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I’ve been wanting to make a list of my favorite photography books for ages–and finally, here it is! I’m asked every now and then which books I recommend for learning photography. The books I list below are not necessarily a great starting point for beginners; they all generally focus more on the creative side of photography. That’s what makes them so enjoyable to me, and it’s the reason I read them over and over. Now, onto my favorites!
1. Plate to Pixel: Food Photography & Styling by Helene Dujardin
I spent nearly a year photographing nothing but food, and this book held a permanent spot in my workspace. Helene Dujardin doesn’t waste much time talking about the basics of photography–she gets right down to business and tells aspiring food photographers what they want to know: how to style food, how to light and compose images of food, how to incorporate props (and where to find them!) and more. The book is packed with useful information for photographers who already know manual mode and are ready to learn a new niche.
Food photography can seem complicated, but Dujardin breaks it down in a way that’s not overwhelming or too technical. After I began incorporating the tips I learned in this book in 2014, my photographs were eventually licensed by well-known companies like Knorr and Boar Head, and I was invited to display my food photography for a local art walk.
2. People Pictures: 30 Exercises for Creating Authentic Photographs by Chris Orwig
This isn’t a book about lenses, f-stops, shutter speeds, etc. This isn’t even a “how-to” book. But I don’t want to talk about what it’s NOT. Chris Orwig is an enthusiastic, inspirational photography teacher and storyteller. His books focus on the heart and soul of photography. Every time I pick up People Pictures, I’m reminded what taking portraits is all about. Am I capturing the subject’s true personality? Is this authentic? Chris Orwig reminds me, always, to stay humble. The more I delved into this book, the more I realized that photography isn’t about impressing others or chasing the next trend. This book could not have come at a more perfect time for me during my photography journey.
As the title mentions, People Pictures includes 30 photography exercises that will pull you right out of your comfort zone. The exercises include goals such as getting 5 action photos of kids and taking 10 descriptive portraits.
3. A Beautiful Mess: 95 Inspiring Ideas for Photographing Your Friends, Your World, and Yourself by Elsie Larson & Emma Chapman
I love the girls at A Beautiful Mess. When I learned they put together a photography book, it instantly went on my “must buy” radar. This book is any photographer’s dream, from professional to casual hobbyist. Lately, I’ve been using it as a reference on days that I’m stumped with my Project 366. The book is full of vibrant, fun images that inspire creativity in documenting everyday life. Who knew a Starbucks cup in front a blue wall could be so… pretty?
At the end of the book, Elsie and Emma share some tutorials of unique ways that they display their photos, including family portrait pillows and photo coasters.
4. Photographing Women: 1000 Poses by Eliot Siegel
This is a whopper of a book–hardback and 320 pages. And, obviously, 1000 poses. It’s more than just pictures of models posing 1000 different ways, though. What I found most helpful about this book, at a time when I was focusing on photographing seniors and boudoir, is that it works through transitioning poses from one to the next. Often, one page will have the same model doing 8 or so variations on the same pose, but Siegel will discuss why one shot works better than the rest in the set. “Hands too severe for overall softness of the photo” and “chin tucked in produces inviting gaze to viewer” are a couple of his remarks.
He covers everything from crouching to over-the-shoulder gazing to “the Marionette” pose.
When I look at other photographers’ work, I’m often full of questions. How did they light this? How did they work the family into this pose? How do they find so many good locations? This family & children posing guide by Design Aglow answers a lot of those questions. I love that they include technical information for each shot–what the camera settings were, how it was lit, and more. It’s hard not to feel inspired after looking at all the beautiful images of babies, kids, and families within the pages.
With descriptive explanations behind every pose and location, this book is a great resource for ideas pre-session or for your own family photos.