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Vandit Kalia
July 2007

I am a voracious reader of photo books. For one, I enjoy seeing and analyzing the photos. And I am always on the lookout for a unique tip, technique or even inspirational photograph that will broaden my own horizons.

However, the fact remains that not all photo books are made equally. Some are packed to the brim with useful information that takes several readings to grasp. Others have a few nuggets that are worth the purchase price. Yet others make me wonder what the publishers were thinking.

Rather than reviewing all the books I own (at last count, well over 50-60), I have decided to focus for the most part on books that I recommend. There is enough negativity on the web without me adding to it - and more importantly, what doesn't work for me may work for you, and it isn't fair for me to readily tarnish someone's work of effort. Also, with one or two exceptions as noted, I own and have read each of these books. And needless to say, no one is paying me to recommend their books (although they are welcome to send me large sums of money for my recommendations).

So, with that preamble out of the way, here's my list of books that you should consider adding to your library. Books iin Blue are my "must have" picks.


  • Kodak Guide to 35mm Photography - Techniques for Better Pictures: If you want to learn about the basic technical aspects of SLR photography, this is the book to get. It should be the first book you read - even before your camera manual (or even before buying your SLR). Cannot be recommended enough!
  • John Hedgecoe's "The Complete Guide to Photography": John Hegdecoe has lots of books on photography. Some of them deal with specialized subjects, while quite a few are basically dolled up variations of the same book. That is not a bad thing, as the content is very good - lots of photos with clear informative text. My copy is has been supplanted by newer, "digital-friendly" versions, but from what I can tell, "The Complete Guide to Photography" is the one to get. This one has bite-sized info on how to photograph a wide array of subjects and is a great way to get delve deeper into photography.
  • Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure": I do not own this book. However, I have heard so many recommendations for this book that I have no compunctions putting it out there as a guide for beginners.
  • Bryan Peterson "Learning to see creatively": Ok, you've read the basics and know how to focus your camera and get decent exposures. You've even started thinking about composition when taking photos. So where do you go from here? Most people tend to think that excellent photos require travel to far off or exotic locales. This excellent book will fuel your ambition and provide you scope to expand your horizons when it comes to photography. You will learn to look for subjects where-ever you are.


  • National Geographic Photographic Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Photos: This is essentially a leaner but richer version of John Hedgecoe's book recommended above. The quality of photographs is nothing short of amazing, as you would expect from a Nat Geo book. The information presented, while not structured as systematically as in Hedgecoe's book, is a lot more profound in some ways - especially the photographer profiles. This is a book that intermediate photographers should re-read every so often, especially when they hit a wall- this is not a "step by step" guide but it is a guide where pearls of insight & inspiration can be had for the taking.
  • Jim Zuckerman's "Secrets of Color in Photography": A good book by a NatGeo photographer on how to make the most effective use of color in designing your images. You will realize that color isn't simply something that exists, but is an element of composition in its own right.
  • John Shaw's "Nature Photographer's Complete Guide to Professional Field Techniques": I credit this book with transforming me from a snapshooter to a photographer. Even if you are not a nature photographer, you *must* buy this book and read it several times. Shaw's reputation for a great teacher is clearly justified with every page in the book: the section on exposure is the best that I have come across, period and the section on composition really teaches you how to approach a scene in order to get the best photos possible. Beg, borrow or steal one but make sure it is there in your library.
  • Freeman Patterson "Photography and the Art of Seeing": At some point, intermediate photographers reach a plateau and cannot seem to make the next step. This is the book that will help you create the hurdle by providing you with a variety of exercises and techniques to help you expand your horizons, get over the limitations imposed upon you by habit and generally, improve your ability to spot photo opportunities.


  • Freeman Patterson "Photography the World Around You: A Visual Design Workshop": This is a fairly deep book, where the focus is not photography per se but understanding the design elements that go into photography. Most photography books cover the basics of design (line, shape, form, etc.) but this book really delves into it in great detail. However, it really provides you with a deep understanding of how design elements work and how you can put together various pieces to maximize the impact of your image. This is definitely a book that can withstand multiple readings.
  • "On Being a Photographer", "Letting Go of the Camera" & "Single Exposure", from Lenswork Magazine: These 3 books together cost $30. They contain no technical advice whatsoever. They don't even have any photos. What they have is extremely insightful text on the mental aspect of being a photographer & practical, insightful advice on how to approach photography. There are also more philosophical discussions on photography, art & inner vision, but these are always at a level that is understandable and more importantly, at a level that will relate to how you take photos. I was expecting a lot of mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-intellectual babbling, but what I got was exceedingly lucid and well thought-out essays.


  • John Shaw "Closeups in Nature": If there was a definitive book on macro photography, this is it. It has *everything* you need to know about macro photography. And as an added bonus, you get one of the best tutorials on flash use I have ever encountered. Manual flash scare you? Not after you read this book.
  • Art Morris "The Art of Bird Photography": This book is one of the top-selling books on the subject of bird photography and with good reason - it goes into a lot of detail on the nitty-gritties of bird photography: what focusing points to use in which situations, what metering mode to use when, how to expose different subjects and so on, This book should be especially helpful to people who do not have a mastery on exposure and want practical short-cuts that they can apply right away. A revised version of this book is available on CD directly from Art - I am in the process of reviewing it and will update this article soon.
  • Chris Gomersall "Photographing Wild Birds": This book takes a slightly different approach to Art's book, focusing more on the field aspect of bird photography - how to stalk, how to use blinds and so on. It makes an excellent complement to Art's book, in my opinion.
  • Joe McDonald "The New Complete Guide to Wildlife Photography": There are lots of books on wildlife photography. I own about 12 or more of them. This is the one you want as a reference. It covers a lot of subjects, ranging from gear to choice of subjects to capturing behavior and so on. No other wildlife photography book is as thorough.
  • Joe McDonald "Designing Wildlife Photographs": This book forces you to think a little bit harder about what you are shooting - ie, going beyond the "aim and fire" that most wildlife photographers seem to consider the recipe for success. Obviously, your ability to design wildlife shots is controlled by the models (and if you think Naomi Campbell was tough to shoot, try telling a tiger to adjust his pose!) - but the greater awareness of design you get from this book definitely has the potential to take your photography up a notch.
  • Joe McDonald "Photographing on Safari": Are you going to Africa for a safari for the first time? If so, buy this book. No discussions. Whatever your experience level, you will get a lot of useful info here.
  • Martin Edge "The Underwater Photographer: 3rd Edition": A revised version of the modern classic on underwater photography, this book covers everything that you need to know for underwater photography. A lot of technical content, and filled to the brim with tips on getting the best shots, this is pretty much the Bible for all underwater shooters - especially SLR users. Martin Ege is to underwater photography what John Shaw is to nature photography - an excellent writer and teacher.
  • Jim Church's "Essential Guide to Composition": If your underwater photos are lacking oomph, or if you dont really know how to approach the aesthetic part of underwater photography, this lean, no-nonsense book gets you running quickly. Even experienced underwater photographers will glean something new from this book. This is definitely a book that can be re-read several times.
  • Kodak Guide to Shooting Great Travel Pictures: Another gem from Kodak, this book covers the entire gamut of photo opportunities that fall in this broad genre. It is geared primarily towards beginner photographers, rather than pro/serious hobbyists. Within that scope, it provides an excellent reference and should be useful to both SLR and compact users.
  • National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Travel: While the Kodak guide is geared towards beginners, this book is more oriented towards serious hobbyists. It provides a more holistic approach to travel photography and talks about concepts, planning, etc. rather than taking a "how to shoot <subject>" cookbook formula. As is the norm for this series, the text is lean without a lot of verbiage, but there are lots of insights - multiple readings strongly recommended.

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