As a photographer I work to improve both my skills and my photographs. Shooting more photographs gives me more images to critique. However, without doing some additional study, I could just be taking pictures without a plan or direction. Simply be sheer luck I should be able to record some great images. Unfortunately, the vast majority would not be very good.

Some photographers would advocate that it doesn’t matter how many photographs are taken because “digital is cheap”. That almost sounds like some good advice until one realizes that the more bad images that are shot, the more bad images there are to look at to weed out the unsuitable. The approach doesn’t really teach you anything positive, you’re just trying to accomplish a task with overwhelming quantity. And you end up looking at a lot of bad images which may just reinforce poor habits and decision making.

Having taken photos for so long, I still have retained my film photography attitude – I don’t want to pay to develop bad photos. Now with digital, I don’t want to waste my time looking at bad photos (or at least, not too many). So I study photography to gain mastery over my medium, even though it is a continual process. In that spirit, here are some books that I recommend as good examples for instruction and inspiration. Hopefully some of these books will help improve your photography.

Books for Instruction and Inspiration

Disclaimer: As an outdoor photographer, many of the books I study from deal with nature and landscape work. If you want to be a better pet or portrait photographer, some of these books may not necessarily be helpful to you.

Books for Instruction:

Joel Benedict – Basic Photography  This was my first photography textbook in college. While it has information on darkroom techniques that don’t apply to digital, the chapters on getting familiar with and using you, camera are still very applicable.

Russell Graves – The Kodak Most Basic Book of Digital Nature Photography  A great introductory book for the beginning photographer of any age. Filled with excellent information on getting out with your first camera and taking good photos right from the start.

John Shaw – Landscape Photography, Nature Photographer’s Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques, and Guide to Digital Nature Photography  These three books break down the fundamentals of exposure and light while also giving good information on the specifics of using your camera in the field.

Scott Kelby – The Best of the Digital Photography Book Series and The Landscape Photography Book  Both books have the information presented in one to two page bite-sized tips. It’s really easy to go right to exactly what you want to learn and these two books are dense with great actionable material.

Joseph Classen – Shoot Cold  An outstanding guide to winter photography. Winter is a fantastic time to be outside and can yield some truly amazing photographs.

Books for Inspiration:

Jean H. Speer – The Appalachian Photographs of Earl Palmer  A truly remarkable record of a fading culture shot during the mid-twentieth century. Small towns, backcountry cabins, quilting, music & musicians, and so much more. Stunning black and white photographs by an amateur photographer.

Eliot Porter – Appalachian Wilderness: The Great Smoky Mountains  Photographs from some of the last untouched wild places East of the Mississippi. The beauty of the Southern Highlands of the U.S. is breathtaking.

Nathan Farb – The Adirondacks  The largest park in the Lower 48 States, the Adirondack region of northern New York State is endlessly photogenic. This is a great collection from all four seasons.

Galen Rowell – Mountain Light  This book examines in depth the interplay of shadow and light in some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth. A true masterwork.

There you have it, a list of books that present techniques and instruction as well as books that feed the creative photography soul. These are the books that I go back to again and again. Little by little, I find new ways to take better photographs. Hopefully this has been inspirational for you as well. Most of these books are still available from your favorite new or used book sources.

“It’s not the camera that makes a good picture, but the eye and the mind of the photographer.” – Richard Avedon