Words and images

I love to read and so when it comes to learning more about photography, I will often turn to books for more information. Recently I had friends staying with me and they, avid photographers themselves, commented on my range of books on photography, some of which they hadn’t seen before. They ended up ordering a few of the titles themselves. So I thought this might be of interest to more people and that I would share a few of my favourite photography books here. Most of these books you can order from internet book stores like Amazon and Book Depository and a few you might even find in old-fashioned book stores.

For technical advice

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Ansel Adams – The Negative
The Master. Adams wrote a three part series – The Camera, The Negative, The Print – putting all his learning and discoveries in these books. The Negative goes in depth into various technical matters such as exposure, the zone system and darkroom processes. Although written for analog cameras, the concepts are still relevant, even in this digital age. It’s not a light read, so I don’t recommend it for beginning photographers who want to read up on exposure. There are other, more easily digestible books for that (see below). But at some point it is good to turn to the masters and I plan on getting the other parts of the series as well.

Galen Rowell – The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography
The other master of the outdoors. A series of essays in which the late Rowell writes on how to express vision, technique, journeys and communicating through photography. Again a book written when analog cameras were still around, but his knowledge doesn’t age. Rowell was a master of outdoor photography and this is a book I regularly dip into or consult. When I had booked a helicopter flight over Iguassu, this is the book I consulted to find answers to what type of lens and settings to use. I followed his advice to the letter and got great pictures. (And now you all know where the inspiration for my wordpress moniker comes from…)

Freeman Patterson – Photography and the Art of Seeing
Another classic for photographers. Patterson challenges you to look at your environment and to see beyond the obvious. He writes about observing, imagining a vision and learning to express that vision. It’s a quick read if you want that, but it’s worthwhile spending time on his exercises.

Syl Arena – The Speedliter’s Handbook
Arena is one of my new favourite authors. This man has a knack of breaking down difficult concepts. Although I had two flashes (one for the Fuji systems and one for the Canon), I wasn’t too sure how to use them and had mixed results even with automatic settings. Just a few chapters into this veritable bible on Canon speedlites, I’m much clearer on what I can do with my speedlite and even my Fuji flash has unveiled its mysteries to me. It’s a brick, but everything you ever wanted to know about Canon speedlites and using flash is in there.

Alexandre Buisse – Remote Exposure
For all of us outdoorsy types, this is a fun book filled with tips on hiking and climbing photography. A lot of common sense advice and some inspirational photos. Probably not for everyone, but for those of us who try to combine photography with the remote outdoors and are looking for tips on how to make our load lighter, this is a nice book to dip into.

David Gibson – The Street Photographer’s Manual
While most of the previous books are about landscape / nature  photography, the fact is that I’m living in a (very) large city at the moment. I’ve been trying to study some books on street photography in an effort to make the most of photography opportunities here. It’s not easy, but Gibson’s book is an interesting expose on different styles in street photography, tips on how to make the most of opportunities.

Syl Arena – Lighting for Digital Photography
This is the book for those who need to understand light and exposure fundamentals in photography. A great book for beginners, Arena explains concepts easily and well. If you read this book you will be well versed on all these concepts. I bought it on Kindle, but also available in hard copy.

David DuChemin – Within the Frame
This was the third photography book I bought, but the most important and most useful one out of those. DuChemin covers similar fundamentals on exposure as Arena, but also adds in how zoom lenses work differently from wide-angle lenses and how to use them to optimal effect. A great book for beginners and an inspirational book.

David DuChemin – The Visual Toolbox
This comes filled with not only theory and explanation, but exercises too for those disciplined enough. It’s a “curriculum for learning not just how to use a camera – but how to make stronger photographs”. Need I say more?

Art Wolfe – The New Art of Photographing Nature
An easy read that dives into composition, perspective, lighting, colour and much more. Often giving various pictures of the same subject it explains why some shots work better than others.

For inspiration

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Sebastião Salgado – Gênesis
The contemporary master. For me there are few people who get close to Salgado and it’s not because I’m currently living in Brazil that I feel this way. His monochrome pictures are so good you don’t even want to see them in colour. His sharpness, his composition, it’s all there. And his ethics. If you’ve never heard of him, check him out. Gênesis is his latest work, but he has been a prolific photographer for many decades, mostly on social justice issues (Workers, Migrations, Africa). Wim Wenders’ recent documentary on Salgado – Salt of the Earth (Salgado means salty in English) – is a great movie about the photographer and the man. I’ve got ten more months to try and meet him in person…

Magnum Contacts
A lot of famous photographs are featured in this book and the stories of how they got chosen for publication. What works so well in this book is that you get to see the contact sheet and the final selection by the photographer. You can follow the process of why they selected one exposure over the other. A book to return to time after time for inspiration.

Steve McCurry – South Southeast
Beautiful photographs taken in South Asia and South East Asia, including ‘that’ famous image of the Afghan refugee girl in Pakistan. McCurry’s use of colour jumps out at you (such a difference from Salgado).

Vivian Maier – A street photographer
There has been a lot of publicity around Vivian Maier in the last few years and rightfully so. Some magical photos in this book to get inspired by. After seeing the documentary about her, I’m not sure that I like her methods all that much, but I can’t deny the power of her photographs.

Galen Rowell – Poles Apart
A very interesting book which features in one section juxtaposed photos taken in the Arctic and the Antarctic. Some combinations work better than others, but they are always interesting. Inspirational viewing for anyone who plans to travel to either of these regions.

Helen Ennis – Frank Hurley’s Antarctica
A compilation of Hurley’s photographs to accompany an exhibition of his work that showed a few years ago in Canberra. I think his work is incredible, particularly when you consider the conditions he was working in and the equipment he was using. Powerful images.

I would love to hear what other people’s favourite and inspirational books are!

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3 comments on “Words and images

  1. Helen McF says:

    Excellent post Sheila, Thanks for the inspiration. I was in the National Gallery recently and succumbed to a few of their photography books – they have a great selection. I have at last found something that works as a gift for guys – photographing ones anyway. I bought “Deep South” by Paul Theroux with photographs by Steve McCurry, “Read this if you want to take great photographs of people” by Henry Carroll, “Polaroid How to take instant photos” and “Gallileo and the Art of Ageing Mindfully” by Adam Ford. I thought these would be good to take along to our photochallenge tomorrow as they could be good sources of inspiration for those new to street photography. All good food for thought, or a pleasant interlude of images.

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  2. Thanks Helen for your kind comments. I just read about Theroux and McCurry’s book in Outside magazine and saw Henry Carroll’s book in a bookshop here this afternoon (but in Portuguese, which would not make for easy reading!). Always interesting to see new work and other sources of inspiration. Of course I should simply get out there and take more photographs. If only the grey clouds would move on, I could get out there with a camera and take more high-rise reflection photographs. Excuses, excuses…

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  3. Murray Foote says:

    Very interesting post, Sheila. I have none of those books. Most of mine are on Photoshop and Lightroom. For better or worse, I tend to leave the Art of Photography to intuition and experience.

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