Recommended Photography Books and Learning Tools

Modern cameras do a very good job of taking a picture and managing the details for you — to a degree. But you’re going to hit a point as you progress where the auto modes of the camera have one idea of how to take a picture, and you want to take a different picture. To make the camera take your picture instead of settling for the one wants to give you, you need to learn the concepts of photography and the mechanics of how a camera works and how to manipulate its settings to coerce it to do what you want.

The resources I’ve collected here are ones that I’ve studied and that I found useful during my attempts to improve myself as a photographer. Some of them will help you use your camera better. Many of them are about the post-processing phase using tools like Photoshop or Lightroom. And there are also a number of books that talk about the mental processes of being a photographer and how to start think through the process of creating an image by visualizing the image you want and knowing how to make the tools create that image for you.

Online Learning Tools for Photography

Paper Instructional eBooks

Other Photography Resources

Paper books of Photographs

eBooks of Photographs

Reviews of Photography books and Resources

Creative Live

Free Online Instruction
Creative Live, Free viewing of the live class; available for purchase for later viewing

While I am a big fan of the book for studying new things, sometimes the best way to learn is to sit down with a teacher and have them show you how they do things. The online video technologies have revolutionized this kind of teaching and new educational models are being created to take advantage of it. One of the most successful to date is Creative Live, a Seattle-based online educational company.

If you’re not familiar with Creative Live, you should be. Their format is straight forward. They bring in people to teach classes on various topics and sell the videos of those classes. Where they’re a bit different is that all of their classes are taught with an audience that interacts with the teacher and asks questions, and when the class is being taught live, it’s streamed out to the universe and you can, if you wish, sit in on it for free — and the greater internet is also encouraged to ask questions and interact with the teacher along the way.

You can literally take every class Creative Live ever teaches and never pay them a penny, if you want to sit in on them live (which typically means 9AM to 4PM Pacific Coast time). They also replay most sessions for free 2-3 times in the days after the live teaching. They typically have thousands of people around the world watching these live sessions. I will typically pick up sessions of interest to see whether it’s worth buying the entire course, which I can then stick on the iPad and watch in my free time.

You can keep an eye on upcoming classes with their calendar or look through their catalog to find classes of interest, or just watch the classes going on currently via their live feed. If you decide you want to have a class for later viewing and study, you can buy it from Creative Live and download it to your computer. None of their offerings have DRM and have no restrictions on your personal use. If you buy the classes while they are being taught you can buy them at a nice discount, so it really makes sense to watch for classes of interest, take in some sessions in the first day or two of the class, and if you find it to be what you’re looking for, grab a copy for later viewing offline.

Creative Live’s core has been photography (not surprising, since it was founded by Chase Jarvis), but it’s been growing and branching out, and has been doing more video and business topics, and just started an audio curriculum that looks fascinating.

The production quality at Creative Live is consistently high, the material that’s taught is also well-thought out and covered deeply but in an accessible way. It really is a key resource for people looking to improve themselves and looking to be taught new skills and introduced to new concepts — and without risk, because you can sample each class before you commit any money. Well worth keeping an eye on and grabbing classes that interest you.

Here are some of the classes I’ve sat in on through Creative Live that I recommend you might want to take:

  • Fundamentals of Digital Photography, which is taught by John Greengo. Greengo is a solid teacher and a travel photographer who’s also one of Art Wolfe’s assistants. This class is not inexpensive at $149 (although they run sales a few times a year that will bring the price down) but it’s a great value for the mass of material in it and the quality of the teaching. There’s about 25 hours of video that he taught over five days that covers every possible aspect of basic digital photography. I sat in on a number of sessions and I was impressed with the quality.
  • Greengo, by the way, does one-day courses to teach you about how to operate specific models of camera. If you’ve just purchased a new camera and want some help figuring out all of the capabilities, these classes are good and inexpensive introductions
  • Vision Driven Photography by David duChemin is about the thought processes of being a photographer and learning to see the possible images and turn the creative process into a thoughtful one.
  • Foundations of a Working Photographer by Zack Arias talks about the realities of life as a professional photographer and the skills and mindset needed to succeed in the profession. Anyone thinking of turning pro with their camera should watch this seminar.
  • Lightroom 101 by Jared Platt is a three day detailed introduction to the program. With over 20 hours of instruction, Platt is a good teacher who goes in-depth on the tool; if you’re trying to get started with Lightroom, I can’t recommend this class highly enough.
  • The Ultimate Lightroom Workflow by Jared Platt. If you’ve been using Lightroom for a while and want to upgrade your time on the computer to be faster, more efficient and more effective, this is a good seminar for you. Platt shows you how to get more done in less time, which will give you more time to get behind a camera and create more images.
  • Tabletop Product Photography by Don Giannatti explores the world of shooting smaller items in a studio setting and shares some of his tactics and technique for this kind of photography.

Exposure for Outdoor Photography

Michael Frye

A good, detailed discussion about dealing with exposure in natural light conditions by one of the top photographers of Yosemite.

Impressions of Light

William Neill

Yosemite: Volume One

William Neill

William Neill’s been photographing Yosemite and the High Sierras for many years. His work moves very heavily into artistic abstraction over traditional landscape imagery, which is very different from the typical work I shoot, but I’ve been doing more experimentation in abstraction, and Neill is the photographer that I’ve been studying to get a sense of how to do that. It’s an aspect of photography I like and am trying to teach myself to do well. Neill has also been experimenting with ebook publishing, and he’s turned out some strong works in that form; I especially like Impressions of Light as a good work showing the power of the abstract landscape, and of course, his book Yosemite: Volume One on the park.

Landscapes in Lightroom 5

Michael Frye
Michael Frye Photography, 87 double-page spreads, PDF

Michael Frye is a photographer best known for his work in Yosemite National Park and was affiliated with the Ansel Adams Gallery there for many years. His work has influenced mine a lot, and a significant part of my image processing workflow is based on his ideas and teaching. He has just published Landscapes in Lightroom 5 which is a great way to get a handle on the latest release of Lightroom.

Landscapes in Lightroom 5 covers the the basics of processing images and also how to take advantage the new features in the latest release. His teaching style is different than a lot of manuals. Instead of trying to teach Lightroom feature by feature, he puts the focus on the image, and through a series of examples with his own images, and talks about the thinking behind the changes he makes on the image to take it from a RAW file to a final product. He also makes available his original RAW files, so you can practice on them and follow along with his suggestions on your own computer, which is a great touch.

If you’re trying to get past the “push the buttons and slide the knobs until it looks good” phase of using Lightroom and teach yourself how to think your way through an image and make modifications to it with a purpose to a final look, this is a good book to help you understand what you need to do to make that shift.

Light and Land: Landscapes in the Digital Darkroom

Michael Frye

Michael Frye takes you through a set of his photos and talks about the decisions he made in shooting and post-processing each. A fascinating look into the decision process of a photographer and his techniques for maximizing the quality of an image.

Lightroom 5 Unmasked

Piet van Den Eynde

Updated significantly from his Lightroom 4 book., this is Piet van Den Eynde’s detailed look into how to use Lightroom 5. 356 pages, 13 chapters and a good mix of both instruction into the capabilities of Lightroom and techniques on how to use Lightroom to get the most out of your images. If you buy only one book on how to use Lightroom, this is the one I’d suggest.

The Moment it Clicks

Joe McNally
Peachpit Press, Trade Paperback and Kindle

Joe McNally’s The Moment It Clicks is in many ways an episodic memoir of his photography (if you’re not reading his blog, you should). He talks about many of his photographs, including some that I’m sure will make you go “Oh, HE took that!”, and about why he did what he did and the underlying philosophy. It’s a great book for getting inside the head of a photographer and seeing how he sees an image and then goes out and creates it. It’s not too geeky in the gory details, but if you work through the tutorials and content on Strobist, you’ll be able to understand what McNally is doing and translate it into your own work. One thing that attracts me to this is that McNally’s strengths are very different than the kinds of photography I do, and because of that, I’ve found it helped me see how to work in those new areas and extend my own range and capabilities. A book I really, really enjoyed reading.

Obata’s Yosemite

Chiura Obata
Yosemite Conservancy, Hardcover and Trade Paperback

The book I find most inspirational about Yosemite isn’t a photography book at all. It’s a book of woodprints by a Japanese Artist named Chiura Obata. He first visited Yosemite in 1927 and continued for many years, finally interrupted by World War II when he was interned in a camp (and his work done at the camp is also stunning: you should get a copy of Topaz Moon: Chiura Obata’s Art of the Internment). Obata’s Yosemite is a stunning set of art that really brings Yosemite to life in a way far different than photography does, but which I find very spiritual and influential in how I see the park in my visits — and which somewhat indirectly led me to William Neill.

Photograph

David duChemin
Craft and Vision, PDF Format

One of duChemin’s projects has been an e-book style magazine called Photograph. This series comes out quarterly and just finished its first year. Each issue contains a lot of material: portfolios by photographers from around the world, technical discussions of photographic technique, a few equipment discussions. You can look at a typical table of contents here.

Photograph is missing a few things from the photography magazines you’re likely familiar with. It doesn’t have advertising. It doesn’t have sponsors. It doesn’t have articles that are little more than lists of gear that happen to be found in advertising elsewhere in the magazine. It doesn’t have pieces that’ll activate your Gear Acquisition gene.

Instead it has articles aimed at intermediate and advanced photographers trying to push their craft further. In a recent issue, for instance, Michael Frye has a fascinating piece on adapting the classic Zone system for the digital age and how he uses it to make sure that his raw images have the detail and information he needs to create a landscape image.

For me, the portfolios alone are worth the price of the magazine, giving me a look into how the kind of photographer I want to be conceives, creates, catalogs and presents their images. It’s been a great resource for me as I’ve been trying to figure that out for myself.

So Photograph, like everything in Craft and Vision‘s catalog, is highly recommended by me, and worth your time to check out and sample.

The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite

Michael Frye

Frye has published The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite Recommended Photography Books and Learning Tools which I think is the definitive book on photographing Yosemite; in fact, my old copy has disappeared, so I just picked up a new one to have with me on this upcoming trip.

Photography Q&A

Zack Arias
New Riders, Kindle and Trade Paperback

I first heard about Zack Arias when he published a guest blog on Kelby’s blog called Transform. It blew me away because here was something almost nobody talks about — what it’s like being a photographer. There is, frankly, way too much push the shutter button and watch the magic happen — once you buy my book going on out in the photography blogging world, and not nearly enough talk about what it’s really like being a day to day working guy who’s making a living and keeping the bills paid by hauling out the camera and getting the job done.

It was Zack, indirectly, who helped me understand that it was okay to not try to turn pro, or more correctly, that it was okay to enjoy taking photos and not feel the pressure to turn them into dollars, because that was the right thing for me at this stage in my life. He is a great sanity check for the mythology of photography that comes out of so many other voices in the industry and I find his take on all of this fascinating and educational.

Zack has finally done a book, and that it exists was enough for me to buy it, just to toss some dollars in his direction. But I’m happy to say that Photography Q&A by Zack Arias is a fascinating read on its own. To build this book, Zack created a blog and asked people to submit questions. People asked, Zack answered. Zack doesn’t pull his punches and he says what he thinks. His worldview is that succeeding in photography is hard and complicated. He’s taught me a lot, just by being Zack.

The Print and the Process

David duChemin
New Riders, Kindle and Trade Paperback

If there’s a photographer that’s had the greatest influence in my work in the last two years, it has to be David duChemin. His work spans a wide range of material. He’s written a number of traditionally published books, the latest being The Print and the Process : Taking Compelling Photographs from Vision to Expression, but he’s also the founder of a small e-book publishing house called Craft and Vision. This house primarily publishes ebooks that are shorter, more focussed, and incredibly inexpensive: almost all are about $5, so you can get yourself an evening or two of instruction for the cost of a trip to Starbucks.

At some point as you mature as a photographer, you will wake up one morning and think to yourself “I never want to read another blog post about how to put my camera in aperture mode, or why real photographers don’t use autofocus (hint: they’re lying), or how if you use these magical (patented) SEO techniques that image sales will come flying into your email inbox (hint: they’re really lying).

When you hit that point, you’re ready to start reading David duChemin. Unlike many photography book authors, duChemin talks a lot less about the mechanics of the tools and instead tries to focus on making the image rather than taking, which is to say thinking through the composition and the mechanics of how you process it and not leave those decisions up to chance or to the camera.

The Vision Driven Photographer

David duChemin

A great introduction to the path of starting to understand composition and the factors that go into learning how to make photographs instead of taking them.