Five Books Every Photo Geek Should Own

Five Books Every Photo Geek Should Own

1280 720 Josh Solomon

Documentarian and filmmaker Werner Herzog once said, “If you don’t read, you will never be a filmmaker.” The same is true for any aspiring creator, whether we’re making movies, music, or photographs. The knowledge gleaned from books can inspire and inform to help us create our best work, and thoughtful reading provides invaluable perspective on our past attempts. But in an age where the massive volume of raw information can be outright overwhelming, how do we know which tome to pick? Don’t worry. We’ve got your back. Here are five books we think every photo geek should own.

The CameraLIFE Library Of Photography

The Camera is easily one of the most eloquent books about cameras and how to use them. It should be; it was written by the shooters of LIFE magazine, whose roster of photographers reads like a photography Hall of Fame. The book covers everything from the rudimentary differences between camera types to the innermost nuances of each of these photographers’ styles. Valuable insights abound from the most basic to the most advanced subjects. Shooters who need some tips will revel in practicing the techniques detailed here, and even experienced shooters will find it impossible to resist the inspiring text in this volume.

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On Photography – Susan Sontag

These days, most people snap a dozen or more photos without a second’s thought. Photography has become so ubiquitous that we often forget the implications of taking even a single photograph – what it really means to capture and reproduce a moment in time. On Photography, by Susan Sontag, is a collection of essays that elucidate the social, political, and even philosophical ramifications of photography, as well as the irrevocable impact the art form has had on the world. We hold a great power in our hands whenever we wield a camera, and Sontag reminds us of that power with every word. A lesson worth remembering, and a book worth reading.

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The Great Life Photographers – The Editors of LIFE Magazine

Here’s another book from LIFE magazine, this time conspicuously economical with words. This book instead contains some of the most famous, influential, and socially important photographs from that great magazine’s long history, and covers almost every single one of its photographers to a stunning depth. There’s no better way to learn the craft than from carefully studying exceptional photographs, and this book is nothing short of a visual treasure trove.

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The Negative – Ansel Adams

Among hard core photographers, few books are spoken of with as much reverence as Ansel Adams’ The Negative. This is because it remains one of the finest discourses ever written on the art of photography, thanks in no small part to its author, the master of landscape photography. Although at times verbose and a little bit dense, Ansel Adams does a wonderful job of explaining the technical side of photography (development, exposure, equipment) as well as his personal creative process. This is a legendary text on photography and certainly one any serious photo geek should have on their bookshelf.

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The Decisive Moment – Henri Cartier-Bresson

And finally we come to the most famous photography book of them all, The Decisive Moment by, who else, Henri Cartier-Bresson. This is the book that helped develop photography into the art form it is today. It was the first to find words for that unique sensation only photography can give us, the first to give a name to the elusive muse who only appears for a fraction of a split second – the decisive moment. It’s a book that’s inspired countless photographers to take to the streets in an effort to experience the fleeting moment that Henri so deftly captured, and more than half a century later people are still chasing that moment. But enough of my preaching. Read it from the master.

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Love a book that we missed? Which book is your favorite on the art of photography? Which book do you think every photo geek should read? Let us know about it in the comments.

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon
  • Wilson Laidlaw May 9, 2017 at 10:06 am

    I would add to those five, The Dark Side of the Lens by Norman Goldberg, a book on the technology of the camera. A little out of date now for digital but should suit us just fine 🙂

  • I’m not sure that I agree on the inclusion of The Decisive Moment. I think it is a bit over-rated, but I understand why it is on the list. My all-time (or, well, so far) favourite photobook is Saul Leiter’s Early Color. It is a sublime collection of very interesting photographs. I’m also wondering what the list aims to do. Is it to inspire the reader to go out and take pictures? If so, The Negative and The Camera could usefully be replaced by other photobooks from photographers with an interesting vision. Sontag’s book is very good from an analysis-of-photography perspective.

  • I literally could not get thru Susan Sontag’s book -= such babble speak. Eventually gave it away as I felt I was dumber for having read this book

    • Personally, I agree. But the overwhelming majority sees it as a seminal work. I just assumed I wasn’t quite bright enough for it. Oh well!

    • Same here. Absolutely rubbish. She also disliked Diane Arbus’s work. Another reason to dislike Susan!

  • If I could add to the list, my nomination is Magnum Contact Sheets.

  • The cheapest copy of The Decisive Moment that I’ve seen is $450. How is it that everyone seems to have read this book?

  • Hi! The frenchie says the dash is not at the right place: Henri CARTIER-BRESSON is correct, Henri-Cartier BRESSON is not. Merry Xmas

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Josh Solomon

Josh Solomon is a freelance writer and touring bassist living in Los Angeles. He has an affinity for all things analog. When not onstage, you can find him roaming around Southern California shooting film and humming a tune.

All stories by:Josh Solomon