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

Ben Novoselsky

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

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