Best Book Buys for Photographers.

Someone asked me what books I recommend to other photographers.  I'm leaving my own books off the list.  But here is my favorite in each category for photographers who either want to work professionally or work with greater satisfaction in doing their personal art.

The first book is all about lighting.  In fact, I think it's pretty much the best, comprehensive lighting book on the market today.  It's not about specific brands or the latest techniques; it's much better than that. This book, now in it's 4th edition teaches you the theory of using light as a photographer.  Read this and you WILL understand light.  Also Fil Hunter and his crew do a great job making the subject readable.  It's called Light, Science and Magic.

John Harrington has written the definitive, in-depth, nearly official book about the business of photography called, Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition. John goes through step by step and explains how the business works, how to make money at it and how to stay out of legal trouble.  The ASMP tried to write a book along the same lines.  They should have just gone straight to John.  I use this as a desk reference any time a business question comes up and I need to do it right.  I know that not all the VSL readers do photography as a business but if you know someone who is entering the profession do them (and the rest of us working photographers) a favor and get them to buy this book.  A lot of the advice crosses borders and might be just what you need to run your own business in a different way....

If you have lots of great ideas but you seem to have problems getting started, staying inspired and following through in your creative (or business) projects you probably need my favorite non-fiction book of all time, written by a writer who failed and failed until he finally understood the process of being successful and satisfied.  It cured me of a very bad bout of anxiety. Really.  A $9.95 book that worked better than therapy or drugs.  I keep a few copies on hand for emergencies with other artist friends.  You should too.  It's called The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield.  It's short, to the point and amazing.  Two days ago a reader of the blog e-mailed me and recommended I read it.  I agree, I'll go back and read it again...

I think I know a lot about portraits but I don't know as much as guy named Chris Grey.  He writes really good stuff!!!  His book, Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers, is well written, well illustrated and provides a very good base for anyone who wants to do traditional portrait photography or is ready to do their own highly creative work but wants a good grounding in the nuts and bolts and the reasons behind the nuts and bolts. Chris has been making good books and good portraits for a long time.  Take advantage of his foundation.  I have three of his books.  I read them every once in a while, just for technical inspiration..

The fifth book on the list is for all the people who are trying to do good work with speedlights.  And by speedlights I mean portable, battery powered flashes that were originally designed to sit on top of cameras.  There's a guy named Syl Arena who has written the definitive, highly illustrated and very well written Bible of lighting books for people who want to go far beyond the untidy world of web-flash-quasi-knowledge.  It's all right there in Syl's book. Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon Speedlites.  Paul has my copy and won't give it back.  The book is based around Canon flashes but don't let that dissuade you if you are a Nikon/Sony/Pentax/Olympus, etc. shooter.  All the techniques are the same, you'll just have to figure out what stuff means the same in your camera flashes language.  He will teach you how to make that stuff.....fun.   Yes.  I too hate the cover.  But the insides are sooo good.

Finally, after all this technical reading you'll most likely want a nice palate cleanser.  Something to refocus you on actual shooting.  On the enjoyment of shooting.  And what better way to do that than with an inexpensive, thick book by one of America's master street shooter, Elliott Erwitt?  This is a compendium of hundreds of witty, wonderful and odd dog shots.  It's called, Dog Dogs.  I keep a copy in the car. It's fun to look at when I'm trapped somewhere and held against my will by the lure of commerce.  I also have one in my studio.  It's a happy testament to the fact that a body of work builds over time.  Years and decades rather than weeks and months.  At least the good stuff works that way.  This is your intro to Erwitt, once you're hooked you'll move on to the more addictive stuff and someday you'll thank me...maybe.

That's enough for now, and a good start. Layer in some shooting between chapters and you'll have big fun. It's Summer! Time to read.

Thanks for reading.  Kirk


Keith I. said...

Definitely agree on the Light, Science and Magic book. Along the lines of the Dog Dogs book is a little fun one I picked up, My Name Is Rufus: I Am a Photographer. http://www.amazon.com/My-Name-Is-Rufus-Photographer/dp/0974644889/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1339706018&sr=8-11

A fun perspective FROM the dog point of view.

AdamR said...

I guess I'm going to have to swing by the library and pick up Light, Science and Magic on the way home. I've been seeing recommendations for this book for years but figured I wouldn't get a lot out of it since I rarely used the flash that I have. But with the shipment of my first light stand and umbrella, now seems like an appropriate time to dive in.

Just my luck the library branch between my work and home has the only copy available. HAD the only copy available, gotta love being able to place a hold over the internet!

kirk tuck said...

Adam, It's not just flash, it's all kinds of light; natural and otherwise.

tomt said...

I'm wondering why there's no Decisive Moment and no Atget. But mebbe this is the wrong place.

kirk tuck said...

Tomt, You missed that post.. :-) Today's list is skewed to working on business and technique.

Ron Nabity said...


Nice book list.

Speaking of books, I spotted some of yours on the shelf at Powell's Books and the Pro Photo Supply stores in Portland OR last week.

Pro Photo Supply is one of those epic stores that has lots of knowledgeable staff and tons of great stuff, including film and darkroom supplies, lighting mods and boxes of used odds 'n ends. There are always lots of customers in there, too.

They also had the Panasonic GH2 w/ kit lens for $699 new. After I left, they had one fewer. I took the GH2 out to the practice rounds at the US Open in San Francisco yesterday and it performed wonderfully.

Paul said...

Kirk thanks - I now have a book list for Father's day - although as I'm in Australia I'll have to wait until September

John Flores said...

Thanks Kirk. I'm typically a natural light stills shooter, but as I shoot more video I get more interested in adding light to my toolkit.