonis Villanueva tells us. “Galen’s technique and philosophical approach to photography have deeply influenced my style.”
From one of the most influential nature photographers of the 20th century comes this authoritative volume on outdoor shooting. Along the way, he shares personal stories and reflections to help inform your own approach.
“The book details techniques for film photography that can easily be achieved with digital techniques today but back then were quite difficult to achieve,” Villanueva continues. “I learned a lot from the book when I was shooting with 4×5 Slide Film, and I still apply the same techniques today, even if I’ve switched to digital photography.”
7. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye by Rudolf Arnheim
Image by 3000ad
“This is not a photography book per se, yet it has everything to do with the craft as part of a larger group of visual arts,” Daniela Mangiuca of the two-person photography and illustration team 3000ad says. “It is an easy read, with clear explanations and examples to help you understand not only the fundamentals but also the way our brains are wired to interpret what we see.”
In this classic book, first published in 1954, the pioneering author Rudolf Arnheim applies his training as a perceptual psychologist to his practice as an art theorist. In this one-of-a-kind lesson in art history, he unpacks the nuances of the human brain and reveals the secrets of how we consume visual information.
“This book changed my perspective from subjective to objective when creating and appreciating visual art,” Mangiuca adds. “I now understand better why I like an image or not, and this, in turn, helps with my own projects, mainly in the editing phase. It is also my personal reference for pitching projects, and in several cases, it has helped me make my case while discussing a project with my clients.”
8. 日本の絶景 by MDN Books
Image by Yusheng Hsu
The landscapes of Japan have inspired artists for generations. In this book, you’ll see the country through the eyes of more than 30 photographers working in remote natural settings and bustling cities alike. “I love Japanese scenery,” Shutterstock photographer Yusheng Hsu tells us. “I learned a lot of my shooting skills by reading and studying these photos, and this book gave me a lot of new inspiration and goals.”
From famous destinations to secret spots discovered by the photographers themselves, the places in this book—whose title can be very roughly translated to “Beautiful Views of Japan”— offer a fresh and unexpected look at a classic subject.
9. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
Image by Guryanov Andrey
This recommendation comes to us from Shutterstock contributor Guryanov Andrey. If you’ve ever been stuck in a creative rut, this New York Times Bestseller is for you. Jam-packed with unexpected advice and practical exercises for artists, Steal Like an Artist is an inspirational book for a digital world. Kleon encourages readers to build their knowledge base and find their own voices, taking the anxiety out of making work and injecting a healthy dose of fun.
10. Ansel Adams: An Autobiography by Ansel Adams and Mary Street Alinder
Image by Doug Lemke
“For me, it was a genre of books that launched me into an obsession with landscape photography,” Doug Lemke says. “Perusing these books provided knowledge, but more importantly for me, inspiration.” Both he and fellow photographer Michael Chatt recommend books by Ansel Adams as a potential starting point.
Image by Michael Chatt
In his autobiography, Adams looks back on decades of adventures in the great outdoors, giving us insight into one of the most influential minds in American history. As a passionate conservationist, Adams helped preserve the landscape of the United States, and his life’s work stands as a testament to both the beauty of nature and the persistence of humankind.
11. Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera by Bryan Peterson
Image by Stephen Moehle
Bryan Peterson’s definitive book on the “exposure triangle” teaches readers how to make technically perfect images under almost any conditions.
“Once I read this book, my skills with the camera took off,” the landscape and wildlife photographer Stephen Moehle tells us. “Understanding the basics of how to get what you want out of exposing for an image is the key to taking your work to the next level. This book is so simple and to-the-point, but it gives you the skills to be able to use any camera and get a shot of almost any scene. It’s a must for anyone starting out in photography.”
12. Fotografía de Alta Calidad: Los Fundamentos de la Fotografía by José María Mellado
Image by Fernando Cortes
“José María Mellado is a Spanish photographer whose work is amazing,” Fernando Cortes explains. “I have all of his books, and I’ve learned a lot from them.” In this book, whose title translates roughly to “High-Quality Photography: The Basics of Photography,” Mellado walks us through the process of creating unforgettable images, from shooting right through editing and post-processing.
Written for photographers of all backgrounds and at any stage in their careers, this book is clear and easy to read, offering an ideal jumping-off point for future study. Mellado has published several books under the Fotografía de Alta Calidad banner, and they are all worth checking out here.
13. Light Science and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua
Image by Rudmer Zwerver
“This is one book that changed my vision on photography in a profound way,” Rudmer Zwerver explains. Pick up this best-seller to learn all about how to use light to your advantage in any kind of shoot. “The first half of this book is quite technical on the physics of light and made me understand what light is and how it behaves on different types of material,” Zwerver says. “The second half of the book becomes more practical and treats different lighting situations on models in real life. After reading it, I noticed I had much better insight on lighting conditions.”
14. The Great White South: Traveling with Robert F. Scott’s Doomed South Pole Expedition by Herbert Ponting
Image by james_stone76
You’ve probably seen Herbert Ponting’s photographs of Antarctica at some point, but this classic book will tell you the story behind the images and one of the most dangerous explorations ever attempted by humankind. In the age of climate change, this book takes on a new and poignant layer, as Ponting was one of the first to observe the natural behavior of cold weather animals like seals and penguins, that are now at risk.
“I took an antique copy of Herbert Ponting’s Great White South with me to Antarctica,” the Australian photographer James Stone (james_stone76) tells us. “Ponting was the official photographer for Captain Scott’s South Pole Expedition (1910-1913), and reading it in the same location, with the views unchanged since his visit there, was captivating.”
15. Insights From Beyond the Lens: Inside the Art & Craft of Landscape Photography by Robert Rodriguez Jr.
Image by Merrillie Redden
“This is a book I found very useful, full of practical advice and available as a free eBook,” Merrillie Redden tells us. Drawing from the influence of painters from the Hudson River School, the photographer, blogger, and instructor Robert Rodriguez Jr gives us a behind-the-scenes look at his process, with reflections on everything from light and exposure to motivation and mindfulness.
“Rodriguez Jr offers excellent insight into what you need to get started, the gear you need, what quality items you should spend money on, down to good hiking boots,” Redden says. “After he covers the gear you need to get started, he moves on to the study of light, composition, and visual storytelling, including learning from your mistakes.”
Top image via Rudmer Zwerver.