Reading List: My Favorite Photography Books

by | Dec 18, 2020

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.”—Groucho Marx

Several years ago, along with two wonderfully talented photographers, I was teaching a Mentor Series photo workshop in Montana. On a cold, rainy day when it was too unpleasant to shoot outside, the workshop’s moderator set up a panel discussion with the three of us to answer questions from the attendees.

One of the questions asked was “what is your favorite photography book? I don’t remember specifically what the other two photographers recommended but I know they were contemporary books and both shooters were humble enough not to recommend their own. But I do remember the books that I suggested and would like to share them with you today. The third book(s) that I talk about are highly specific to my own photographic interests and I’ll include it as only a point of information at the end of this post.

My suggestions were not new books and waste little of your time addressing the kind of stuff (and fluff) that overpopulate modern photo books. Instead of telling you how to take pictures, these books will help you improve the way that you make photographs. And because these books are old, they’re available at really good prices so you can afford to own them noth or should easily be able to find them at your local library.

Discover Your Self Through Photography by Ralph Hattersley. This 1971 book by a noted photography teacher was Contributing Editor to Popular Photography magazine starting in 1957, where he wrote a column called  ‘The Hattersley Class For Beginners’ that I avidly read each month back in the day. There’s more than a little bit of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in Hattersley’s writing and that is, I think, a reflection of his times—times that I personally consider the most creative period in my life. The book includes end-of-chapter lessons that you can use to expand your photographic consciousness on so many levels that I think it will genuinely surprise you. If you want to give your photography a gentle shock treatment, spend 15 minutes a day quietly reading several pages from this book. Discover Your Self Through Photography is no ordinary photo book and, no kidding, it could change your life.

 

Photographic Seeing by Andreas Feininger was originally published in 1973 and may just be the definitive book on photographic composition. While I may rhapsodize over William Mortensen’s The Command to Look a book I dearly love, I’ll freely admit that reading Willy and his photography is an acquired taste while Feininger’s advice comes from the Golden Age of Photojournalism since Feininger was a Life magazine photographer for 19 years. His book’s thesis compares how your eyes see the world to the way that a camera does and why its the difference that can make great photographic composition. His writing can sometimes be tough and unflinching in his criticism (of other photographers) as I’ve mentioned before. Unlike almost all contemporary photo books, Feininger’s book is a dense read but take your time and plow thought it a few pages at a time. I promise the journey will be well worth it.

My original second book recommendation to that Montana audience was Creative Color Photography of Robin Perry and it’s aimed at studio photographers, especially those interested in creating special effects, which I’ve always been fascinated with even before Photoshop. This and Perry’s other book, Photography for the Professionals, remain my go-to books on the subject of special effects even though some of the optical and darkroom effects may appear dated to anyone who grew up with Photoshop..

All of these books are available used at affordable prices from Amazon and the titles are linked to pages where you can purchase them. I’ve noticed that since the last time I recommended these books that the prices have gone up, sometime more than a little bit. But they are still well worth tracking down. If you can afford both books, go for it or look for them at your local library.

POSTSCRIPT: I am an avid reader. My personal library includes thousands of books—3200 according to the movers when we moved onto Daisy Hill—that are stored in bookcases in my home office, family room and even my dining room. I read all kinds of books, including those about photography (although good ones seem to be in short supply these days) or cars or mysteries. I am especially fond of historical mysteries. And if you are wondering what book I’m reading in the above photo, it’s a thriller written by Preston & Child that I got from the Parker, Colorado library


If you enjoyed today’s blog post and would like to buy Joe a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here.

 

My own book Joe Farace’s Glamour Photography is full of tips, tools and techniques for glamour and boudoir photography with new copies available from Amazon for $20.03, as I write this. Used copies start at the hard-to-beat price price of $8.90 and the Kindle version is $19.99 for those who prefer a digital format.