18 Best Photography Books for Beginners (5 Categories)

If you are looking for the best photography books for beginners, you are in the right place.

You don’t need an academic degree to become an expert in the art and practice of photography. There are numerous resources on the internet, in shops, or in libraries that can teach you everything you need to know about it. The rest is, of course, practice.

18 Best Photography Books for Beginners (5 Categories)

The internet is full of forums, blogs, and websites where you can learn about photography and gather everyday inspiration. I myself have dedicated a great part of my website to sharing my experience with the aim of helping those who are just taking their first steps as photographers.

To me personally, though, nothing can beat the feel of a well-designed photography book. We just tend to examine images deeper when we see them on paper. When we can touch them.

The same applies to text – reading on paper is much more pleasing to the eye. And we also tend to read in a more focused way from a book where there are no hyperlinks or instant messages popping up on the screen.

So I think books are an invaluable source of knowledge and inspiration for photographers. But in a market full of photography books it’s difficult to figure out where to start. That’s why I decided to offer you a list of titles that can be really beneficial to all of you who have taken the long but exciting way to become photographers.

Best Photography Books for Beginners

I have divided the books into 5 categories depending on their subject matter. This way you can easily pick the title you need the most at the current stage of your photographic journey. Many of these are also available as e-books if you really prefer digital over traditional media.

Photography Basics

1. Understanding Exposure, Fourth Edition

Understanding Exposure, Fourth Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
  • Watson-Guptill Publications
  • Peterson, Bryan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 176 Pages – 03/15/2016 (Publication Date) – Amphoto Books (Publisher)

The iconic book by Bryan Peterson is a long-time companion to each aspiring photographer. In a very clear and detailed way, it introduces the reader to the concept of exposure. Here you’ll learn anything you will ever need on the topics of aperture, shutter speed, and light so that you can take full control of your camera and get the desired image in all kinds of circumstances.

The latest fourth edition of this classic includes new information on using flash as well as tips on astrophotography. Peterson’s language is easy to understand which makes the book suitable not only to complete beginners but also for starting photographers for whom English is a second language.

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2. Photography Demystified: Your Guide to Gaining Creative Control!

Photography Demystified: Your Guide to Gaining Creative Control and Taking Amazing Photographs!
  • McKay, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 140 Pages – 05/09/2016 (Publication Date) – McKay Photography Inc (Publisher)

David McKay’s book is perfect for everyone who’s fascinated by the world of photography but also overwhelmed by all its technical aspects. It takes the reader on a journey from fully automatic to fully manual shooting mode with the goal of allowing him to turn the pictures in his head into reality.

The book introduces the reader to all important photographic concepts such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, explaining the effects that can be achieved by each. Part of the book is also dedicated to composition as the most creative aspect of a photographer’s work. McKay’s goal is to teach the reader to take photos that are not just technically perfect but also have a unique feel.

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3. Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting

Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
  • Fourth edition
  • Hunter, Fil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 328 Pages – 09/08/2011 (Publication Date) – Focal Press (Publisher)

Light Science & Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting is a comprehensive guide to understanding light in photography. It contains everything you will ever need to know about the physics of light and its creative use if you’re someone who wants to specialize in studio photography.

The book is full of useful tips on how to photograph difficult objects such as glass, metal or textured surfaces. The latest fifth edition also contains an expanded chapter on taking powerful studio portraits. There’s also a list of trusted gear that would be of great help to photographers who are yet to equip their new studio.

The language of the book might be difficult at times but if you really want to become an expert in studio photography, sticking to it is definitely worth it.

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Artistic Side of Photography

4. The Art of Photography: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression

The Art of Photography: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression
  • Barnbaum, Bruce (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 408 Pages – 04/12/2017 (Publication Date) – Rocky Nook (Publisher)

Bruce Barnbaum’s well-known book The Art of Photography: A Personal Approach to Artistic Expression takes the reader on a journey deep into the art of photography. What makes this title unique is that it goes from technical to philosophical smoothly and organically, emphasizing the importance of both aspects of photography.

This book will help the beginning photographer to learn how to add his personal touch to the images he takes. It deals both with film and digital photography and includes a section on printing and presentation of the final photos.

If you are ready to go deep into the philosophy of photography, then this book is for you. Its language will surely inspire you to get your work to a brand new and higher level.

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Learning to See Creatively, Third Edition: Design, Color, and Composition in Photography

5. Learning to See Creatively: Design, Color, and Composition in Photography

  • Amphoto Books
  • Peterson, Bryan (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 160 Pages – 08/04/2015 (Publication Date) – Amphoto Books (Publisher)

Another book by Bryan Peterson that just must be included in this list. The author shares his rich experience in composing photographs that strike the viewer. It proclaims that what makes a photograph unique is not so much its object of interest but the way the photographer has seen it himself. In this sense, even a simple object can make a stunning photograph.

Peterson’s book gives us the tools to create such photographs, focusing on their composition. The latest edition of the book contains a section dedicated to color and its creative use in photography. Learning to See Creatively will help the beginning photographer to gain a new perspective on the world through the viewfinder of his camera.

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6. Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision

Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision (Voices That Matter)
  • Duchemin, David (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 264 Pages – 07/03/2016 (Publication Date) – New Riders Pub (Publisher)

David duChemin’s iconic book is for all those who are looking for their unique photographic vision. The author helps the reader figure out what exactly he wants to tell with his images and then gives him useful tips on how to achieve and maintain that.

Of course, the book discusses the technical aspect of photography too but its main goal is to make the starting photographer look deeper and think more before pressing the shutter button. DuChemin explores some of the most important tasks each photographer has such as finding the right location, approaching people for a portrait, or telling a whole story with a single image.

The newer edition of the book includes creative exercises, expanded chapters, and new discussions and tips on landscape photography.

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7. The Photographer’s Eye Digitally Remastered

The Photographer's Eye Digitally Remastered 10th Anniversary Edition: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos
  • Freeman, Michael (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 192 Pages – 11/21/2017 (Publication Date) – Routledge (Publisher)

Is the “photographer’s eye” something anyone can develop? Michael Freeman argues that it is in his popular book The Photographer’s Eye which has already celebrated its tenth anniversary. The author dives deep into composition – perhaps the most important aspect of photography altogether.

The book will teach you how to look for interesting objects and figure out when it is the “decisive moment” to press the shutter button. The author presents successions of photos, explaining what makes just one of them better than all the rest. This is something that can help every photographer not only during the final selection of images but also before actually shooting them.

Dedicated specifically to digital photography, the book discusses in detail purely digital techniques such as HDR or stitching.

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8. The Photographer’s Eye

The Photographer's Eye
  • Szarkowski, John (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 156 Pages – 03/01/2007 (Publication Date) – The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Publisher)

Another great book was written by this important figure of the photography universe. This book includes a breakdown approach of 172 curated photographs. The selection includes work from the all-time masters, as well as amateur work and even vernacular snapshots. The purpose behind this juxtaposition is to analyze almost in a SWOT-style text, the challenges, and opportunities that all photographers endure in their careers.

The reason why I think this is an important book for you to become better is that it can be seen as an inspiration, or even as a scale, that will ease the emotions of all photographers that want to be great fast, and think that this joy happens spontaneously.

When I read this book, I felt like I was been drawn back to earth, but with parental care, it was an awesome experience for sure.

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9. Photography Changes Everything

Photography Changes Everything
  • Aperture
  • Author: Marvin Heiferman and Merry A. Foresta
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 263 Pages – 06/30/2012 (Publication Date) – Aperture (Publisher)

This book is an important reminder to all us photographers that we are the carriers and protectors of great responsibility. Photography changes everything in an innovative compendium of essays that speak about photography changing the way of doing, perceiving and understanding almost everything.

This is a great book for every photographer to read in order to become better because it awakes us that hardly ever see the truth about photography in our minds.

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10. Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots
  • Excell, Laurie (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 258 Pages – 11/15/2010 (Publication Date) – Peachpit Pr (Publisher)

Every camera comes with a decent User Manual that will teach you very little about how to take meaningful images that will go beyond mere snapshots. Composition is the best tool you have for creating visually attractive images, and now that you have invested in some gear, you need a book that goes along with that piece of gear. In this book, you’ll find a friendly road into composition. Learn the best ways to compose images while getting great detail in every image you capture.

The book has an innovative way of combining the best of the two worlds (digital and analog experience of books) by offering a simple to access Flickr group dedicated to the book readers for them to share their work.

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11. Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques

Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques
  • Davis, Harold (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 242 Pages – 10/09/2009 (Publication Date) – Wiley (Publisher)

Another great book on composition speaks of the importance of mastering rules before breaking them. Cameras are great tools filled with desirable technology, but they don’t take photos unless they have their shutter buttons pressed down.

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When I was starting to take photographs, a friend of mine lent me this book. I was using a small point and shoot camera, and thanks to this book, I surely made that camera count until the very last day it was taken away from my hands by a robber on the street.

I don’t consider myself a master of composition, therefore I’m still learning different ways of rendering my own vision of the world through photography, but this book was indeed a great way to start.

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Photo Techniques

12. Expressive Nature Photography: Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery

Expressive Nature Photography: Design, Composition, and Color in Outdoor Imagery
  • Tharp, Brenda (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 240 Pages – 07/25/2017 (Publication Date) – Monacelli Studio (Publisher)

Brenda Tharp’s book is the ultimate guide to everyone whose desire is to explore the outdoors with his camera. It uses the author’s rich portfolio of outstanding nature images to give clear and useful tips on shooting all kinds of objects a photographer can come across outside. You’ll find directions on how to shoot the stars at night, create really long exposures using filters, or capture fast-moving objects.

Tharp also invites the reader to sometimes break the rules in order to achieve a more interesting or emotive composition. A section of the book is dedicated to the art of “visual flow” – the deliberate arrangement of elements in a way that naturally draws the eye of the viewer to the object of interest.

While giving detailed technical information, the book is all about infusing our landscape photographs with more than just “truth” but mostly with emotion.

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13. The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World’s Top Shooters

The Moment It Clicks: Photography Secrets from One of the World's Top Shooters
  • Author: Joe McNally

Joe McNally is a well-known name in the photographic industry and this book is a gift to everyone who’s taking his first steps in the trade. The book contains tons of useful tips and “behind the scenes” information that will teach you a lot about composition, the creative use of lights, or the effects you can achieve with various types of equipment.

McNally’s language and the style of this book make it both light and informative. While it requires a certain level of experience and knowledge, it’s written in a very positive way that will make even the ultimate beginner feel welcome “to the club”. This way it inspires and motivates rather than mystifies the process of taking great photographs.

With a specific focus on using light, this book is for all who want to learn how to take great portraits, inside or outdoors.

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14. Photography Q&A: Real Questions. Real Answers.

Photography Q&A: Real Questions, Real Answers
  • Arias, Zack (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 299 Pages – 06/14/2013 (Publication Date) – New Riders Pub (Publisher)

Imagine you could sit down with an established photographer and talk about your shared passion until all your questions are answered. This is exactly the feeling Zack Arias’s book gives you. It will answer all your queries about the practice and business of photography and much more.

The book will not give you detailed explanations on how to shoot a specific photograph. It will, however, “fill all the gaps” in the knowledge and experience you’ve had so far. In this sense, it is not suitable for a perfect beginner but is definitely something you will want in your collection of books later on.

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Arias’s answers are straightforward but their tone is always supportive and ultimately motivating, so even a photographer who is just starting will not be discouraged by all the problems discussed there. On the contrary, he’ll learn invaluable things that, if he’s willing enough, might change the quality of his work forever.

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15. The Digital Photography Workflow Handbook

The Digital Photography Workflow Handbook
  • Hardcover Book
  • Gulbins, Juergen (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 552 Pages – 11/07/2010 (Publication Date) – Rocky Nook (Publisher)

Workflow, workflow, workflow. We all have heard the word; I even mentioned it in this article introduction, but really, what is the Photography Workflow? Thanks to this book I’ve finally got to define it as the replicable and structured process of doing images from start to finish. Such scope spans from preparing the equipment to the final deployment of the print, and the internet version publication of the image.

I haven’t got an official medical statement about me having OCD, but this book really fed my obsession for structures and archive organization.

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Film Photography

16. The Film Photography Handbook: Rediscovering Photography in 35mm, Medium, and Large Format

The Film Photography Handbook: Rediscovering Photography in 35mm, Medium, and Large Format
  • Hardcover Book
  • Marquardt, Chris (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 282 Pages – 05/06/2016 (Publication Date) – Rocky Nook (Publisher)

Due to the curious behavior of our human race, film photography has witnessed a significant renaissance, which is not necessarily happening because of the people that had previously shot film. Younger generations are getting interested in the format for various reasons (curiosity, nostalgia, pride, etc.)

The Film Photography Handbook offers an easy-to-understand and pretty complete resource for shooting film. The book is definitely not a stubborn position in photography. In fact, it fits perfectly in today’s working climate because it includes topics such as the hybrid film/digital workflow, digitization of negatives, and even working with smartphones for light metering and to assist in film processing.

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Here you will learn various important aspects of film photography. From the obvious and not-so-obvious differences between film and digital photography, how to buy a second-hand film camera, film formats, and everything you need to know regarding film development as well.

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17. The Print (Ansel Adams Photography)

The Print (Ansel Adams Photography, 3)
  • Little Brown
  • Adams, Ansel (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 210 Pages – 06/01/1995 (Publication Date) – Little, Brown (Publisher)

Ok, this is not a single book but three great treasures of photography in technical terms. The summit of Ansel Adams was his easy to recognize direct photography; but the unseen rocky road, are the technical aspects he speaks of in this series.

I need to be honest with you, I have only been able to read “The Camera”, which is a text that explains the tool in a way that allows the reader to predict the results of the final image while still setting up the camera’s parameters. “The Negative” and “The print” are books that I have only read slightly, but are considered to be as great as the Camera. Many of the themes he discussed are still valid since we have only substituted emulsions for sensors.

Having such a vast amount of knowledge written down by The Master is a complete treasure that needs to be on your bookshelf for sure.

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18. Fine Art Printing for Photographers: Exhibition Quality Prints with Inkjet Printers

Fine Art Printing for Photographers: Exhibition Quality Prints with Inkjet Printers, 2nd Edition
  • Hardcover Book
  • Steinmueller, Uwe (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 356 Pages – 10/25/2013 (Publication Date) – Rocky Nook (Publisher)

The Rocky Nook have books for everything when it comes to photography, but with this one, they really nailed it. Many of today’s photographers have little interest in making prints of their images because of several numbers of reasons we are just not going to discuss.

This book gives the necessary assets for doing print right, which is an important part of the photography workflow. Such assets cover color management, profiling, paper, and inks.

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Best Photography Books for Beginners | Conclusion

Now that you know where to gather knowledge and inspiration, all you need to do is pick the title that speaks to you the most. The most important thing is to try and test everything you’ve learned as soon as possible.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of titles. Photography is a journey that takes a lifetime and that will always teach you something new. That’s why, even after all those years of experience, I am still curious and excited, and inspired to do photography. And I very much hope you will be either.

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