Photography Books

Here are my recommendations for a basic digital photographer's library

Every week I get people asking me for recommendations on photography books of various kinds (besides the ones I write, of course). So here goes:


The number one request I get is for a Photoshop book designed specifically for digital photography. There used to be a number of books that did a decent but not great job, but the arrival of Scott Kelby's The Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers upped the ante (the link above is for the newer Photoshop CS2 for Digital Photographers). If you're a "tips junkie" (the kind of person that loves to discover new shortcuts and techniques in abstract and apply them to your own work), then also consider Kelby's Photoshop CS2: Killer Tips. Also highly recommended is Fraser's Real World Camera RAW with Photoshop. I used to recommend the The Photoshop 7 Wow! Book and a few others, but the three Kelby and Fraser books ought to more than satisfy most. Deke McClelland's Photoshop One-on-One changes the game: it's by far the best organized, best teaching-oriented, and gem-laden of the bunch. If you're trying to master digital photography using Photoshop, this book will absolutely have something in it for you, no matter what your ability. Moreover, if you just follow the lessons from beginning to end, you can't help learn many new and useful techniques. It's now the primary Photoshop book I recommend. And I've added Dan Margulis' classic Photoshop LAB Color book; every Photoshop user should read this book for some out-of-the-box ideas on how to manipulate images. If you're moving from CS2 to CS3, then check out Ben Willmore's Photoshop CS3: Up to Speed, which concentrates on the differences in the new version of Photoshop from the old.

Update: The best of the most recent Photoshop books, by far, are from two of the best-known NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professional) authors: Scott Kelby's 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop is probably the most lucid the "here's how I do it" type of books. While the "groundbreaking system" hype is mostly just that, Kelby does indeed reduce Photoshop's huge array of features down into a manageable set of key techniques that solve most of the issues digital photographers face. It doesn't teach you Photoshop, it teaches you how to use Photoshop effectively, a very key difference, and one missing in a lot of the Photoshop books that are out there. At the other end of the spectrum is Matt Kloskowski's Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop's Most Powerful Feature. This book does try to teach you about specific Photoshop features, though it also adds the "how to use it" layer (sic) that makes the book useful for virtually any photographer using Photoshop. If you don't know anything about layers, don't worry, Matt does a fine job of getting you up to speed. If you do know about layers and use them, I'll bet you that you still find lots of useful information and tips in this book. Both these books are a must for any Photoshop-using photographer, in my opinion:

Lightroom and Aperture

Workflow is the new topic of concern to most digital photographers, and both Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture try to address it directly. For Lightroom, the two books that are the best are Scott Kelby's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book for Digital Photographers (not much creativity in his titles, but you'll find that the inside makes up for it) and Martin Evening's Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book, which is a good basic introduction. For Aperture, there's no book that totally stands out, but I find Aperture Exposed to be pretty good as far as it goes. For a more general approach to workflow, try The DAM Book (that's Digital Asset Management).

Update: Lightroom's popularity has provoked a plethora of publishing, but most of what I've read so far doesn't really distinguish itself from the ones I mention above. One that does is Juergen Gulbins' and Uwe Steinmueller's Managing Your Photographic Workflow with Photoshop Lightroom. This is probably the best and most to-the-point introduction to Lightroom I've seen yet, but it also has a sprinkling of worthwhile advice within its framework that I find accurate and useful. (One note: all these Lightroom books need a pretty thorough rework with Lightroom 2.0 on the horizon.)


Color Management

sRGB and AdobeRGB and ICC profiles and all those other wonderfully confusing things that get in the way of good color on our digital cameras deserved a book of their own, and Bruce Fraser, Chris Murphy, and Fred Bunting teamed up to give us an excellent one: Real World Color Management, now in its second edition. Thank goodness, because color management is the number two question I get from new to digital photographers. The sample screens are all Macintosh OS-X, but don't that bother you, this book is useful for Windows users, too. I wish that it was a little more 1,2,3 (i.e., instructional) in style, but this book covers it all, and gives plenty of good advice. Two other decent choices are Andrew Rodney's Color Management for Photographers and Dan Safir's Mastering Digital Color.


Basic photography techniques have long been the subject of writers, with Ansel Adams being one of the most recognized names to tackle these challenging subjects. If you haven't read the classic Ansel books, now updated, you should. The Camera is a good starting place. If exposure is your hang up, try Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure, a straightforward and understandable book that should get you thinking correctly. For nature photography, go to John Shaw, one of the preeminent practitioners for John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide. Another more recent choice that's decent is Alain Briot's Mastering Landscape Photography.

Update: It's not exactly a technique book, but it has so much technique advice in it that I've put it in this category: Joe McNally's The Moment it Clicks. McNally is one of the best-known American photographers and I'm certain you've seen some of his pictures along the way (especially true if you read Life or National Geographic). This part-autobiography, part-photo retrospective, part-teaching conglomeration is one of those rare hodgepodge collections that works, both in individual sections and as a whole. McNally's personality, style, and methods come across loud and clear, and it's fascinating how the three interact to form a cohesive whole. There have been a few people who've raved about the reproduction in this book, but I find it only adequate; McNally's photos aren't fully done justice here, though you'll get a strong sense of them. This is a highly recommended work simply because it reveals what goes on behind the camera in a way that you don't get elsewhere. The fact that the photos are exceptional and there's plenty to learn if you pick through some of the details make for an even bigger payoff:


Freeman Patterson is a well-known Canadian photographer whose work I admire. Like me, he teaches small workshops and prefers coming up with challenges for individuals. But what I like most about Freeman's approach is that he likes to push the visual composition rules and mold them to his own vision, something all photographers talk about but very few achieve. To get a flavor for one of his workshops, get Photographing the World Around You. His better known book is Photography and the Art of Seeing. Both are highly recommended by me. Freeman has quite a free other books available, all worth looking at, but the two I mention first are the best starting places for his work. I've also added a Michael Freeman book that I can recommend on composition, as well. For a more conceptual approach to what works in art, try the 96-page Picture This: How Pictures Work. This simple little book is an eye-opener for anyone who hasn't studied art. Don't let the fact that's it was targeted as a child's book throw you off, this book presents basic concepts of art you need to know to successfully compose photographs.

Update: While not directly a compositional book, Developing Vision & Style: A Landscape Photography Masterclass is one of those "almost" books that can inspire you and get you thinking about composition. I say "almost" because there's nothing concrete you'll take away from this book. Most of the discussions of vision and style are often vague and unhelpful (e.g. "I try to trust my own reaction to a particular scene"). Still, if you dig hard you'll find things that can help direct your thinking (e.g. allow "your eyes to absorb the relationships that all the elements of the landscape have with one another") [the key word there is "relationships" by the way; most photographers don't stop to examine the relationships before composing]. The photos, fortunately, are mostly excellent, often inspiring (though not often "inspired"), well reproduced, and if nothing else give you something to aspire to. A good book to ponder on a gloomy, non-photography day.


Working the Light is an interesting book in that it delivers three British pro views about how light plays an important role in a large number of example photos; basically a good thought provoking exercise. Peter Watson's Capturing the Light is in a similar vein, with excellent explanations of the issues involved with lighting and landscape photography (the photo reproduction leaves a bit to be desired, though). Joe Cornish's First Light is an inspirational book of excellent photographs, with decent explanations about how they were created.

Update: What was missing in the above was a good book on the basics of light. I'm happy to say that I've found one that I can recommend: Light Science and Magic. If you don't know about reflections, diffusion, color temperature, inverse square laws, directionality, and a whole host of other light basics, this is the work to start with:


The Rowells

Many of you know that I grew up down the street from Barbara Cushman Rowell and that her husband, Galen, was my photographic mentor for many years. Their deathswere tragic, but their spirit lives on in their writing. Barbara's book Flying South: A Pilot's Inner Journey didn't get much publicity because her unexpected demise came just prior to her pre-publication promotion tour. But it's a story well worth reading, if for no other reason than to see what a person can accomplish in the shadow of a better known partner. Barbara wanted an adventure of her own, and she got one heck of a ride. Galen, too, had a book published posthumously: High and Wild: Essays on Wilderness Adventure. Not a photography book, per se, in many ways it is one of his better books. Since Galen supervised the scans and color management in all of his recent books and was still learning new tricks, the images here are reproduced as well as I've ever seen his work. Another recent Galen book is a retrospective of his photographs, and well worth the time for someone who hasn't seen the best of his work in decent reproduction: Galen Rowell, a Retrospective. Also worth picking up is the book that really kicked off Galen's photography essays, Mountain Light.


All outdoor photographers need to understand the weather and sky phenomena, and John Naylor's Out of the Blue is a superb book that'll tell you everything from how to find rainbows to inferior mirages to eclipses, and even the infamous "green flash" at sunset. This book needs to be in your library. Along similar lines, Color and Light in Nature by Lynch and Livingston explains natural phenomenon that every photographer needs to understand. The two books, taken together, pretty much cover it all, and are necessities for every photographer's bookshelf.

Lee Frost's panorama book is a good starting place for panorama beginners.


Amazon Links


The links on this page go to, and if you purchase the books there, a small percentage of the sale eventually comes back to me. As I note on my home page, I use this method of raising money for the servers and software that run this site instead of cluttering the site with banner ads and other promotions. You're certainly under no obligation to purchase from Amazon, but I appreciate it when you do.

Always in Flux

I continue to add new books to this page. If you have some you think I should consider, let me know. Just like you, I'm always on the quest for new knowledge and ideas.

Page update info:
complete update: 4/17/07
More books added: 8/15/07
More books added: 5/9/08

What About Kindle?

Several people have asked me about my books on the Kindle, but unfortunately, the current limitations of the Kindle make it impossible to move my books over to it as is. The fonts, icons, and illustrations would all need to be redone, and even some of the formatting doesn't come across right. The current iteration is much more suited to simple, mostly text-oriented layouts (newspaper articles, novels, and other books without a lot of formatting and illustrations).

That said, the Kindle is the best electronic book reader yet (I've had them all, including the Rocket Reader and the Sony, the two most popular predecessors). I use my Kindle to carry books on my travels, and that's much more convenient and lighter than carrying real books. I can recommend the Kindle to avid readers with only a few caveats (keep the wireless off when you don't need it to conserve battery, and don't buy it if you don't like the ePaper "blink" on page turns). If you order the Kindle via my Web site, I get a hefty referral fee (see link, below). I'm still hoping that new firmware or future iterations of the Kindle will make it an appropriate distribution method for my eBooks. | Nikon | Gadgets | Writing | imho | Travel | Privacy statement | contact Thom at

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