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15 Best Photography Books

best photography books

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or just getting started, there’s nothing better than opening up a photography book and finding new inspiration from the images inside. Landscapes, portraits, experimental photography — they all have their own beauty and unique styles. We’ve sought out some of the best photography books out there, including coffee-table books, travel guides, and a few history lessons. Check out our 15 top selections here.

1. Humans of New York

In 2010, Brandon Stanton began photographing people on the streets of New York City. His goal was to find authentic New Yorkers living their lives all over the city, and feature the photographs and the stories behind them side-by-side. The project started out as a blog called “Humans of New York,” and many of the photos are now available in a hardbound book with more than 400 color photos, along with quotes from some of the subjects.

2. Lonely Planet’s Amazing Train Journeys

While this one is technically a travel guide, it contains some of the most beautiful photos of trains in their natural environment that you’re likely to find anywhere. Featuring 60 of the world’s top train routes, this book doubles as a collection of landscape photography, with the Rocky Mountains, the Australian Outback, and the Siberian tundra all making an appearance. Leave this one of your coffee-table and daydream about all of the places you can photograph from the window of a moving train.

3. Bystander: A History of Street Photography

One of the most iconic books on the subject, Bystander has recently been re-released with new material on contemporary street photography and digital production. Originally published in 1994, it contains over 300 photographs from some of the icons of street photography, including Diane Arbus, as well as newcomers to the scene. If you’ve ever explored the genre yourself, this is your go-to source for history and inspiration.

4. Guy Bourdin: Image Maker

For fashion photography, there’s no better place to start than with the work of Guy Bourdin, who spent decades working for iconic magazines like Vogue Paris. This book includes Polaroids, magazine layouts, paintings, and other unpublished material from Bourdin’s influential body of work.

5. Writers and Their Cats

For the animal lovers among us, you can’t miss this collection — a companion to Artists and Their Cats. There are over 40 images of famous writers and their pets, including classic authors like Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway and modern writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin and Haruki Murakami. Featuring the stories behind the photos, there’s no better celebration of the human-feline bond.

6. Hideouts: Grand Vacations in Tiny Getaways

What good is a coffee table without a few architecture books on it? Keep on top of the current design trends with this book featuring tiny houses, treehouses, houseboats, and other off-beat accommodations. With so many forests and mountains in the background, you’ll get your landscape photography fix too.

7. Overview: A New Perspective on Earth

This new book by Benjamin Grant is a bird’s-eye view of the planet with over 200 pictures sourced from satellite imagery of Earth. It’s a powerful collection that doesn’t shy away from human effects on the planet, including aerial views of the agriculture industry, deforestation, and refugee camps.

8. Beaches

Beaches is a collection of aerial photographs by Gray Malin, taken from the open door of a helicopter and looking down on some of the world’s most famous beaches. Get a new perspective on Santa Monica, Rio de Janeiro, and more. It’s primarily a photography book but includes some travel tips too if the draw of the beaches is too much to resist. If ski slopes are more your thing, look for Malin’s other book, Escape.

9. The Swimming Pool in Photography

For a slightly different take on swimming, check out Francis Hodgson’s look back at images of swimming pools throughout history. It includes over 200 images, including public pools, infinity pools, diving boards, and more. You’d be surprised how much swimming pools can say about the people swimming in them!

10. Ryan McGinley: Mirror Mirror

Ryan McGinley gives us a new take on the selfie with this collection of images he asked his friends to produce. He required them to use certain props and mirrors and be nude in the shot but weren’t allowed to look at the photograph when taking it. The result is a diverse collection of over 100 faces and bodies that appear in the book.

11. Inside North Korea

If you have any interest in international photography, you can’t miss this collection of around 300 photos by Oliver Wainwright, a photographer for The Guardian. His photos offer an up-close look at architecture in Pyongyang, showing how the country’s rulers used specific styles and color palettes to project an image of prosperity. The book includes captions that put the photographs into their historical context.

12. Girl on Girl: Art and Photography in the Age of the Female Gaze

This collection of work by 40 female artists explores how women see themselves and each other in the age of social media. It also includes quotes and essays providing some context to the photos. See how women are rethinking their role behind the lens in the modern era. 

13. William Eggleston: Election Eve

First released in 1977, this collection of photographs contains 100 shots taken by William Eggleston in October 1976, just before Jimmy Carter was elected president. Featuring roads, train tracks, gas stations, and other scenes along the road from Memphis to Plains, Georgia, these shots capture an image of America at a fixed point in time that still resonates in many ways today.

14. Rinko Kawauchi: Halo

Known for her experimental, atmospheric images, Japanese artist Rinko Kawauchi returns with this collection of photographs from several different contexts: birds in Brighton, England; New Year festivities in China; scenes on the southern coast of Japan; and more. Her work explores the intersection between nature, culture, and time.

15. Extra! Weegee

No collection would be complete without a look at the history of newspaper photography. This book contains long-lost work from New York photographer Weegee, who captured crooks, cops, musicians, and bootleggers in the 1930s and 40s. See first-hand how he influenced true-crime reporting and shaped the way we see the streets of New York City.

These are just a few of the best photography books out there for your bookshelf or coffee-table. Whether you’re shooting images of people, animals, houses, or trains, use these books to get some inspiration and help you design the look and feel of your next shoot.

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