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 Camera – LIFE 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.