In this discussion we shall take a look at some very useful books on a particular genre of photography. Portrait photography to be precise. Digital photography has benefited immensely over the last decade from the internet revolution. Knowledge is no longer tied to books and classrooms. Beginner photographers and pretty much everybody interested in photography can find everything they need on YouTube and the rest of the internet freeway.

That, said, books are not completely irrelevant in 2017. Even in these times they enjoy positions of importance. With the unmonitored and loose nature of the internet anyone and anybody with access to an internet connection can publish material online. Some of these material are, to say the least, dubious. These do more harm than good and does not help a budding photographer to learn.

The thing is books written by experienced photographers and educationists are backed by intensive research. They are substantiated and often corroborated by facts. Thus, they remain one of the best sources of knowledge for beginner photographers and professional photographers alike. Books are still relevant.

50 Portraits: Stories and techniques from a Photographer’s Photographer by Gregory Heisler

This probably the most definitive guide on portrait photography techniques that you could get your hands on. This is not the cheapest book on portrait photography technique that you could find. Having said that every dollar spent on this book is worth it.

Beyond just the ‘mundane’ and plain description of techniques, this book which showcases images of some of the most iconic individuals in the world also shares the stories behind those images. Some of these images were shot in black and white while others demonstrate his brilliant use of color. But they all remain testimony to the brilliance of the man widely revered for his camerawork.

The Moment it Clicks by Joe McNally

One of the foremost speakers on the subject of photography and not just portrait photography. He is one of the most widely known photographers in the world. Joe McNally brings together his vast experience of three decades shooting on countless photo assignments, including for Fortune 500 companies and the venerable National Geographic magazine among other clients into this book. He also brings together thousands of hours spent at lectures teaching the nitty gritty of photography. A coffee table book no doubt but one that will also be Bible for the one who is interested in learning the tricks of the trade from the master.

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash by Joe McNally

Another masterstroke from Joe McNally. The technique of using flash in portrait photography is always difficult to teach without practical examples. It also happens to be a very sensitive subject because flash is always difficult to set-up and control.

Notwithstanding portrait photography is a genre that is shaped by artificial lights; more specifically flash. Without artificial lights, no matter how good a photographer you are, you can never become truly versatile or achieve the level of success you hope to achieve.

This is where this fantastic book by Joe McNally comes into the frame, quite literally. The book deals with everything from small flash to big flash and everything that falls between. He documents on things like softboxes, speedlights, large strobes as well as other lights that are not always the first choice. As a result this book is like a treatise for any photographer looking to add artificial lighting as his / her forte.

This book, regardless of the tools you are using or the brand of camera or light, would be suitable to you. The reason is it is not so much about individual brands or tools but about the techniques that goes into making great images. Thus, these techniques are universally applicable no matter what camera you may have or what light or modifier you love using.

The Headshot: The Secrets to Creating Amazing Headshot Portraits by Peter Hurley

Portraits are all about posing, lighting, the right camera angle, the right focal length and use of aperture; and sometimes it is a combination of all of these factors. They are equally applicable to headshot photography. Thus, this book on head-shots is an asset for budding portrait photographers too.

A professional portrait (or headshot for that matter) require a professional lighting set-up and great knowledge of camerawork. Posing also forms an integral part. A great pose, a great look at the camera can easily be the difference between a stale boring portrait and a gorgeous looking portrait.

Even if it is just the face and the shoulders that you photograph the positioning of the head, whether it is leaned at an angle or whether it is turned towards the camera in a certain way, a smile whether it present or absent counts a lot in the final scheme of things.

A professional portrait photographer thrives on these little things. S/he pays attention to everything that goes in front and behind the camera. A reason why s/he produces images far better than what an amateur does.

The Portrait Photographer’s Lighting Style Guide: Recipes for Lighting and Composing Professional Portraits by James Cheadle and Peter Travers

Yet another book that documents the advantages of using artificial lights. We had one interesting book by Joe McNally already on this list. Notwithstanding, we couldn’t resist the temptation to include this second one. This book sums up the expertise of James Cheadle who is a leading UK based portrait photographer. Someone who regularly photographs some of the more easily recognizable faces in the world.

What makes this book really useful. The reason is that every lighting arrangement that it discusses comes with proper illustration with a representative image. Further, it comes with a diagram of the actual lighting set-up to assist the photographer repeat the steps. It is easy to say that you place a light at about 270 ˚ from the camera behind the subject or place the key light at about 45 ˚ above the subject’s head, so on and so forth. It is another thing when you are actually giving a diagram to a photographer to use.

Then on top of it you also get detailed information on the posing technique as well as the exposure details used in those images. Need anything else? Wait! There is more. To spice things up a bit the authors also add behind the scene stories of those images.

Apart from these the book also has extensive sections on post productions techniques. It has aspects on best approaches for RAW processing. Additionally, it also has information on how how to create HDR images. Finally, it also has details on how to produce images by digitally manipulating them.

Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton

Brandon Stanton is a successful writer, photographer and one of Time’s 30 Under 30 people changing the world. He is the founder of the extremely popular and well followed photojournalistic project known as Humans of New York. This book isn’t just the usual do this or try this kind of a material filled with portrait photography tips. It is also about the stories behind the images. Every image is a story in itself. Plus, when you publish the context of these photos with the photos themselves they tend to have a lasting impression.

This is the second part of the series and follows the equally successful and well received first part Humans of New York. I find both books an interesting read. If for nothing else they in parts share stories that we average humans can relate to. You don’t have to be living in the Big Apple to relate to these stories or to these people photographed by Stanton.

Ben Novoselsky

CEO and Founder at
Entrepreneur, geek, photo enthusiast.
Ben Novoselsky

You may also like

Rajib Mukherjee April 27, 2017

Shooting a Business Portrait: Techniques, Ideas and Approaches

If you are good with portrait photography probably at one point you would be looking to jump in to ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 26, 2015

Photographing a landmark at night

Often, when traveling through a foreign land we find ourselves in front of an iconic building or ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 10, 2014

An introduction to creating timelapse videos

Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky May 2, 2016

How Does Hyperfocal Distance Affect Your Images?

Landscape photographers often use the terms focusing distance and hyperfocal distance in relation ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 23, 2015

Understanding ISO, the least understood of the three exposure parameters

If you look at the main aspects that govern exposure, you would obviously realize that there are ...

Ben Novoselsky September 17, 2015

About focal length and background distortion

You may have heard professionals talking about the right focal length and how choosing anything ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 6, 2016

Essential Tips to Improve your Photography

If you have recently migrated from a compact point & shoot to a DSLR you no doubt will be very ...

Ben Novoselsky October 24, 2016

Using a Softbox as your Key Light

The soft box is your definitive source of lighting a model or an object in order to photograph it. ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Eva December 25, 2019

Easy In-Camera Effects For 2020

Picture this: you’re an amateur photographer. You want to make an utterly astounding photo, and the ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Ben Novoselsky July 18, 2016

How to Work with Leading Lines in Your Photography

Leading lines are one of the most important aspects of photography. They have the power to draw a ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2017

Wedding Photography – the History of the Genre

The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The ...

Ben Novoselsky October 27, 2014

7 Silly Mistakes I Made as an Amateur Photographer

1. Leaving the lens cap on

Amateurs are guilty of making some of the most cardinal of mistakes. ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 23, 2015

Benefits of joining a photography class

Digital photography is a vast field of specialized knowledge. Well, even if not many ...

Ben Novoselsky February 28, 2017

A Wedding Photographer’s Guide to Photographing the Bride

The bride’s portraits on the day of her wedding is one of the most important appointments of the ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 21, 2016

Lighting techniques for shooting in studio environment

A studio setup allows you to be creative in ways you could never ever manage without lights. There ...

Ben Novoselsky October 29, 2017

Tips to Take Better Photos On Your Phone

We're not all famed photographer Annie Liebovitz but that doesn't mean we can't try to take amazing ...

Ben Novoselsky April 6, 2017

Correct Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 6, 2014

Everyday photography ideas

I wrote a detailed article on the topic of photographic inspiration recently. The aim was to keep ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 17, 2016

How to Bounce an On-camera External Flash to Produce Better Images

Having purchased your first external flash you must be super-excited. You must be experimenting ...

Ben Novoselsky July 28, 2016

Why Adjusting White Balance Can Lead to a Better Image

One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their ...

Rajib Mukherjee February 25, 2015

How to Make Your Backgrounds Blurred

Sometimes you may need to blur out the background of your images. Let’s say you are shooting ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 11, 2017

Camera Settings Presets for Shooting Different Scenes

Camera settings presets are a combination of buttons and dials that can be used to recall a ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 16, 2014

7 Tips to Shooting Great Portrait Photographs

Portrait photography is like a bread and butter thing for professional photographers. No matter ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 6, 2016

Basic Real Estate Photo Tips

The following real estate photo tips will help you to get started as a professional photographer. ...

Ben Novoselsky July 14, 2015

Five Natural Light Shooting Tips

You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 20, 2017

How to Pick the Best Shooting Mode among Auto, S, A, Manual in any Situation

All digital SLR camera systems comes with a series of shooting modes. These are the Auto mode, the ...

Ben Novoselsky November 7, 2017

Tricks for Mastering Long Exposure Night Photography

Mastering long exposure night photography is a brass ring for amateur photographers. And why not? ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 7, 2014

Understanding the Basics of a Good Exposure

Exposure is the key concept that governs all forms of photography where light in some form or the ...

Ben Novoselsky May 14, 2017

Survey of Photo Contests by Industry

Does photo contests make sense in participating? – For Recognition
Absolutely. There is no better ...

Ben Novoselsky June 2, 2015

Using Backlighting for your Portrait Images

Growing up you would no doubt be advised that the best way to shoot portrait images is to place ...

Kelsey Fox June 29, 2014

6 Tips for Shooting in Harsh Light

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no ...

Ben Novoselsky August 9, 2016

How to Use Backlighting to Isolate Your Subject

I love shooting with backlighting. Backlighting is one of those acquired tastes in photography that ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 8, 2015

Great Images Come From Great Underlying Stories

I am a photographer who loves making photos of people and places. So every now and then I pack my ...

Ben Novoselsky November 6, 2014

Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

Portrait photography, especially when we talk about studio portrait photography, as a genre, is ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 26, 2014

Don’t copy the masters’ style blindly, create your own style

Growing up as photographers one of the biggest source of guidance are the works created by already ...

Ben Novoselsky May 11, 2015

Understanding Lens Vignetting

A technical term that you are likely to hear a lot is lens vignetting. Lens vignetting (sometimes ...

Ben Novoselsky May 18, 2017

Best Metering Mode for Landscape, Portrait, Wedding Photography

One of the most fundamental aspects of photography is to meter a scene. Metering denotes measuring ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 3, 2016

Getting Started in Low Light Photography

Introducing Low Light Photography
For those of you who primarily shoot with a smartphone or even a ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 3, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Shoot Environmental Portraits

As a genre, environmental portraits are a challenge of sorts for most photographers. It is because ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2016

Product Photography Tips to Get Started

Apart from portraiture, product photography is one of those few genres which can provide a steady ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 29, 2015

Post Processing a Child Portrait in Lightroom

Some time back I wrote an article on this website, on how to make better portrait photos in natural ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 22, 2016

How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Watching the Diwali lights come on one by one, at each house in our colony I couldn’t stop thinking ...

Ben Novoselsky November 13, 2015

Shooting Wide Panorama of Cities

Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide ...

Ben Novoselsky October 6, 2016

Some Basic Food Photography Tips

If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the ...

Ben Novoselsky August 21, 2014

Tips for Shooting Fireworks Photos

Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 22, 2015

What is Focus Stacking?

Landscape photographers are obsessed with the idea of sharp images. They use a multitude of methods ...

Ben Novoselsky June 29, 2017

7 Main Mistakes when Retouching Wedding Images

If there were one genre of photography that you could do without retouching then that genre would ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2016

How do you tweak the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?

You are out with your family on a bright sunlit day. The kind of day on which photographers prefer ...

Ben Novoselsky August 3, 2014

5 Useful Tips for Making Great Images in Low Light

Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3X have completely changed the playing field when ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 25, 2014

Photography inspiration: How to keep shooting images

As an amateur we see images taken by photographers like Eric Kim or Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis ...

Ben Novoselsky September 12, 2014

The Basic Rules of Photography and Common Mistakes

Everyone, even professionals, makes mistakes, although their mistakes are rare and usually caused ...

Ben Novoselsky August 6, 2014

Auto Exposure Bracketing: Everything You Wanted to Know

Multiple camera shots with different expose combined in HDR photo
by sumitrodda

If you are just starting out in digital photography, you have probably never heard about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). If you are an enthusiast photographer, probably you have heard about this but never quite mastered the concept to use it with confidence. Regardless of your expertise in digital photography this article can help you master an extremely important feature of your DSLR, i.e.; auto exposure bracketing (AEB).


Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2017

Background for Portrait Photography

Background for portrait photography – An Introduction
Backgrounds assume a critical importance in ...

Ben Novoselsky December 23, 2015

Outdoor Photography Beyond the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 11, 2016

An Introduction to Hyper-lapse

What is a Hyper-lapse?
Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 21, 2015

Some creative uses of Depth of Field

The main shooting mode dial on your camera has the letter(s) A or Av (depending on the camera ...

Ben Novoselsky April 20, 2015

Low angle photography tips

One of the least used perspectives in photography is the low angle. I bet every photographer thinks ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Kelsey Fox December 18, 2014

How Properly Holding Your Camera Can Lead to Better Photos

The way you hold your camera is almost as important as choosing the right kind of camera to shoot ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2015

How editing your stock photography can lead to more sales

Before you can start selling your images on microstock websites you ought to know a few things ...

Ben Novoselsky July 16, 2017

Shooting a Portrait with Natural Light vs Artificial Light

The use of light in portrait photography
Portrait photography is a bread and butter pursuit for ...

Popular posts

Amy Grace October 25, 2021

How to Create a Ghost Mannequin Effect in Photoshop

It can be alarming for e-clothing stores when someone adds a product to the cart but does not ...