I posed a question to the DIY writing staff last week. I was wondering how many of them still read hard-copy photography magazines, and if so, I wanted to know if they subscribe or just purchase the occasional issue. It’s something I’ve been curious about for a while. After all, when you think about just how much information is out there and readily available, you almost have to wonder how traditional magazines are still making a go of it. The results of my informal survey were a bit underwhelming, but it was as I suspected– most people simply don’t subscribe to traditional magazines anymore. I still get a few, but then again, I also remember a pre-internet world where you had to put forth some effort and seek out knowledge and information.
The reality is, however, that while traditional magazines may no longer have the same widespread appeal they once had in the photography community, the same cannot be said for books on the subject. Again, I’m not talking about e-books or any other electronic conveyance. I’m talking about an actual collection of pages, all bound together in a single unit, containing all kinds of useful information and insight. It’s something I can hold in my hands. I can highlight it and bookmark it. Flip back and forth between sections. Compare and contrast different chapters without having to swipe, scroll, pinch, or flick my wrist for anything other than turning pages.
What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good book. Always have been. As a result, I’ve amassed a fairly sizable photography library over the years. Some of my books have been disappointing, while other have been worth every penny and more. My philosophy on photography books is simple and straightforward. A photography books is worth its price tag and earns a permanent spot on the shelf if I learn even just one or two things that can noticeably impact my photography in a positive way. Regardless of whether the book is geared towards shooting, processing, or running my business, a good– or even great– photography book will have at least one bright, shiny element that changes the way I do things for the better.
So, in no particular order, here are some of my favorites.
“Photography Q&A- Real Questions. Real Answers,” by Zack Arias
I had the pleasure of writing the first published review of Zack’s book when it first came out. In the 15 months since I wrote that review, I’ve re-read the book cover-to-cover three or four times. In August of 2012, Zack, an Atlanta-based commercial/editorial photographer with an already massive following, embarked on a mission to save us all from really bad advice. He launched his popular Tumblr blog, “Photography Q&A – Ask Me Anything About Photography” with the goal of answering 1,000 reader-submitted questions. It was this collection of questions and answers that became the rough draft for the Q&A book. There are several things I love about this book. For starters, it’s not about any one topic of photography. The questions range from gear, lighting, and confidence, to building your portfolio, submitting your work, and selling yourself. Covering topics as widely varied as the photographers who submitted them, PQ&A reads like you’re sitting across the table from Zack, having a beer, while he shares not only his advice and expertise, but the pesonal anecdotes that taught him all of these lessons in the first place. This book can certainly help improve your photography. It’s greater goal, however, is that it can help improve your quality of life as a photographer– or at least the quality of your head space.
“The Moment it Clicks” and “The Hot Shoe Diaries,” by Joe McNally
It’s impossible for me to rank one of these books above the other. If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending one of Joe’s seminars or workshops, you already know what a dynamic educator he is. If you haven’t, read both of these books. Sooner, rather than later. Both are written in Joe’s signature conversational style and will light a fire under your ass to get out and practice what he preaches.
A typical Joe McNally seminar tends to be filled with sentences that begin with things like, “My editor at Life Magazine used to say…” or “The photo editor at National Geographic once told me…” These are your cues to write down every word that follows. “The Moment it Clicks” is an entire book of these personal insights, with each two-page spread combining Joe’s words of wisdom with an amazing photograph and the story behind it. “The Hot Shoe Diaries” should absolutely be required reading for anyone who has ever given even the slightest thought to working with off-camera flash. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this book changed my life. Just like with “The Moment it Clicks,” each lesson is illustrated with one of Joe’s iconic images
“The Digital Photography Book – Volume 2,” by Scott Kelby
There are currently four volumes in “The Digital Photography Book” series. Volume 2 is my favorite. Just like the other authors mentioned here, Scott Kelby lays it all out on the table, sharing his setups, his experiences, and why he does things the way he does them. Each chapter sets out with a singular goal– to improve a specific aspect of your photography. Topics include flash, portraits, landscapes, weddings, travel, and macro. There is also excellent information on “Building a Studio from Scratch” and “Pro Tips for Getting Better Photos.
“Photography Business Secrets,” by Lara White
Photographers are going out of business all the time. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true, and it usually has nothing to do with the actual photography. One of the best new tools I’ve found for dealing with the business end of things is this book. A former wedding photographer, White is a leadeing expert in the field of photography business eduction. As founder and operator of PhotoMint, an online business development resource for photographers, her insights and advice had been published in more than 70 magazines and professional photography blogs. “Photography Business Secrets” takes you from evaluating whether you are ready to quit your 9-to-5 job, through setting up your photography business and keeping on track with sound business decisions. If you are investing in your photography business, start with the $20 that this book will cost you.
“That Tree,” by Mark Hirsch
It was during a snow storm in January of 2012 that Mark Hirsch took his very first iPhone photo. His subject was an ancient, lonely Bur Oak tree on the edge of a Wisconsin corn field about two miles from his home. A tree, by the way, that he’d never photographed before, despite driving past it every day for almost 20 years. And that’s how one of the most ambitious 365 projects I’ve ever seen was born. I’ve written before about 365 projects and why I’ve never managed to complete one, but what I admire so much about this collection of an entire years’ worth of photos of a single subject are the many lessons it teaches about composition.
When you get right down to it, you only get better at photography by doing it. A LOT. You can read every book, magazine, and blog post imaginable, but until you get out there and repeatedly apply what you’ve read– over and over and over again– nothing is going to change. Photography is about taking what’s in your head and unleashing it on the world. I’ve chosen the books on this list for very different reasons. Scott Kelby’s “Digital Photography Book” series is bursting at the seams with useful information for the beginning to intermediate photographer hoping to take their photography to the next level. Nobody (seriously…nobody) beats Joe McNally when it comes to teaching everything there is to know about off-camera flash, but you need to have a solid foundation and firm grasp of certain photographic principles before diving in and tackling advanced lighting techniques. If your plan is to make a living from your photography, Lara White’s book should become your go-to source for what you need to know. Unlike the others, Zack’s book departs from the traditional photography book in that it is less about technique and more about getting (and keeping) your photographic head screwed on straight. All are extremely important in their own way, and each can benefit just about any photographer at some point in their journey.
Do you have a favorite photography book? Tell us about it in the comments.