Best Photography Books

I’m often asked where I went to school for photography or how I learned photography. The answer is simple yet complicated. The simple part is that I read Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson repeatedly for a couple of weeks to learn the basics. Since then, it has been a lot of in-the-field learning, which has been supplemented with plenty of other books to help me improve my skills. Some have been duds, but plenty have really helped–here are some of the helpful ones. This list was most recently updated with 2013 photography books, so it should have plenty of current titles for you to check out!

Let’s start out with my favorite books that I think every photographer should read, and then move onto others that I think are also worth picking up…

Cream of the Crop


Understanding Exposure – This book is where I learned photography. I would still be using automatic mode if it weren’t for someone recommending Mr. Peterson’s book. A wealth of information, from the basics to some more advanced techniques, this book is the perfect jumping off point. The most important book you can own for improving your photography.

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos– Great composition is paramount to a great photo, but unfortunately it’s one of those things that’s difficult to learn (conventional wisdom says that you either have “the eye” or you don’t). This book disproves that conventional wisdom and helps any aspiring photographer really learn composition. This is a book to read over and over again. Definitely the second-most important book to own on photography.

Understanding Composition Field Guide –  Bryan Peterson’s newest book rivals The Photographer’s Eye as the best book on composition. I give the slight edge to Photographer’s Eye, but depending upon how you learn, this might be a better option, as it’s less abstract. This is a true field guide, and it approaches composition from a different perspective than the typical “Rule of Thirds. RULE OF THIRDS!” shtick that is found in most books concerning composition. After reading Peterson’s book and going through the exercises contained in it, you will find yourself seeing potential subjects in a different way. The photography legend who taught many of us how to the basics of exposure hit another home run with this book. It will teach newbie photographers the basics of composition, and experienced photographers ways to refine their approach.

The HDR Book: Unlocking the Pros’ Hottest Post-Processing Techniques – I’ve had a difficult time getting into tone-mapped HDR, always becoming frustrated by my lack of understanding or my belief that the programs I was using had certain shortcomings. All of that changed in 2013 after I read this book, which laid it out in simple terms, and most importantly, gave a side-by-side comparison of the industry-leading HDR processing programs including Photoshop’s HDR Pro, Photomatix Pro, and HDR Efex Pro. This is one book worth owning rather than renting, as it becomes a valuable resource when you hit a wall processing your own HDR photos.

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, 3, and 4 – A four part series of beginner and intermediate books with plenty of useful tips for veteran photographers, too. The information in these books really runs the gamut, and if ever there were to be a single (or 4-book) series for mastering the craft/business of all types of photography, this would be it.

The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes – Very inspirational book, and a great look at the creative process of Joe McNally. Wonderful writing style and sense of humor, to boot. If ever a photography book were a page-turner, this would be it.

Best Photography Books - Bryan Peterson

Best of the Rest

The Moment It Clicks: Photography secrets from one of the world’s top shooters – Another brilliant book from Joe McNally that combines stunning photos (this could stand alone as a coffee-table book) with simple explanations as to how the photo was made.

Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second by Bryan Peterson – very similar (in some ways redundant) to Understanding Exposure, this book also starts to dive into some creative ways to manipulate shutter speed and aperture.

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography: Revised and Expanded  – Another great book for learning photography, this is a great alternative to Understanding Exposure.

Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques – Night and low light photography can be difficult to master, but this book does an excellent job teaching the basics to get a great night photo, and it also contains many unique techniques to get creative night shots.

Trey Ratcliff’s Complete HDR Video Tutorial – At $86-97, this may seem a bit pricey. That said, Trey Ratcliff is the HDR master, and this video includes 11.5 hours of instructions, 9 classes, 130 raw files, access to private forums, and a HDR eBook. This is the full and definitive package to get you started making great HDR photos.

LIFE Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros – Anecdotal and humorous account of how to “make” a great image by some of the veteran photographers at LIFE Magazine (for you young whipper-snappers, this was a prolific magazine for photographers back in the day). A great hands-on way to learn.

The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography Series)Ansel Adams Arts & Photography Books) – The “Ansel Adams” aspect of this line is all you need to know. The technical side is obviously not so relevant to digital, but as Adams demonstrates, it’s the photographer, not the camera.

Captured by the Light: The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography – Don’t let the “Wedding Photography” bit in the title fool you. Although the tone is geared towards wedding photographers, the lessons are universally applicable. Anyone looking to improve their dramatic lighting should check this book out.

If you’re looking for other photography equipment recommendations or photography tips in general check out a few of my top photography blog posts:

Photography Buying Guide: Everything from Underwater Cameras to Software
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Infrared Photography Guide & Tips
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel

Your Thoughts

Which of these books have you read? Which would you recommend? Are there any other titles you think I should check out? Hearing from readers is half the fun, so please share any questions or thoughts you have below in the comments!