Finding a Good Book…

After realizing I needed much more help with understanding my cameras and how to compose images, I went looking for a good book. Not a lot of blog posts contain book recommendations. Having looked at all the film photography blogs I could find in the weeks after I got my first camera, suggestions for books were rare. A couple offered their tutorial series, some of which were good, but the topics offered were not at the basic level I required.  

My first purchase was a Dummies photography book from 2004 because I needed something that discussed film. However, the Dummies book was only mildly helpful. Since it covered digital cameras as well, the film coverage was diluted. Film camera features discussed in the Dummies book, from what I could discern, were covered no better than in instruction manuals that came with the cameras. If one knows nothing at all about cameras of any type, the Dummies book would likely be helpful. 

Next, I bought a digitally-focused book, The Beginners Photography Guide. It offered many examples with pictures (many more than the Dummies book) and useful, practical advice, but of course, it lacked film-oriented information. This book was a sort of desperation buy because I could not locate film-oriented books for beginners. However, soon after, I got a digital camera unexpectedly in an eBay lot, and then the book proved to be more useful.  

The first truly enlightening book for film was a Photography, Sixth Edition, by London and Upton, which I discovered in a local used book store a few months after getting the Maxxum 7000i. That book was exactly what I needed. Published in 1992, it offered in-depth discussions from a film-oriented perspective. For example, exposure compensation made much more sense after reading about the Zone system and looking at image examples. The great thing about this book is the number of images it provides. Every concept is explained using detailed narrative and images that illustrate the concept/principle. There is a chapter for every major topic in photography. However, like the Dummies book, composition was only briefly covered.  

Ironically, one of the best tutorials on composition that I’ve found is a blog post on PetaPixel. The author lists 20 composition rules/principles, along with at least one image to illustrate each principle. I practiced using these principles by going through collections of images that had won awards or were in annual collections for magazines, then analyzing each image to see which rules might apply to each photograph.  

Looking back, a year later, I realize there were three things I needed to learn: gear, photography principles (DoF, exposure triangle, etc.) and composition. It is unlikely that a single book could cover all three well. Concerning my first three book purchases, I would say the Dummies book was too broad in scope because it tried to cover gear and photography principles. Also, it had too few images. The Beginner’s Guide book was a helpful introduction to my film gear since autofocus film cameras share many features with their digital cousins. The London and Upton book is still the best I have found for learning the deep things of photography. This text proved to be even more valuable when I took a darkroom class in July 2019 because it has detailed chapters on darkroom techniques for both black and white as well as color. If you are getting started in photography, especially with film and you want the full film experience—selecting emulsions, developing, and printing—I strongly recommend finding a copy of the London and Upton text from the early 1990s. 

Over the past year, I have added many more books to my library; a few are excellent—more about them and using digital cameras to learn photography principles in a future post. 

2 Comments

  1. I’m excited to see your copy of London and Upton as that’s the book I bought too to help me with making better photographs. Someone recommended it to me. Since then I’ve practiced and built some skill. Now I tend to buy books of photographs, as much as I can by well-known photographers, and just study them to see what makes their photos work.

    1. Author

      Hi Jim, thanks for your comment!
      London and Upton has been exactly what I needed to get going. I can’t praise it enough.
      The Kodak series published by Time-Life is very good as well.

      I find that I am drawn to still life images and bought a few books on impressionism. Happily, I have received some really great photo books as gifts.

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