I am a relatively new photographer. I have no problem understanding the technical side of photography (I am an engineer by trade), but I do struggle with the more 'artistic' side of photography (composition, symmetry, choice of color/B&W...)

Can anyone suggest any reading material (either online or books) that could help improve my artistic side?

  • 3
    This should really be community wiki. I hate to convert it while ltn100 has so little rep, though. I may convert it later.
    – jrista
    Nov 10, 2010 at 19:23
  • @jrista, I agree, great wiki topic.
    – Joanne C
    Nov 10, 2010 at 20:42
  • 1
    Converted to community wiki.
    – chills42
    Mar 11, 2011 at 12:09

16 Answers 16


One of the best books I can recommend is Michael Freeman's famous book:

This book is a rare gem, in that it does a pretty superb job of covering all the critical artistic topics of photography in a generally agnostic way. Michael Freeman is a talented photographer, and his communication of compositional aspects of photography is second to none. You may not learn everything about the artistic side of a specific kind of photography from this book, but you'll definitely learn the general basics that can be applied to most forms of photography.

Two other books by Michael Freeman should also find their way into your collection:

These three books comprise my favorites out of my entire collection, and have been the most useful (and most used) over the two or so years I've been doing photography. They do not get into the specifics of any specific field of photography, so if you are looking for detailed information information about a single field, you will have to look deeper. I generally do landscape photography, and I can offer some superb books for that field that can help you expand your artistic horizons beyond the fundamentals covered in Freeman's books. For other fields, like portraiture, architectural photography, street, etc., others can hopefully help you find what you need.

I do landscape, nature, and wildlife photography, so most of my books are related to that area of photography. Here are some other great books that I found that have helped me learn the artistic side of things:

When it comes to other types of photography, I don't have a whole lot to offer. I've perused some books on portrait and wedding photography, however I don't own any and couldn't offer much. Architectural photography seems to be an area that is fairly lacking in books. There do seem to be some great books from individual architectural photographers that showcase their works, and observing other photographers work is a great way to learn, but it is limited. Another field I have started to delve into is astrophotography. There do seem to be a few books and resources in that area:

Most of the books I have learned from are for landscape and wildlife/bird photography, so I am not certain how useful they will be for you. I think the compositional concepts are very sound, and apply to more than just nature photography, however.

  • Thanks jrista. I've seen a couple of mentions of The Photographer's Eye now, so I think I'll put an order in for that :)
    – ltn100
    Nov 11, 2010 at 10:23

These are some quite advanced texts covering the artistic and cultural side of photography:

  • Batchen, G (2000) Over Exposed. London: The New Press

  • Berger, J. (1972). Ways of seeing. London: Pelican

  • Brittain, D. (ed.) (1999) Creative Camera: 30 Years of Writing. Manchester: MUP

  • Burgin, V (1982) Thinking Photography. Macmillan Press (see Benjamin ‘The Author as Producer’.)

  • Burke, S. (1998). The Death and return of the Author – Criticsim and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida. Edinburgh: EUP

  • Cotton, C (2004) The Photograph as Contemporary Art. London Thames & Husdon

  • Evans, J ed. (1997) The Camerawork Essays. Rivers Oram Press

  • Evans, Jessica & Hall, Stuart (1999) Visual culture: the reader. London. Sage

  • Frizot, Michael (1998). A New History of Photography. Konemann

  • Lister, M. (ed.) (2003) The Photographic Image in Digital Culture. London: Routledge

  • Mitchell, W.J. (1992) The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era Cambridge, M.A MIT

  • Mirzoeff, Nicholas. (1999) An introduction to Visual Culture. Routledge

  • Newhall, B (1982) The History of Photography. New York Secker & Warburg

  • Newhall, B. (1980) Essays & Images. New York Secker & Warburg (See Strand essay 1917)

  • Payne, M. (ed). (1996). Cultural and Critical Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.

  • Ritchen, F. (1999) In Our Own Image: The Coming Revolution in Photography. New York: Aperture

  • Squires, C ed. (1990) The Critical Image. Seattle Bay Press

  • Trachtenberg, A. (1980) Classic Essays on Photography New Haven, Conn. Leete’s Island

  • Traub, C. (ed) (2006) The Education of a Photographer New York: Allworth Press


Here is a link to a page with many links to online articles on image composition.



Eventually instruction-oriented books won't be as useful to you, and you'll need to start looking at (and thinking about) photography directly. What you should pick when you get to that point will depend on your taste, but if you have even an inkling of interest in street photography or photojournalism, there are worse places to start than this:

Magnum Magnum (hardcover - paperback here)

400 photographs from the Magnum archives: Henri Cartier-Bresson, Martin Parr, Alec Soth, and many others.

If you can find it (and want to splurge a bit), the original giant hardcover edition (more than 30x45cm) is amazing. Larger is definitely better for these images.


A few book recommendations:


You may also want to try the "5 Photo Composition Hints" series of web articles from ShotAddict.com:

  1. The First Element - Texture
  2. The Second Element - Color
  3. The Third Element - Subject
  4. The Fourth Element - Space
  5. The Fifth Element - Light
  • +1 A good series there. (links to the other 4 sections are at the bottom of the page)
    – ltn100
    Nov 11, 2010 at 10:26
  • 1
    Not working any longer. Does anyone know if these links have been changed?
    – misguided
    Jan 6, 2014 at 2:35
  • yep not working now. any alternative links?
    – samsamara
    Aug 13, 2015 at 8:33

"The Photographer's Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos" by Michael Freeman is a pretty good book : http://www.amazon.com/Photographers-Eye-Composition-Design-Digital/dp/0240809343


I am a big fan of Freeman Patterson's books. I started with Photography for the Joy of it and then "Photography and the Art of Seeing" already linked to by ahockley. Then I added others of his:


I don't have any specific book recommendation (I don't tend to read books a lot, as it seems), but I would suggest not getting too focused on "photographic composition", but rather widen the field into "image composition". Composition is a field that has been of interest for as long as man has created images, so there is a lot to learn from the painters that have been around for so much longer than photography.


I'd suggest David Ward's "Landscape Beyond: Insights and Inspirations for Photographers" and Freeman Patterson's "Photography and the Art of Seeing: A Visual Perception Workshop for Film and Digital Photography". These are not just composition books, but rather talking about the process of getting from taker to maker (David Ward's quote).


Kodak has a great book that I found at my library.


One of the best book for begginers, but not only. This is no joke: US-Navy-Course-NAVEDTRA-14209-Photography-Basic

Simple, but very usable tips for composition, portratits and just what you should know about photography, if you are enthusiast or want do better photos.

  • I've read the training manual. It is rather outdated in terms of the technology discussed, but gives a very good look at how to get your images "right".
    – bwDraco
    May 24, 2012 at 10:11
  • Of course outdated, but rules not changed ;) I saw many qestions here which are the answers in this book. Composition, portrait etc. And it just look outdated, I not see any obsolescence issues here. Only what is outdated, that digital imaging is not discussed, but this is for post processing only not shoting.
    – Dudeist
    May 24, 2012 at 13:21

Your natural inclination as an engineer is to go for a book. I teach my students to use their loves and fears to explore meaningful content in their work.

As reason and science defines elegant engineering solutions - motivation tempered by emotion will help you focus your attention on images which go beyond the mechanical.

You need life not books. Your best images may be seconds away if you can find the inspiration to expand your life.


I'd be inclined to suggest buying photo art/coffee table books -- collections of great photographs. To me exposure to good photography helps to inspire your own, as long as you don't succumb to just imitating. You would expect the Beatles to have listened to The Band, and Michelangelo was probably familiar with the work of Leonardo da Vinci.

Which books to purchase (or online galleries to review) really depends on what kind of photography you are into, but if you don't know of any famous photographers you could try google/wikipedia searches like "contemporary photographers" or "american west photographers" and once you get some names start looking up their work.

Or you could start looking at the work of Ralph Gibson, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams (who was kind of a geek, liked to understand processes, why things worked the way they did), Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Annie Leibovitz, or Gregory Crewdson.


Lots of people have suggested books, and articles, but I'd like to add (internet) photography forums, or even just photography sections on other forums. If you find one which has users with portfolios you like, and the people who post there don't seem too up themselves, then you really lose nothing by joining and posting.

These create a really great was for you to get live constructive criticism, and help you develop your own style and sense of photography, eventually leading to learning how to critique yourself, and when to see if the critique is objective or subjective as you get better and better.


Best digested by a photographer that already has some experience

Photographer's Eye and Photographers Mind by Michael Freeman are excellent. Photographic Composition and Perception and Imaging by Richard Zakia are great, too.

For a less experienced photographers

National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Pictures is a great starting point.

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