Photography, 13 Books

Posted on July 6, 2011


Recently my friend Kat asked me to recommend some photography books. As mentioned before, for me photography is about the realization of the print. Images on the screen may be a step in that process, but are generally not an end in themselves. I shoot film, mostly B&W. I print my shots in the dark room and at this moment digital is as mysterious to me as studio lighting (although I’m currently taking classes in both, so the list might update). This list represents the best works I’ve come across for the analog photographer and print maker. I think some of these books do apply to digital and where so I’ve made note.

Here they are in no particular order.

The Making of 40 Photographs

Ansel Adams

In this book, Ansel Adams describes the taking of 40 iconic photographs, including what zones he placed various parts of the images on, how he previsualized development and printing. Essentially, all of the technical and artistic details that went into the print. It is really the best book I’ve ever come across for applied technique. Barnbaum has a section in the back of his book that is almost as good, but it’s quite a bit shorter. I think this book applies to both digital and analog enthusiasts almost equally.

On This Earth: Photographs from East Africa

Nick Brandt

I got this book for Christmas and have barely had it in my possession since, as it’s been on constant loan. Nick applies pictorialist portraiture skills to wild African animals.  I’ve heard him called the Edward Curtis (who still has a studio in Seattle) of  African animals. The shots are stunning and although there are threads on his work on various forums, nobody knows how he is achieving his affects. He still shoots MF film and captures all of the focus effects in-camera. It certainly passes my two tests of “I wish I had taken that shot,” and “I wish I could take that shot.” This version is a combination of two previous versions and as it is on sale right now is 10% of the original price of those two works. If you are looking for the ultimate coffee table book that will entertain the non-initiated and also inspire your own work, this is the book.

The Camera, The Negative, The Print

Ansel Adams Photography Series

While I’m sure that there is some information to be gleaned from this series for the digital photographer, for the film photographer, these books are practically indispensable. I always thought there were only three books in the series but recently I ran across two books on lighting that seemed to extend the series. I think it may actually go to six books.

The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression

Bruce Barnbaum

Bruce is a local guy (to me). He lives in Granite Falls and he has “extended” the zone system so that you can theoretically get much more information on your negative, and deal with it, than you could using the traditional Zone System developed by Ansel Adams. This is my one go-to book for shooting, developing, and printing. The latest version includes lots of information on digital, and you can get autographed copies at Glazer’s. Get it.

Fred Picker Zone VI Newsletters

Fred was a NH photographer. I wish I had met him when he was alive. Unlike Adams, Barnbaum, and others, his methodology was to put highlights on Zone VII and let the rest fall where it may. That is, he did not attempt to maximize the image on the negative, but to simplify it. Between this and his concept of a basic exposure, you could fairly easily get completely consistent negatives. He also built cameras. I bought about 2/3 of the letters on eBay and am working through them.  I’m too far down the path of putting 7+ zones on my negatives, but it’s always interesting to read a master’s thoughts. You can borrow them from me if you like.

Way Beyond Monochrome 2e: Advanced Techniques for Traditional Black & White Photography including digital negatives and hybrid printing

Lambrecht and Woodhouse

Okay,  this is the one book on the list that I don’t own – yet. However I have fondled it and spent a little alone time with it behind the developer rack at Glazer’s before I decided that I really needed film before I needed another book.  Sigh. This book is about getting the most possible from an image and a print. If you are going to be a printmaker, I believe you need to study all of the various tools and techniques possible to maximize your vision. This encyclopedic tome will do just that. Me want.

Digital Negatives: Using Photoshop to Create Digital Negatives for Silver and Alternative Process Printing

Hinkel and Reeder

As mentioned in a previous post, I actually met the author of this book in scrum master training, and if he’d answered his email and sold me a printer like he offered, I might be using digital in my process now. Instead I lent it to Bernard, hoping he can get me some digital negatives of his prints to play with in the darkroom. At any rate, if you have digital in your workflow, this is the book.

Photographer’s Master Printing Course

Tim Rudman

The title pretty much says it all. This is a great book. I probably should go back and at least skim it for some ideas. This is the hands on best printing manual from a master printer, but it also has lots of great ideas for getting creative and problem solving. If you are like me and want to know how a print was made, this book is fun for that reason alone.

Tim also wrote  The Photographer’s Toning Book: The Definitive Guide and

The Master Photographer’s Lith Printing Course: A Definitive Guide to Creative Lith Printing. He is the master of lith printing, I believe right down to improving the chemistry behind it.

John Shaw’s Landscape Photography

I borrowed this book from John Locker after the fire and found it inspiring. I don’t currently own a copy, but I recommend it to anyone shooting landscapes, digi or otherwise.


London and Upton

This book is a general overview of all photography, now on it’s 6th edition with lots of digital information. Kind of a compendium of articles. A great read and a great basic text.

John Blakemore’s Black and White Photography Workshop

I’ll just re-post my Amazon review (wow, I have a surprising number of reviews on Amazon):


After a certain point, I don’t believe reading about your hobby is going to make you any better at it – you just have to practice. When I first started I read The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression, all of the Ansel Adams books The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 1), The Negative (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 2), The Print (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 3), and especially Examples: The Making of 40 Photographs several times each. After about 1000 medium format B&W negatives, I’ve gotten to the point where I need a little “push” to make my photos better.
This book gave me that push. It is an excellent blend of technique and application. It really got me rethinking a lot of my assumptions about tonality and contrast, and is helping me refine my personal style. Having just rescanned all of my negatives, it also got me to revisit many “failures” and reconsider them in a new artistic and technical light.
This is an excellent book whether you are just learning the basics of B&W film, or you need to advance your technique and creative vision. I bought several copies to inspire my darkroom friends!

PS: This book is now only $11.20 at Amazon. If you were going to just by one book, this book might be it. I’d argue for Barnbaum, but at 5x the price, I’d wait until I exhausted  Blakemore first.