The most recommended fine art photography books

Who picked these books? Meet our 16 experts.

16 authors created a book list connected to fine art photography, and here are their favorite fine art photography books.
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Book cover of Bird Love

Tim Low Author Of Where Song Began: Australia's Birds and How They Changed the World

From my list on opening your eyes to Australian birds.

Who am I?

I’m an Australian zoologist, botanist, and best-selling prize-winning writer. An earlier book of mine, Feral Future, inspired the formation of the Invasive Species Council, an Australian conservation lobby group. My Where Song Began, was a best-seller that became the first nature book to win the Australian Book Industry Award for best General Non Fiction. It was republished in the US. I have co-edited Wildlife Australia magazine and written for many magazines and newspapers, including nature columns as well as features. As a teenager I discovered new lizard species, one of which was named after me.

Tim's book list on opening your eyes to Australian birds

Tim Low Why did Tim love this book?

Leila Jeffreys treats the birds in her photography studio like celebrities destined for the cover of Vogue. She takes time getting to know them and letting them know her, so that instead of just seeing birds she sees into them, and they into her.

Her book of bird portraits is a testament to trust between divergent species. She mentions a black-breasted buzzard coming to accept her photographic gear then suddenly becoming very focussed on her: "It’s an exhilarating feeling when a bird makes this transition and we begin to communicate silently as we study each other. The intelligence of this bird was profound."

The birds in her portraits look variously intense or relaxed, curious or knowing, engaged or merely comfortable, soulful, intelligent, refined, and so much else. As a child, Jeffreys was ‘besotted’ with animals and saw them as people, imagining they could talk to her. That shows through…

By Leila Jeffreys, Michael Graydon (photographer),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bird Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fine art photographer Leila Jeffreys captures the beauty and diversity of some of our most colourful and elegant feathered friends. From the birds of her native Australia to North America, Jeffreys seems to see into the very souls of these model-like creatures with her stunning and evocative portraits.Jeffreys works with animal rescue and conservation groups to find subjects to photograph. Her love and compassion for her subjects is evident throughout, and she captures their personalities in her delightful portraits: Commander Skyring the Gang-Gang Cockatoo, Dexter the White-Bellied Sea Eagle, Mrs. Plume the Budgerigar and friends, are as delightfully whimsical as…


Book cover of Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

Barry Sandywell Author Of Dictionary of Visual Discourse: A Dialectical Lexicon of Terms

From my list on beginning the study of visual culture.

Who am I?

I'm currently an Honorary Fellow in Social Theory at the University of York, U.K. For more than five decades I've been working to promote more reflexive perspectives in philosophy, sociology, social theory, and sociological research. I've written and edited many books in the field of social theory with particular emphasis upon questions of culture and critical research in the expanding field of visual culture. Recent projects include Interpreting Visual Culture (with Ian Heywood), The Handbook of Visual Culture, and an edited multi-volume textbook to be published by Bloomsbury, The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Visual Culture. The passion to understand the thought and visual culture of both the ancient and modern world continues to inform my work. 

Barry's book list on beginning the study of visual culture

Barry Sandywell Why did Barry love this book?

In contrast to John Berger’s Marxist aesthetic, Barthes’s approach to visual experience and photographic images draws upon the tradition of semiotics and, to a degree, postmodern theories of text and intertextuality. Barthes leads his reader into the codes and conventions of the image. How images signify is thus made a central topic that provokes self-reflection and reflexive challenges to conventional image analysis. Where Berger’s work is expository and analytic, Barthes's book is exploratory and novelistic (Barthes would have his reader approach the work as a kind of intertextual fiction). As the title of the work suggests, this is Barthes at his most personal and reflective. His fascination remains with the photographic image which is presented as one of the defining aesthetic objects of modernity. But the act of photography is now itself complex, mediated, and open to a range of concrete experiential impulses.

Here the viewer of the photograph is…

By Roland Barthes, Richard Howard (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Camera Lucida as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This personal, wide-ranging, and contemplative volume--and the last book Barthes published--finds the author applying his influential perceptiveness and associative insight to the subject of photography. To this end, several black-and-white photos (by the likes of Avedon, Clifford, Hine, Mapplethorpe, Nadar, Van Der Zee, and so forth) are reprinted throughout the text.


Book cover of Looking at Photographs: 100 Pictures from the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art

Philip Gefter Author Of What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

From my list on for understanding photography as art.

Who am I?

My interest in photography began as a student at Pratt Institute, a preeminent art school, and I have worked in the field my entire adult life, not as a photographer but as a picture editor and photography critic. I was the Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. I have published two biographies: one on Richard Avedon, among the more significant artists of the 20th century, and another on Sam Wagstaff, one of the earliest collectors who established the art market for photography; a book of collected reviews and essays called Photography After Frank; and essays on individual photographers for museum catalogues and artist’s monographs. I produced the 2011 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Philip's book list on for understanding photography as art

Philip Gefter Why did Philip love this book?

As the legendary curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, John Szarkowski was instrumental in elevating photography’s stature to an equal among the fine arts. He is eloquent in his explanation about the meaning of photography and illuminating in his descriptions of each of the one hundred photographs published in this book from MoMA’s sterling collection of photographs. There is no better guide to an awakening of your own eye than Szarkowski.

By John Szarkowski,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Looking at Photographs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

`This is a picture book, and its first purpose is to provide the material for simple delectation', wrote curator John Szarkowski in this first survey of The Museum of Modern Art's photography collection. Since 1930, when the Museum accessioned its first photograph, it has assembled an extraordinary and wide-ranging collection of pictures for preservation, study and exhibition. A visually splendid album, Looking at Photographs is both a treasury of remarkable photographs and a lively introduction to the aesthetics and the historical development of photography. This reissue, with new digital duotones, enhances a classic volume and makes it available to a…


Book cover of The Last Roll

Nubar Alexanian Author Of Stones In the Road: Photographs of Peru

From my list on the poetry in documentary photographs.

Who am I?

I’ve been a documentary photographer for the past 50 years and my work has been featured in major magazines in the United States and Europe including The New York Times Magazine, Life, Fortune, Geo, Time & Newsweek, and others. I have six books in print, including JAZZ with Wynton Marsalis & Nonfiction Photographs with filmmaker Errol Morris. I love teaching photography and co-founded the Essex Photographic Workshop in 1975. My work is in many collections, including The Peabody Essex Museum, The Worcester Art Museum, Polaroid Collection, Agfa Corporation, Participant Productions, Bose Corporation, Bibliotheque Nacionale, France. Solo exhibitions of my work include the Walker Art Center, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and the Burden Gallery.

Nubar's book list on the poetry in documentary photographs

Nubar Alexanian Why did Nubar love this book?

I own five signed copies of this book which I loan out to young photographers. The lesson in this book of documentary photographs is the irrelevance of information and the importance of emotion. In this way, Jeff’s work redefines photography by expanding the very notion of what a documentary photograph is….and can be. In 2004 Jeff was diagnosed with lymphoma. Soon afterwards Kodak discontinued the production of Kodachrome, the film his entire visual vocabulary was based on and now was gone forever. What do you do when confronted with physical and creative mortality? The Last Roll, by Jeff Jacobson, is an amazing response to this question. 

By Jeff Jacobson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Roll as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A few days before Christmas, 2004, I was diagnosed with lymphoma," writes Jeff Jacobson in his preface to The Last Roll. The NY Times LENS Blog described Jacobson as "pushing the visual boundaries of photojournalism" in this work providing a first-person depiction of a cancer patient's changing perspectives on life, death, art, and the world at-large.

A former Magnum photographer known for his quirky style, Jeff Jacobson was one of the first art photographers to use color film exclusively. For his 1991 book My Fellow Americans he traveled the country, capturing the look and mood of a decade. Over time,…


Book cover of How Photography Became Contemporary Art: Inside an Artistic Revolution from Pop to the Digital Age

Philip Gefter Author Of What Becomes a Legend Most: A Biography of Richard Avedon

From my list on for understanding photography as art.

Who am I?

My interest in photography began as a student at Pratt Institute, a preeminent art school, and I have worked in the field my entire adult life, not as a photographer but as a picture editor and photography critic. I was the Page One Picture Editor of The New York Times and wrote regularly about photography for the paper. I have published two biographies: one on Richard Avedon, among the more significant artists of the 20th century, and another on Sam Wagstaff, one of the earliest collectors who established the art market for photography; a book of collected reviews and essays called Photography After Frank; and essays on individual photographers for museum catalogues and artist’s monographs. I produced the 2011 documentary, Bill Cunningham New York.

Philip's book list on for understanding photography as art

Philip Gefter Why did Philip love this book?

As a photography critic for The New York Times, Grundberg was present when a generation of artists began to take apart the photographic image and transform its meaning in society. He wrote about post-modern practice in the present tense, as it was happening. This book is a collection of his reviews and essays from the 1980s when the medium was at a crossroads; the factual veracity of photography was enduring challenges at every turn and the valuation of the photograph as an art object was under critical scrutiny.

By Andy Grundberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How Photography Became Contemporary Art as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A leading critic's inside story of "the photo boom" during the crucial decades of the 1970s and 80s

"Grundberg . . . is a vibrant, opinionated, authoritative guide to the medium's past and present."-Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, "Best Books of 2021: Visual Arts"

When Andy Grundberg landed in New York in the early 1970s as a budding writer, photography was at the margins of the contemporary art world. By 1991, when he left his post as critic for the New York Times, photography was at the vital center of artistic debate. Grundberg writes eloquently and authoritatively about photography's "boom years,"…


Book cover of Landfill Dogs: True Portraits of Shelter Pets

Jacki Skole Author Of Dogland: A Journey to the Heart of America's Dog Problem

From my list on dogs and their people.

Who am I?

Do you ever wonder what your dog’s life was like before he became part of your family? Or what your dog is thinking when she stares at you? I’m a journalist, and when I get curious about something, I start asking questions, and I read. A lot. When I started researching the book that would become Dogland, I began collecting dog books of all kinds: novels, memoirs, nonfiction. Now I review dog books for EcoLit Books, an online journal featuring works with animal welfare and environmental themes. The books listed below—a mix of fiction and nonfiction—are some of my favorites. 

Jacki's book list on dogs and their people

Jacki Skole Why did Jacki love this book?

You will likely never see finer photographs of shelter dogs than those inside Shannon Johnstone’s exquisite book. The photographs capture the dogs’ character, grit, and heart as they run, jump, fetch, or simply stare into the distance. Their faces are joyful, wistful, earnest. In most cases, these photographs saved lives. Posted on a North Carolina shelter’s website, the dogs captured the imaginations of those who would adopt them. Photographs of dogs with their new families cap off the book.

By Shannon Johnstone,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Landfill Dogs as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


Landfill Dogs is at once a fine art photography project and an animal advocacy movement. Johnstone tells the stories of 108 dogs that are most at risk for euthanasia. She photographs them against the landscape of a former landfill turned public park. Below the surface, there are more than 25,000 dogs buried among our trash. It is here that these dogs are taken one at a time and allowed walk, run, jump and wish and dream.

By photographing the dogs in this environment, Johnstone creates the analogy these unwanted pets are treated in same manner as our garbage. However, the…


Book cover of Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

Marlene Adelstein Author Of Sophie Last Seen

From my list on by and about strong-willed, independent women.

Who am I?

As a reader, I’m drawn to characters and subjects I can relate to. Strong women who go their own way, ones who march to their own drummer. There is a raw honesty to their stories with subjects of creativity, grief, and loss. And as a writer of both fiction and personal essay, I write about these same issues as well, subjects I seem to turn to again and again. When I write, I try to tap into the emotions that might be buried but I’m always looking to move my readers whether it’s with tears or laughter, and the women in the books I chose do that for me. 

Marlene's book list on by and about strong-willed, independent women

Marlene Adelstein Why did Marlene love this book?

Hold Still by Sally Mann – another memoir by an intriguing, strong-willed, fascinating woman. I became interested in Sally Mann when I first saw her book of amazing photographs of her children, Immediate Family. Since then I kept up with her photography and was thrilled to read her memoir. She writes of her childhood in the south, her parents, her relationship with her husband and children, the controversy surrounding those early stages photographs, her career, and beyond in absolutely lovely prose accompanied by many photos. She’s an impressive, talented woman, and her success is well deserved.

By Sally Mann,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hold Still as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This National Book Award finalist is a revealing and beautifully written memoir and family history from acclaimed photographer Sally Mann.

In this groundbreaking book, a unique interplay of narrative and image, Mann's preoccupation with family, race, mortality, and the storied landscape of the American South are revealed as almost genetically predetermined, written into her DNA by the family history that precedes her.

Sorting through boxes of family papers and yellowed photographs she finds more than she bargained for: "deceit and scandal, alcohol, domestic abuse, car crashes, bogeymen, clandestine affairs, dearly loved and disputed family land . . . racial complications,…


Book cover of A Way of Seeing: Photographs of New York

Mick Gidley Author Of The Grass Shall Grow: Helen Post Photographs the Native American West

From my list on American photography.

Who am I?

I am a hopeless photographer. But I have a passion for looking at photographs, for trying to understand how good ones work. They are not just momentary slices of life but structured artefacts, sometimes technically interesting, that in myriad ways reflect the society that produced them. I studied aspects of US cultural history at three universities. After devoting the first part of my academic career to American literature, in the second half – during which, supported by wonderful fellowships, I spent much time rooting in archives – I gave myself up to American photography. I have learnt much from each of the books I commend here. 

Mick's book list on American photography

Mick Gidley Why did Mick love this book?

Women photographers have all too often been overlooked or forgotten. (This happened to the subject of my own book choice, Helen Post.) But Helen Levitt – who really flourished from the 1940s through the 1960s and is now undergoing something of a renaissance – has always had devotees. Steichen invited her to contribute to The Family of Man and one of her most notable admirers, James Agee, the novelist, poet, film critic, and documentarian, was pleased to write the insightful essay to A Way of Seeing. Levitt’s quirky pictures of street life – especially those featuring children, often at play – document quite ordinary customs at a particular moment. Despite never seeming intrusive, they get up close, reveal the photographer’s rapport with her subjects, and present them, so to speak, on the level. Ultimately, these images are so expressive that they become universal, transcending the period in which they…

By Helen Levitt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Way of Seeing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Taken over a number of years beginning in the early 1940s, the 51 photographs in this book -- many of them of children and of the poor, many taken in Harlem -- reveal the face of the city as it was and are an enduring image of existence as this artist sees it. The accompanying essay by James Agee is both a commentary on the pictures and an eloquent statement of the nature of the creative act and what it means or the art of photography.


Book cover of Beneath the Roses

Sara Frances Author Of Unplugged Voices: 125 Tales of Art and Life from Northern New Mexico, the Four Corners and the West

From my list on beautiful imagery and intriguing text.

Who am I?

After flirting with careers as an archaeologist, pilot, concert pianist, and diplomat, I settled on photographer after just a few month’s residence in Heidelberg, Germany, while studying for my Masters in Comparative Literature. The camera provided close personal interaction with people, while hearing their stories from a wide variety of cultural perspectives and social environments. Introduced by parents, I formed an obsession with opera, Native American drum music, vinyl recordings, and historic places, particularly Georgia O’Keeffe country, “south of the border” from our Colorado base. My family of musicians and artists stopped, listened, and loved the light and land of the Four Corners. I self-define as a photojournalist-poet, a griot.

Sara's book list on beautiful imagery and intriguing text

Sara Frances Why did Sara love this book?

Quirky, outrageous, magnificent, shocking, mysterious.

Crewdson’s huge imagery (and huge book) is extreme storytelling, a life history of the characters who people his cinematic productions. From concept to final image requires a full movie set production. The result is a vision of a strange, enigmatic event or situation, like a window suddenly opened to an alternative life.

I find that each image requires many minutes of concentration to see details and allow one’s imagination to work, unwinding the mystery to which we are unexpectedly privy.

By Gregory Crewdson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Beneath the Roses as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Best known for his elaborately choreographed, large-scale photographs, Gregory Crewdson is one of the most exciting and important artists working today. The images that comprise Crewdson's new series, "Beneath the Roses," take place in the homes, streets, and forests of unnamed small towns. The photographs portray emotionally charged moments of seemingly ordinary individuals caught in ambiguous and often disquieting circumstances. Both epic in scale and intimate in scope, these visually breathtaking photographs blur the distinctions between cinema and photography, reality and fantasy, what has happened and what is to come.Beneath the Roses features an essay by acclaimed fiction writer Russell…


Book cover of The Year That Changed Our World: A Photographic History of the Covid-19 Pandemic

Deborah Lupton Author Of COVID Societies: Theorising the Coronavirus Crisis

From my list on everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who am I?

I am a sociologist with a longstanding interest in the social aspects of medicine and public health. I started with research on HIV/AIDS. Since then, I have written many books and conducted a multitude of studies on how people understand and experience health and illness and how they seek help when they are sick or feel at risk from disease. When COVID-19 hit the world in early 2020, it was not long before I started to think about what my research training and expertise could offer to understanding the social impacts of this new pandemic. I started to write about COVID and research on people’s everyday experiences.

Deborah's book list on everyday life during the COVID-19 pandemic

Deborah Lupton Why did Deborah love this book?

This book presents hundreds of photographs taken by Agence France Presse around the world in the first 18 months of the COVID pandemic. The images span the full range from the mundane (people exercising at home) to the bizarre (weird home-made face masks) to those that are frightening and tragic (mass coffins and graves). Over 150 countries are represented in these images, which are arranged chronologically, thereby presenting a visual global timeline of the major events occurring during this crucial early period of the continuing pandemic, when this disease was still a mysterious threat. This book helps us to remember the feelings of urgency, confusion, panic, and fear that were part of this period, as people came to terms with the upheavals wrought by the pandemic.

By Agence France Presse,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Year That Changed Our World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Year That Changed Our World is the definitive, visual history of the Covid-19 Pandemic. With more than 400 photographs, this ambitious publication traces the arc of the Pandemic from China in early 2020 through to the vaccine breakthroughs of Spring 2021.

Behind the relentless nature of the daily news since the events on Wuhan in early 2020 first broke, and the sense of fear and trepidation that the rapidly developing events provoked, what have we seen of the real stories of the world during the Pandemic? What can be told of how we lived through the pandemic and of…