Photography books to inspire and improve your photography

My list of top photography books 📚

Over the years I’ve built up quite a collection of photography books and as many of you have asked what my favourites are, I thought I’d put together a list of my favourite inspirational and educational photography books.

Photography books
My favourite books range from provocative portraits by Rankin to eye-catching underwater photography by David Doubilet.

South Southeast - Steve McCurry

I’ve always been a fan of Steve McCurry (I’ve followed his work since I was a teenager at the start of my journey into photography) but this particular publication definitely stands out as one of my all time favourites.

The book features 69 of his images from South and Southeast Asia and includes many of my favourite works of his. Each is set on a double page spread, which allows you to truly appreciate the full power and magic of his images.

Accompanied by anecdotes and personal accounts of the shots, I find I can relate to the images and stories after having worked in Southeast Asia myself.

In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers

In Our Time, which I bought in New York in the late 1990s, captures some of the world’s most historic moments in more than 300 images shot by some of the world’s best photojournalists.

Accompanied by text written by historian William Manchester, the book is an artful combination of reporting and visuals that provide an insightful reflection on our experience of the 20th century.

 In Our Time photography book

In Our Time: The World as Seen by Magnum Photographers is a collection of work by Magnum photographers during the 20th century.

National Geographic: The Photographers

While you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, Steve McCurry’s image of the Afghan girl tells you all you need to know about the quality of this incredible collection of iconic images, shot by National Geographic photographers.

They share their techniques and anecdotes while author Leah Bendavid-Val writes about their work from technical, journalistic, and artistic perspectives.

Lichfield In Retrospect - Patrick Lichfield

Originally published in 1988, Lichfield In Retrospect is a reflection on a selection of the author’s images taken throughout his professional career.

From portraits to landscapes, Lichfield delivered work that was not only technically outstanding, but also thoughtful.

Many may look at his work and wonder why I’ve included this, but when you consider the fact he was using film it gives you new appreciation for how groundbreaking much of his work was. Nowadays it’s easy to look at a scenario, take the photo and check, but it wasn’t that simple when he was photographing.

RankinWorks - Rankin

RankinWorks is a collection of the portrait photographer’s work throughout the 1990s. It chronicles his rise from the days with Dazed & Confused to being an internationally acclaimed photographer.

Much of his early work, for me, is genius and although I find it provocative (sometimes just for the sake of being so, I feel) he’s undoubtedly a master of modern portraiture, which you can see throughout this book.

Melting portrait by Rankin
Portrait by Rankin
© Rankin

The Morning After - David Drebin

This masterful collection of Drebin’s work is one of my newest photography books.

For me it’s an interesting collection of stylized work, much of which has a distinct feel of voyeurism to it. His composition, lighting, use of color and post production is genius. Each image tells a story, evokes emotion and stays in your mind for some time after. For those interested in evocative portraiture combined with opulent cityscapes, this book is well worth a look.

More Than Human - Tim Flach

Tim Flach, who appeared on our Live Talk Show earlier this year, has published five successful books, the most recent of which is Endangered. However, it’s More Than Human that is my favourite.

This collection features close up portraits of animals and aims to “illuminate the relationship between human and non-human animals — to make an inquiry into how these relationships occupy anthropocentric space.”

The lighting, detail, thought and post production work is incredible throughout and it’s no wonder this book is near impossible to get hold of nowadays. The fact that he’s sold as many copies as he has is testament to the quality of the work.

Tim Flach More than Human book

'More Than Human', which examines the relationship between humans and animals, is my favourite book of Tim Flach's.

Five Thousand Days: Press Photography in a Changing World

Similar to In Our Time, Five Thousand Days is a collection of some of the most famous historical moments in our recent history. It’s a fascinating look at time with a unique twist — it covers exactly five thousand days.

The Great LIFE Photographers

Another wonderful collection of documentary work, this book includes work by LIFE magazine photographers, the who’s who of photojournalism, throughout the 20th century.

Again, many of the images mark major milestones in recent history in a collection of color and black and white images.

Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World - Christian Sardet

This, my most recent purchase, is a visually spectacular collection of work that transports the reader into a world they typically would never get to experience.

Sardet used micrography to take a close up look at plankton in a unique and artistic way. His control and lighting of each frame is outstanding, and to be able to capture microscopic organisms in an aesthetically pleasing way is really quite something to see.

I find this especially interesting due to my love of diving - I swim with these on a regular basis but, until now, hardly realised they were there.

Plankton: Wonders of the Drifting World - Christian Sardet
© Christian Sardet

Water Light Time - David Doubilet

David Doubilet is truly a pioneer in the field of underwater photography, his skill is unparalleled and his images simply breathtaking.

Water Light Time includes 25 years worth of his work. From the Red Sea to the waters of the Okavango Delta, Doubilet completely transports you. He captures the essence of what it truly feels like to be underwater.

Whether it be a simple image of a dolphin or shoal of fish, the National Geographic photographer captures something special with every shot and gives you the feeling of what it’s like to be underwater.

Inherit the Dust - Nick Brandt

I only recently discovered Nick Brandt’s work but find every element of it interesting. Shooting on black and white film, the tonal range and quality of his black and white imagery is outstanding, with everything having been processed in the darkroom.

In Inherit the Dust Brandt records the impact of man in places where animals used to roam, but no longer do. He erected life-size panels of his animal portraits and set them in urbanised areas such as factories, wasteland and quarries where they would have occurred naturally.

The majesty of the scale of the prints so thoughtfully incorporated into environments where they clearly no longer belong is both shocking and moving at the same time and brings home the loss of habitat in a startling way. It’s fine art wildlife photography, but not in the way you would expect it.

Inherit the Dust photography book
© Nick Brandt

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