The Updated, Essential Strobist Bookshelf
Now more than ever, it is a wonderful time to be a lighting photographer. I have long maintained a book list on Strobist, but it has gotten out of date. Today I am correcting that with a tight list of books that I can absolutely recommend for photographers who want to learn.
The list includes just five books on lighting, a book on the interpersonal aspects of photography and a massive, magnum opus that for the right people will prove invaluable.
To think of Joe McNally's The Moment it Clicks as a lighting book is to shortchange it, and you. It was McNally's first lighting book after 30 years of shooting at the highest levels, and as such he had a bit of pent-up info to get out.
His brain—quirks and all—is laid completely bare for your inspection. One caveat: it is Nikon-specific, and TTL-heavy. But even if you don't shoot Nikon (or TTL) the layers of info are just wonderful. For Nikon shooters, it's the book that in a just world would come free with one of Nikon's $500 flashes. Ahem.
A more detailed Strobist review is here. Or check out the hundreds of glowing reader reviews, here. What more could you ask for?
…except for maybe a sequel? Then you're in luck. Because that's where Hot Shoe Diaries picks up. Joe adeptly straddles the line between genius and insanity in what is essentially a continuation of TMIC. If you liked the first part, you'll really enjoy the sequel.
Again, his stuff is very Nikon-centric. And just like TMIC, for Nikon folks it's a gold mine. But Canon (and Sony, Fuji, Panasonic, yada yada) shooters have much to learn from this book. Actually, they are a great one-two punch and you should think of them as sort of an encyclopedia set.
For Canon shooters who want to be able to think in terms of their own specific gear, I recommend…
…Syl Arena's Speedlighter's Handbook. To be clear, this book does not include the wealth of experience as does McNally's offerings above. But honestly, few people could match that.
Canon's flash system, which works completely differently from that of Nikon (and in my opinion is less intuitive) can be a jungle of confusion for many photographers. Arena's book is sort of a Canon Speedlite bible/cookbook. You'll understand all of the mysterious inner workings of your pricey Canon flashes, and hopefully be able to get them to do what you want. If not, it won't be Syl's fault. He is a bona fide Canon expert, and a wonderfully accessible author. In fact, explaining complex wonky flash stuff in a way where people can understand it is his forte.
It's the missing manual for your Canon flashes.
50 Portraits is the Gold Standard for going deep inside the thought process of a world-class portraitist. It's built around, as you might guess, fifty different portrait sessions.
This is very much a 360-degree book, covering planning, idea generation, thought process and, yes, lighting. The full review is here. It's not a beginner's book. In fact, it is ideally suited for the person who is beginning to feel like maybe they already know everything that's important to know about lighting and photo. Because they don't, by a long shot.
This is my current favorite photo book, ever. And it's only $24 on Amazon, which is an absolute steal.
Secrets of Great Portrait Photography. If you are looking for a book that has an equal weighting in both lighting and portrait photography, Secrets would be an excellent choice.
Smith is a long-time, top-level shooter and is exceedingly generous with his knowledge in this book. This is all manual lighting, and is really pretty agnostic with respect to gear brand. (Brian shoots Sony, FWIW.)
Secrets is a soup-to-nuts cookbook, and any photographer will find much valuable info therein. There is a much more thorough review—and a 90-min video presentation—in this earlier post.
The Passionate Photographer, photojournalist Steve Simon has written the deepest, most honest roadmap on becoming a better and more perceptive photographer that I have ever seen.
Simon is the consummate compassionate photographer, and it affects everything that he shoots. The internal and interpersonal aspects of being a photographer is a skill that I formerly considered unlearnable, and unteachable. You either had it, or you didn't.
Simon proved me wrong with this book, and I consider it required reading for anyone who wants to let their camera be a bridge to great experiences.
A Mentorship in a Hardback
so obviously has?
This book is the answer to that question. And it provides great and detailed insight into choosing and traveling a meaningful path, for any serious photographer.
There has never been another photographer like Winters. And there's never been a book like this. It's epic—and nearly seven hundred pages long. It's full of anecdotes and concepts and history and assignments and pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. Interestingly, at least half of the included photos were not taken by Winters himself. They were chosen for their value in informing and inspiring him. And the effect is one of a near-perfect balance between the internal and the external.
If you are a serious photographer—pro or amateur—and have ever wondered what your path to creative genius would be, this book will be a treasure for you. You won't have the same path. But digesting Winters' journey in such glorious detail just might point you to your own path to greatness. It's a tremendous resource. But if you are looking a light read/formula du jour thing, keep moving along. This book is not for you.
This book won't be a mass seller because it's not about broad appeal for many. Rather, it's about deep appeal for some. It's $55 on Amazon. But for the right person, The Road to Seeing will be priceless. (Full review here.)
Bear in mind this is not a large press-run book. It, like most of Winters' other work, will go away one day soon. You'll still be able to buy it after that but it will cost you an arm and a leg. If this book sounds like something you might be interested in, don't miss it while it is still at list price.
So that's seven books I think any photographer who reads this site should own. Well, make it six books for everyone (five if you are not a Canon shooter) and an extra book (Winters') for anyone who considered oneself to be a serious, committed photographer. But for those people, Winters' book should be the number one choice on the list.
Also, there is a full, immersion video course on small-flash, manual lighting that was produced by Strobist.com in 2011. It's called Lighting in Layers and you can learn more here. If you are a Lynda.com subscriber, you can watch them for free. Or you can sign up for one month (no contract) for $25 and have access to these and thousands of other professional tutorials. It's a great deal.
What Are Your Picks?
Rather than have this post turn into a scattershot laundry list of book recommendations from random people in the comments, I'd ask that you continue the discussion on Twitter, at #StrobistBooks. That way, you can easily reach other interested people from around the world and share/discuss your recommendations realtime.
Please chip in. I'll be curious to see your top three!