Below is a list of more than two dozen photography books that would make a good collection for any photographer. We have included some rare books that would be desirable, along with their cheaper alternative.

A well-rounded general photo library would have variety of genres represented to provide visual stimulation and inspiration for any type of photographer and to provide a broad range of the interpretations and practice of photography. It is extremely hard to say what type of library is appropriate for any one photographer, as each individual is drawn to different aspects of photography. This list is meant to be inclusive of photography books that would be of value/interest to any visually motivated person.

Photo How-To:

The Camera The Negative The Print

The Camera, The Negative and The Print together make up The Ansel Adams Photography Series. These books are considered some of the most important photography books. Written by the master photographer Ansel Adams, they cover a wide range of essential information about the craft of photography.

The Moment In Clicks

Joe McNally is one of the most sought-after assignment photographers, working for a vast variety of publications including Sports Illustrated, National Geographic and many more. It provides an inside look into the creation of powerful images. He shares inside knowledge and tricks on everything from equipment to inspiration and so much more. It’s filled with incredible images.


The Man, The Image & The World: A Retrospective

Henri Cartier-Bresson is one of the most famous photojournalists of all time who was constantly in search of what he referred to as “The decisive moment.” He documented the world for four decades by setting up a frame and waiting for the moment when all elements combined into a powerful image (where visual and human-interest meet). His original print book The Decisive Moment sells for more than $500 a piece, and some collector’s versions sell in the thousands. The retrospective on his work, however, will provide a photographer with the most important examples to appreciate and gain inspiration from.


Photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado is renowned for his ability to document the poor and the suffering citizens of the world. His striking portraits are visually compelling and give people who are currently toiling a voice. His images include sulfur miners, dam builders assembly-line workers, and many more.

The Photographic Essay

This book is a look behind the scenes look at William Albert Allard’s life. Readers learn of his beginnings, influences, and the stories behind many of his most famous photographic essays. He emphasized emotion and was incredible at humanizing his subjects.

The Camera as Conscience

Eugene Smith is one of the biggest “heroes” of photojournalism who pursued countless important photographic essays. His work appeared in dozens of important publications including Life Magazine and Newsweek, and helped shaped the way America viewed itself during the mid-century. This book is a collection of his greatest work and also includes some previously unpublished pieces. You might also consider W. Eugene Smith Photographs 1934-1975 as another collection of his work.

This is War

Robert Capa, founder of the Magnum photo agency and prolific photojournalist, has been called the man who “invented war photography.” This book contains many important pieces of war photography history, and includes his coverage of the Spanish Civil War, Chinese resistance to Japanese invasion, D-day, and liberation of concentration camps. If you are looking for a less expensive collection of his work, you might consider “Robert Capa: the Definitive Collection”, which is more of a retrospective on his photographic career.

Ward 81

Mary Ellen Mark is an acclaimed photographer, known often for her provocative documentary photography. Her work often focuses on intense emotion and eccentric subject matter. This book is no exception. Here, you experience the life of the women in Ward 81, a security ward in an Oregon institution.


Photographs 1970-1990

Annie Leibovitz began as a photographer for Rolling Stone, and has created some of the most iconic celebrity images from Whoppi Goldberg in a bathtub of milk to a nude, pregnant Demi Moore. Leibovitz has two major collections of her work: Photographs 1970-90 and A Photographer’s Life: 1990-2005. Photographs contains many of her earlier and extremely iconic images including the famous photo of John Lennon nude wrapped around his wife, just hours before he was killed.

A Life in Photography: 1968-2008

Joyce Tenneson images have a distinctly feminine quality that helps distinguish her work from that of others. A Life in Photography is a retrospective on 30 years of her work. Some of her most successful other books are Wise Women and Transformations (collectable book costing several hundred dollars).

Sumo (Re-released)

Fashion photographer Helmut Newton is one of the most influential and controversial photographers of all time. His work is bold and controversial. He is famous for his nude and erotic work. The original edition of Sumo has versions selling for more than $10,000, making it one of the most expensive photo books in the world. A new edition is on the way soon, so you might not want to shell out the big bucks just yet.

Irving Penn: Platinum Prints

His career spanned more than 50 years, keeping him photographing for Vogue into his ’90s. This book contains many of Penn’s most important and famous works including a portrait of Pablo Picasso, portraits of indigenous people, still life studies, and stunning fashion images. Another fascinating book you may consider (as a cheaper alternative) is Irving Penn Regards the Work of Issey Miyake. This book shows the famous collaborations between famous fashion designer Miyake and photographer Penn.

Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004

It’s likely you’ll recognize some of the images in this book, even if you’re relatively new to photography. Richard Avedon’s portraits and fashion work contains some of the most recognizable faces around. Richard Avedon Photographs 1946-2004 is a retrospective of his work, but there are other collections of his work you may consider. In the American West is a famous photographic project where Avedon travels America for five years to capture the faces of the west. Fashion brings together nearly seven decades of powerful fashion images by Avedon.

Paolo Roversi: Studio

Paolo Roversi’s studio portraiture has been very influential. His style harkens back to the early aesthetics of photography, with long exposures and faded images. This photographer’s work has influenced many other famous photographers, and his work can be found gracing the pages of Vogue, W, Harpers Bazaar and more. He has shot many famous ad campaigns and has an unmistakable style. The original edition of Studio sells for far more than $1,000. If you like his work you may consider Libretto or Nudi. His photo books often are low in print run, and quickly become collectibles.


Galen Rowell: A Retrospective

Galen Rowell was a world-traveler, adventurer, preservationist and photographer. He is considered one of the most visually powerful nature photographers of all time, who called his readers to action toward environmental protection. Galen, who died in a plane accident in 2002, left behind a stunning collection of work that is brought together in this publication. Other books of his that you may consider include Mountain Light, The Art of Adventure Photography, or the Inner Game of Outdoor Photography.

Ansel Adams at 100

Published to commemorate the 100th year since his birth, this book is a retrospective look on the life and work of nature photographer Ansel Adams.

Edge of the Earth, Corner of the Sky

This book is a stunning look of the vast and diverse beauty here on earth. With photographs from seven continents, the images are a rare and stunning look at nature.


100 Photographs That Changed The World

The images provided in this book were nominated through online voting and by Life Magazine editors. These are the images that have changed history and the world, as according to society. The book underscores the power of photography to change the way we see and interact with the world.

|| |—| | | | In Focus: National Geographic Greatest Portraits| This is a compilation of the great portraiture that has appeared in National Geographic over the years. This is a great resource for those interested in learning more about documentary portraiture.

Fine Art/Other:

Mapplethorpe Robert Mapplethorpe

This book is an overview of the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. He is known for his homosexual eroticism and his large-scale portraits of nude men. His work is bold and often controversial. Other less expensive books also chronicle his successful and widely acclaimed work. This might not be the one you keep on the coffee table if you’re having guests who aren’t interested in photography.

Man Ray Photographs

Man Ray had an extremely versatile career in photography, shooting everything from portraiture to fashion to photograms. He is probably most famous for her work with “rayographs” and other negative imaging techniques that because an extremely influential technique of photography. If you like his work, you might also check out a collectible work Man Ray 1890-1976.


The History of Photography

This book provides a way to immerse yourself in the history and development of photography as a form of communication and artistic expression.

Best Business Practices for Photographers

It covers tricky topics like negotiating contracts, interacting with clients, licensing your work and much more. If you make money from photography, or hope to, this book is a guide to your success.

On Photography

On Photography is an essay that takes more of a philosophical look at how photography has changed the world and the way we learn. Susan Sontag discusses the excess of visual material in modern life, how photography has affected the way we learn (and understand history), and also how photography represents (and distorts) reality. This photography book takes a deeper look into the effects of the medium. It’s a staple piece of literature for college photography courses everywhere.