• Matthew Brooks

Photography Book Essential Reading

When learning about photography it doesn't have stop at doing a course or when you put down your camera after a session of "learning through doing". Having a number of books is an amazing way to continue/extend your learning. They could be actual physical books or an e-book. I find the when I want to actually take information in and learn then a physical book is the best way. Having an actual book in my hands engages me into what is written in it, whereas, an e-book I skip through more and don't seem to take in the words. The advantage for me of e-books is when it comes to the creative side of things. Getting ideas to help the little lightbulb in my head switch on. It is exactly what I do with Instagram or Pinterest. Really studying the composition of images or colours or the conceptual ideas and meaning of an image just work better for me on my phone for some reason.

I asked for some books for Christmas 2019 to start my photography library. Here I will list some of the books which I have and will list them as "Essential" or "Nice to have".


The Photo Book - "Essential" - It is essential because it is an encyclopaedia of pretty much every important or influential photographer in history. Set out alphabetically based on the photographers name.

It will show a photo or two from that photographer and a brief overall description of their style and what notable works they have produced.


What I like to do with this book; as I probably don't know 95% of the photographers in the book; is just flick to a random page and spend a day researching and studying the work of whatever name I have landed on. I may not know that person but there is undoubtedly something I can learn from every photographer in this book.





Photos That Changed The World - "Essential" - The way that we document the history of the world is through photography. If you can think of any of the moments that matter of just over the last century someone has been there to document it in a photo. This is one of things I have noticed with this book, these moments often are not photographed by a "someone", they are documented by anyone. If you are there with a camera you may get an important shot that no one else got.


The book is listed chronologically, for each photo it will explain the situation and circumstances the picture was taken at. It also explains why the photo is an important photo and how the points of view that the photo photo could be interpreted with.

You have to know history to create your own history.



The North American Indian - "Nice to have" - This is the whole catalogue of images by Edward.S.Curtis from his lifetime of work documenting Native Americans, as he could see the rapid decline of their culture. He felt he needed to document this as if he didn't their ways would be lost to history. He was right, no one else was documenting this, which now makes this an incredibly important piece of work.

I respect Edward.S.Curtis very much for his dedication and for the quality of his work given the time it was taken and the many trials and difficulties of working out in the field back then. More of a collectors item, for the majority of people it may not provide the best learning tool.


Read my blog on Edward.S.Curtis HERE, to learn more about him.



Annie Leibovitz Portraits 2005 -2016 - "Nice to have" - I am a big fan of Annie Leibovitz's work. So this book is a potential source of great inspiration for anyone who admires Annie and her work. I am surprised how much I have learnt about her work from studying these photos.

This however is a pure photobook, and a catalogue of her collection of work for this time period. There are no words really in here so you won't learn by being reading how these were taken or her thought process. You learn by looking and applying the knowledge you currently have.

This a pure luxury buy as these types of photobooks are expensive. If your an Annie fan and someone is looking for a nice gift to give you, then this could be it.





Photography, The Definitive Visual History - "Essential" - Out of all the books on this list, this book is probably the most helpful in terms of being a learning tool. It lists everything chronologically but look more at the artistic side of photography. How styles of photography change throughout the decades. Whether that be dictated by the preferences of the times or by the equipment being used. New advances in camera equipment, making them more portable, opened up different styles and opportunities. There are a few pages which may show notable equipment of that time. There are pages that dive into profiles of notable photographers of that time.

This book does a good job of explaining why the photos that are shown work artistically. It also gives quotes and thoughts of certain notable photographers.

This is the book you should start with if your a new photographer or experienced building your library.


National Geographic, The Photographs - "Essential" + " Nice to have"- For decades the most wanted and revered jobs for wildlife, landscape and documentary photographers was working for National Geographic. They had big name photographers working for them and they made many new big names.

The reason that it is essential and nice to have is because the range and quality of photography is outstanding and artistic, really inspirational stuff. Also there are some wonderful interviews in there about what and how some of the photographers were thinking during their particular assignment. You gain a good insight into the commitment and what it takes to be working at the highest level. I particularly like the interview with James L. Stanfield about photographing Pope John Paul II.




Annie Leibovitz At Work - "Nice to have" - A book of Annie recalling some memories from her early introduction into photography and from certain assignments she had done throughout her career. You get to see some photos which are perhaps not in general circulation. Honestly I was hoping for some more thoughts of her creative ideas behind some shots. The book is a bit more anecdotal than it is a book of how she works and her inspirations etc. It is a book that Annie Leibovitz fans would no doubt appreciate but it has limited uses as an effective learning tool for the masses.







If you have gone through this list I hope you fond something to help you. Thanks for reading and bye for now.

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Hendy, Carmarthenshire

photographymb87@yahoo.com