best books for aspiring photographers

Having interviewed so many wonderful photographers I was intrigued to put together a special reading list of books, especially for aspiring photographers.  Would it contain photo books, classic fiction or non-fiction on the subject of creativity or composition? I’m happy to say it’s a stunning combination of all of them.  I reached out to some of our most popular guests from the world of photography and asked them to nominate the best books for aspiring photographers.  Starting out in photography can be daunting, and lots of people find their comfort and support in the form of books.  Inspiration can be found in any form, but here at The Reading Lists, we’re all about books – so we are on the search for the best books for aspiring photographers.  But first, let’s meet our amazing panel of photographers.

Brooke shaden interviewBrooke Shaden

Brooke Shaden is a photographer who studied Film and English at Temple University.  Her work with self-portraits began shortly after University.  Brooke’s work has garnered great interest and she has grown a strong following, and her work has been exhibited around the world.  Not only this, but Brooke is also a writer, a motivational speaker and a philanthropist.

joel Robison interviewJoel Robison

Joel Robison is an incredibly talented fine art photographer, originally from Canada – but currently residing in the United Kingdom. He has been creating and sharing his conceptual portraiture for the last 7 years and has a strong interest in storytelling and self-expression through art.  Alongside his own work, Joel Robison has also taught over 200 students across 7 countries in a series of photography workshops.

ella Morton interviewElla Morton

Ella Morton is a Canadian visual artist who lives in Toronto, Canada.  Ella earned a BFA from Parsons The New School Design in New York in 2008 and followed that with an MFA from York University, Toronto.  Ella Morton has had her brilliant work exhibited globally, with perhaps some of the more notable exhibitions including Gallery 1313 in Toronto, the Photo Centre Northwest in Seattle, and The Crying Room Projects in Vancouver.

Michael Pitts interviewMichael Pitts

Michael Pitts is one of Britain’s foremost underwater camera people, having worked on numerous projects around the world. He has been recognised with a plethora of awards, including Emmys for cinematography on two BBC landmark series: David Attenborough’s ‘Private Life of Plants’ and ‘Blue Planet’. Michael has over 20 years experience of making wildlife and science documentaries for the BBC and Independent Companies.

Now, please enjoy this special list of the best books for aspiring photographers…

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

Brooke Shaden:

So much of the time creating art is about moving past what blocks us to find inspiration and act on that inspiration. We get caught in our heads and moving forward feels like a greater obstacle than coming up with ideas or putting the logistics together. This book gives us the tools to fight past that mental barrier to create the most meaningful art.

Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

Obama by Pete SouzaJoel Robison:

The first is Pete Souza’s new book; Obama: An Intimate Portrait.  I was lucky enough to meet Pete Souza last year and see a presentation of his images and stories about his work during the Obama presidency. When the book arrived I was taken aback not only by the incredible skill Pete has as a documentary photographer but also in his ability to really tell the story of a human being. I felt like by the end of the book I was able to really understand who Obama was not only as a president but also as a husband, father, and man. It’s an incredible book filled with poignant and beautiful photographs.

River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit

Ella Morton:

Following Eadweard Muybridge in the late 1800s, as he developed his photographic career in the American West, Solnit provides a fascinating account of the early development of camera technology. She describes the evolution of photography alongside other inventions of the era, like the railroad and standardized time, providing a perceptive view of how society and the human imagination was transforming at the time.

Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Brooke Shaden:

My journey as a visual artist has been most aided by non-visual art forms. Studying writing in various forms, first with screenwriting and then novel writing, has allowed me to understand character development, setting, and more. When you understand how to create captivating characters, you can parlay that into the visual medium with ease and confidence. This book helps us to understand characters in a simple and creative way.

On Photography by Susan Sontag

Ella Morton:

This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to do photography. Sontag describes impeccably what drives us to take photographs and how the invention of photography has changed the human mind.

Pictures On A Page by Harold Evans

Michael Pitts:

pictures on a pageAs an aspiring photographer and filmmaker, the one book that captivated me from the moment I first opened it and one that I still recommend to fellow photographers, students and friends is Pictures On A Page by Harold Evans. First published in 1978 this pre-digital classic of news, sport and observational photography is absolutely fascinating and unparalleled in its own right. It gives true insight and an unrivalled study of photojournalism at a time when shooting on film literally meant each and every shot counted. Seeing the searing, grainy immediacy of Dom McCullins images from the theatres of war he served in are humbling. Henri Cartier-Bresson black and white images are truly arresting. There are many more. These images are part of history.

The words, a picture is worth a thousand words, ring true when viewing these images and even now it’s still a book that serves as a template for any aspiring photographer. Capturing that moment when a photograph fuses perfect composition and yet still tells a story without the need of written explanation is rare. But, Harold Evans former editor of the Sunday Times and Times takes the reader behind the images and analyses each in turn. Four decades on Pictures on a Page is still considered the definitive text on photojournalism, graphics and picture selection. For the professional and student, it is a must.

Inspiration in Photography by Brooke Shaden

Joel Robison:

The second is a book by Brooke Shaden; Inspiration in Photography. It’s a combination of imagery created by Brooke and a lesson on how to see creativity and inspiration in every day. I’ve been friends with Brooke for ages and I’m always inspired by her ability to produce work at a constant rate, this book shares her process and how she is able to create captivating storytelling images. It’s a definite must-read for anyone who wants to work on their creative mind.


Dune by Frank Herbert

dune by frank HerbertBrooke Shaden:

I realize this book has nothing to do with art directly, but in a roundabout way, any art that touches us deeply makes its way into the art that we create. Therefore, I invite you to list your favourite novel here as well. When I read Dune, I was immediately captured by a universe that felt so real and rich that I couldn’t step away from it. I have carried the feelings and emotions of that world with me for over a decade, using it as a means of escape and study. The best novels will do that and therefore teach you about two most important things: one is what you yourself love to consume, and the other is what you can apply to your own work.

Wonderland by Kirsty Mitchell

Joel Robison:

The third is Wonderland by Kirsty Mitchell. This is the mother of all photography books. Not only is it massive (5kg) but each page is filled with the detailed work of Kirsty Mitchell’s Wonderland project. The book walks you through not only the finished pieces of the series but also the stories behind the images and the making of the images themselves. As a long time fan of the detail in Kirsty’s work, it’s truly amazing to see up close the amount of work she’s put into this series and how much effort was put into each image. The book is hard to get a hold of but definitely worth it if you can get one!

In Defense of the Poor Image by Hito Steyerl

Ella Morton:

Although it is an article, not a book, Steyerl provides an extremely perceptive portrait of photography as it is today. It celebrates the many incarnations photographic images have taken in the digital age, and what they mean for us.

What do you think are the best books for aspiring photographers? Let us know your nominations for the best books for aspiring photographers in the comments below!