Photography Books: What I’ve Read During Quarantine


I typically read non-fiction or biographies. Books that make me feel good and inspired. Authors like Eckhart Tolle, Michael A Singer, and Brene Brown fill my bookshelf and are books that I read over and over again.

I also enjoy listening to Audible books when I’m driving or just casually walking around creating pictures. In particular, biographies where the author reads the book themselves. In that way, I feel a lot more connected to the person and comprehend them better when I can hear the inflections in their voice.

There was a point where I tried to read more books on art. But for some reason, those never really stuck with me. They weren’t about photography, but art in general. I’ve even read a book about creativity from a dance choreographer. I just didn’t connect as much with those books.

So earlier this year in March, when the Coronavirus quarantine came in place to those of us in Northern Virginia, I found way more time on my hands. I decided that I would take that time to improve my photography skills. I bought a CreativeLive membership that gave me access to such great content. Just like with Audible books, I really enjoyed listening to photographers speak about their images. I’m currently in the middle of a 24 hr Lightroom class. It so detailed and I’m learning so much every time I sit down to watch these videos.

But sometimes, I just don’t feel like being in front of a screen. I spend most of my days sitting at the desk and sometimes all I want to do is have a good book to cuddle up to and just enjoy. So, I started looking into art books again with a focus on photography.

Up until last week, I didn’t even realize how many books I’ve ordered and consumed during this quarantine. It’s so funny because I have so many more on my Amazon Wish List where I use it as a place to bookmark the books I want to get in the future. For some reason, I can’t handle having books wait for me on my bookshelf.

So in case you’re like me with a passion for photography and want to learn more about it, here are the books I’ve read in the last few months about making pictures.

The Soul of the Camera: The Photographer’s Place in Picture-Making
by David duChemin

Link on Amazon

I started out on my photography book search by googling some book recommendations and somehow I stumbled onto the fact that David duChemin was having a sale on his books. I had heard of him before and knew he was a great author. I believe out of all his books I saw on Amazon, this was the one that interested me the most. I had never imagined a camera having a soul. I’ve thought about photographs having souls, the photographer obviously has a soul, but not the camera. So I picked it up.

This is a hardback book that has more images than text and a majority of the images are portraits. I’m not usually a portrait photographer but I’ve become more and more interested in incorporating people into my images. So I thought it was interesting how he has presented his ideas. I have not studied portraiture as much so I think some of the ideas he has can apply to all genres of photography considering I have heard some of them before. Others were brand new to me.

I copied down some of the more striking quotes to me. Here are a few of my favorites:

“Perfection is counter human”

“Maybe that’s why we chase perfection. Maybe we do it because it’s so much easier to define.”

“Knowledge of the subject leads to make openness, more recognition and this makes more opportunities for strong photographs.”

Book Rating: 7/10
Like I mentioned, some of these ideas aren’t new. I knew that this book was going to be about the theory of photography, but I kind of wish there was more information on the images he has presented in the book and how they related to the theories he has discussed in the chapter. It was sort of like he had a couple of pages of really interesting questions and topics to think about, and then random images. I would have liked a discussion on how they all correlated together.

Joel Meyerowitz: How I Make Photographs
by Joel Meyerowitz

Link on Amazon

I’m new to Joel Meyerowitz. I found him because a photographer I have been following on social media mentioned that he was an inspiration to him. So I looked him up and really enjoyed some of his work. I then found Joel on a podcast and loved listening to him speak even more. I guess I have a thing about listening to people speak about their work. LOL.

So I wanted to see what a Joel Meyerowitz book was like. I finished this entire book on a Sunday morning. I did not want it to end. Since I am so new to his work, I find it so interesting that he has a collection of street photography as well as landscape. Some of my favorite quotes from this book are:

“My process begins with having a sense of awe. When I start to feel that, keep your eyes open and see what you can discover. If you follow your instinct  – and this is really what it’s about – and go where desire sends you, you’re likely to see unexpected, magical things. Think of the camera as giving you gifts. The camera is saying “go, go take me somewhere – take me on an adventure”. 

“Learn how to read the streets – anticipate a moment” 

“Everything is photographable”

“One of the most interesting qualities of street photography is making connections between things that are related because when you put a frame around them you create a new relationship”

Book Rating: 9/10
Honestly, the book is just too short. I wish it was longer. I think my favorite part about the books is that I actually heard him speaking as I was reading it. After listening to the podcast, I knew what his voice sounded like and I could hear it because his spoken word was so similar to this text. He talks about multiple aspects of photography and backs it up with his images. The book is so great for anyone who wants to learn street photography from a master.

Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs
by Steve McCurry

Link on Amazon

Out of all the books I’ve read during quarantine so far, this is by far my favorite. When I received it, I was surprised by how massive it is. It reminded me of a college textbook. It’s big and thick, but that is probably the only complaint that I have with this book.

So everyone has obviously seen Steve McCurry’s Afgan Girl. I loved how it was one of the many stories he shares. He goes into detail about capturing the image, who the girl is, and where she is now. It’s so cool to see how he reconnected with her and she was so oblivious to how famous her portrait is. There’s even a picture of her in the book of what she looks like now with her very own family. This was just one of many stories that resonated with me from this book.

I loved how there were stories about the images, a detailed description of the lengths Steve had to go through to capture the images, and even pictures of the souvenirs he kept while on assignments like hotel directions and coins. If you’re like me and want to know more about the story behind photographs than this book is for you. The 200+ pages are FILLED with inspiring images that make you want to go on assignment with National Geographic.

Book Rating 11/10
I probably finished this book in 2 weeks, only because I wanted to savor it. I could have finished it all in a few days because I was fascinated.

PS. Steve McCurry is on the same podcast as the one I linked above with Joel Meyerowitz. Both so engaging to listen to!

Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on Street Photography and the Poetic Image: The Photography Workshop Series
by Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb, and Teju Cole

Link on Amazon

To be honest, this was my least favorite book out of all the books I read during the quarantine. Again, I found out about Alex Webb through a different photographer I follow.

He and his wife are a photo partner team but Rebecca’s first love in art is through writing. While I can appreciate her love for it and how writing and photography can relate so much to each other, I just did not enjoy some of the passages that were in the book. I honestly thought the writing would cater more towards photography but in reality, it was a little more random. I did enjoy their photography, but in general, I wish the writing related more towards the images.

Book rating: 4/10

Vivian Maier: Street Photographer
by Vivian Maier, John Maloof, and Geoff Dyer

Link on Amazon

From what you may have noticed, I really like looking at the photographer’s images but I also LOVE reading the stories behind them. If you know about Vivian Maier than you’ll know that I didn’t get that from this book.

Vivan did not become a well-known photographer until her passing. The crazy part is that most of the people who knew her in real life didn’t even know that she was a photographer at all. It wasn’t until a chest of old negatives was auctioned off, a photographer got their hands on them, and started printing off the images. What came from that was this amazing collection of street photography that I just can’t even understand how a person with presumably no photography education could create such amazing pieces of art. So if you can imagine, this is a picture book where you use your imagination to read. I do think that I’d refer back to it often.

If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend watching the documentary on her titled “Finding Vivian Maier”. It’s so interesting. Even my non-photographer husband found it worth watching. I believe it’s streaming on Amazon Prime.

Book Rating: 9.8/10
The rating for what the book is but I really want to give it a 10/10. I know it’s impossible to hear from the artist, but I really wish I could hear her insight. Otherwise, this is another one of those books that I didn’t want to end. I especially loved all the self-portraits at the end of the book.

Considering the fact that quarantine doesn’t look like it’s coming to an end soon, please let me know if you have any photo book recommendations. I’d love to add them to my Amazon wishlist. Also, if you have read any of these books, let me know if you liked them and if we share the same book rating.

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