Every product is carefully selected by our editors. If you buy from a link, we may earn a commission.

30 Awe-Inspiring Photography Books

This list of our favorite photography books represents an attempt, however incomplete, to reseat the photo book in its rightful place alongside the Scarface posters Warhols lining your walls.

Richard Mosse's Infra

Amid our celebration of film-based photography, it’s only right that we return to and update our favorite photography books of all time. It’s about time you updated your collection, isn’t it?

Ask any sensible man with concern for art and he’ll tell you that photography stands alongside painting and sculpture as one of the noblest disciplines. Hand him a beautifully bound book bursting with samples of this art form, however, and he’ll slide it underneath his coffee mug to protect the table from stains.

This list of our favorites represents an attempt, however incomplete, to reseat the photo book in its rightful place alongside the Scarface posters Warhols lining your walls. We wouldn’t call it a compendium of the greatest photographers or a comprehensive survey of the medium — it’s just a few selections to help broaden your photographic horizons, or at the very least spark some compelling conversation around the coffee table.

Contribution by Jake Orthwein and Jack Seemer.


Capa in Color
Robert Capa
Robert Capa (1913–1954) is foremost remembered as a photographer of war, documenting, among others, the Spanish Civil War, World War II (across both Europe and North Africa), and the First Indochina War, where we was eventually killed. Though commonly linked to black and white photography, Capa was in fact an early advocate of color film. Capa in Color celebrates the lesser-known opus of his color photography with rare photographs of Bogart, Hemingway and Picasso, alongside other notable subjects and friends. $43

William Eggleston
Considered by many art historians to be “the father of color photography”, William Eggleston (1939–) is accredited with garnering respect for color photography in the world of high art, a space notoriously biased in favor of black and white photographs. He is admired for both his understated aesthetic and unique use of dye-transfer printing, the same process used in advertising prints to achieve a depth of highly saturated colors. This three-volume set presents Eggleston’s work with color slide film (also called positive film) — Kodachrome and Ektachrome, specifically — over the course of 728 carefully curated pages, filled with photographs taken from the Eggleston Artistic Trust. $995

Modernism Rediscovered
Julius Schulman
Julius Schulman (1910—2009) was one of the world’s most renowned photographers of architecture, associated with his prolific documentation of the mid-century design of Southern California. (His most recognized photograph is that of the Stahl House, taken in 1960, overlooking Los Angeles at night.) This colossal collection, exceeding 1,000 pages, not only pays tribute to Shulman’s photography, but also the work of history’s greatest architects — Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Frank Gehry and Le Corbusier, to name just a few. $147

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus (1923—1971) was known for photographing subjects on the fringes of society: dwarfs, transvestites, circus performers. This collection of 80 black and white photographs, first published in 1972 following Arbus’s death, includes some of her most iconic portraits, including “Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967” (which inspired two notorious characters in Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining). $31

Paul Strand in Mexico
Paul Strand
A contemporary of Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston, American photographer Paul Strand (1890—1976) was one of the first ever to garner respect for photography as a medium of art. This collection, comprised of 234 photographs, focuses on a very specific aspect of Strand’s long, dynamic career, chronicling his time spent in Mexico during the early ‘30s, as well as a second voyage there in 1966. $75

The Bikeriders
Danny Lyon
From the years 1963 to 1967, American photographer and filmmaker Danny Lyon (1942—) was a member of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, a hard-riding gang cruising on the outskirts of the American status quo. He spent that time photographing and interviewing his associates, collecting that material into The Bikeriders, an intimate depiction of a particular subculture that echoes in the spirit of fellow New Journalism writers, such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. $28

Magnum Contact Sheets
Kristen Lubben (Editor)
Founded in 1947 by a number photographers — including Capa and Bresson — the photographic co-op Magnum Photos has been responsible, collectively, for some of the world’s most iconic images: photos of the Normandy landing during World War II (Robert Capa), the Paris riots of 1968 (Bruno Barbey), Che Guevara smoking a cigar (René Burri), among many others. This book, showcasing the contact sheets of these famous photographs, offers unprecedented context and insight into what other shots were taken on specific rolls of film. $55

Invisible City
Ken Schles
New York City is an example of a place that is always changing, driving toward an end at which it will never arrive. Centered around his East Village apartment in the 1980s, photographer Ken Schles documented his personal perspective on this dynamism through nighttime photography, resulting in a grainy, dark, yet captivating portrayal of urban life in flux. Long out of print, this second edition of Invisible City, a cult classic for photography buffs, authentically uses scans from Schles’s original negatives. $30

Andrew Bush
Contemporary photographer Andrew Bush (1956—) explores the car culture of America through this conceptual series of photographs (first entitled Vector Portraits) taken around Los Angeles. Traveling alongside his subjects, often at speeds up to 60 mph, Bush would photograph unsuspecting drivers, ranging in age and gender. The result is a lucid, and often hilarious, reflection of the tension between alienation and proximity shared on the American highway. $85

Richard Mosse
Richard Mosse (1980—), a graduate from the Yale School of Art, traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo for Infra, his unique collection of photographs that document the ongoing social and political struggles of the region. Each photograph is taken with the Kodak Aerochrome, a now-discontinued film-stock, originally used for aerial surveillance. The film registers an invisible-to-the-eye spectrum of infrared light that translates green into rich hues of purple and pink for a wholly original representation of landscapes and personal subjects. $525


All About Eve
Eve Arnold
The foremost female photographer of her era, Arnold made a career of photographing iconic figures of the day, including Macolm X, Clark Gable, and Queen Elizabeth. Her portraits of Marilyn Monroe, however, are the cornerstones of her work. In fact, Arnold found Monroe so expressive a subject that she took a portfolio’s worth of photos of Marilyn alone. $63

Halsman: A Retrospective
Philippe Halsman
Phillippe Halsman photographed artists on their terms. That’s not to say he didn’t imprint his own unique and inimitable sensibility on each and every photo that he took, but his portraits always conveyed more about the subject than the photographer. Halsman’s surreal images of Dali and Hitchcock, for example, place the artists directly inside one of the bizarre worlds they were so fond of creating. $10

Avedon Fashion
Richard Avedon
Fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon straddled the worlds of art and commercial photography to an unparalleled degree; his work appeared both in the pages of Vogue and on the walls of the Metropoltian Museum of Art, often simultaneously. So powerfully did Avedon capture the world of fashion that his work came to exist in dialogue with it, as instrumental in shaping future trends as the designers themselves. Richardavedon.com

Brassai, Paris
Madonna. Seal. Fabio. Certain artists just outgrow the whole “two name” thing. Unlike the aforementioned trio, however, Hungarian photographer Brassai’s talent is undeniable. His moody, romantic urban night scenes made devastating use of black and white, while his gritty portraits would pave the way for later artists like Diane Arbus. $15

Larry Burrows: Vietnam
Larry Burrows
Before such photos, words fall short. LIFE magazine photographer Larry Burrows’s iconic images of the Vietnam War, which paint in vivid color the horror and humanity of conflict, are collected in this award-winning posthumous volume. Burrows was killed, along with two fellow photographers, when their helicopter was shot down in Laos. $25

Bill Brandt: Shadow and Light
Bill Brandt
German-British photographer Bill Brandt’s career can be summed up as a study in contrast. His haunting photographs of the human body more closely resemble rounded stones, whittled by eons of tidal shaping, than any carnal object. Indeed, Brandt often framed his subjects’ bodies on a bed of such stones, allowing them to sink fully into their surroundings and become indistinguishable. $55

Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky
Andreas Gursky’s Rhein II, a spare, hyper-linear portrait of the Rhein River, sold for $4.3 million in 2011 to become the most expensive photograph ever sold. The German photographer crafts large-scale, vibrantly colored crowd and architecture scenes in stunning collapse of the macro and micro. $65

Images of the Seventh Day
Michael Kenna
Kenna’s minimalist landscapes appear more etched than photographed, composed in leaden black and white and wrought in pencil-tip detail. This aptly titled compendium features photographs of a world incomplete, as though these sketches were merely a blueprint from which a full-color, lushly detailed landscape might one day be born. $36

Heaven to Hell
David LaChappelle
If you were to compose a photo as diametrically opposed to Michael Kenna as humanly possible, toss in some celebrities and sprinkle on some fairy dust, you’d have something pretty close to a David LaChappelle. The American pop artist is not for everyone — depending on your disposition, he might strike you as the Fellini of photography or the Tommy Wiseau of the still frame. LaChappelle’s success and influence, however, cannot be denied. $36

The Early Years
Andre Kertesz
The first thing people say when they see a Kurtesz image is, “how did he do that?” This is usually followed abruptly by, “no seriously, how the hell did he do that?” This collection of his early work will leave you puzzled, intrigued and eager for more. $4


The Best of Leifer
Neil Leifer
You know that photo of Muhammad Ali, the one where he taunts a fallen George Foreman with the ferocity of a man with everything to prove, the one that adorns the walls of every male college student? Yeah, Neil Leifer took that, along with dozens of other masterworks of sports photography. Leifer’s photographs capture everything we love about sports — the suspense, the physicality, the romanticism. Each frame feels like history in the making — and it was. $19

Small Trades
Irving Penn
Over the course of his long career, Irving Penn photographed legends from Picasso to John F. Kennedy to Miles Davis and more. In this collection, however, the renowned portrait and fashion photographer turns his lens on working men and women. Photographed sparely against a nondescript backdrop, these images foreground their common-man subjects as though they were the sort of legendary figures Penn was so accustomed to working with. $250

Man Ray
Man Ray
What Dali was to painting and Buñuel was to film so Man Ray was to photography. Aside from having perhaps the most disarmingly masculine name of all time (his first name is Man, for fuck’s sake), Ray was a seminal influence on both surrealism and its even less accessible cousin, dadaism. His haunting dreamscapes, rendered without the crutch of Photoshop, paved the way for both future surrealists like Bill Brandt and post-modern pop artists like Richard Hamilton. $49

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
Walker Evans
OK, so this dustbowl-era opus is not strictly a photography book. In fact, the photography in it does not even announce with any forcefulness the voice of its author. This is foremost a work of journalism, of humble exposition, and of praise. Sometimes a subject says enough on its own. $12

The Americans
Robert Frank
Swiss national Robert Frank’s 1958 book, The Americans, is at once scathing and sentimental. It’s the sort of portrait of American life no American could ever have concocted — it’s simply not how we see ourselves, or how we’d like to. And yet, amid the unflinching portrayals of segregation and American provincialism, Frank finds room to be generous to our decency, our pride, and our tarnished sense of idealism. $25

The Decisive Moment
Henri Cartier-Bresson
The photography book to end all photography books. French master Henri Cartier-Bresson has had some degree of influence on just about every piece of photography snapped since the beginning of his career — even that selfie you just snapped in the bathroom. The father of modern photojournalism, Cartier-Bresson always seemed to be in the right place at the right time; “good fortune” like that doesn’t happen by accident. $400

125 Photographs
Edward Weston
Henri Cartier-Bresson was surely the father of photojournalism, but Edward Weston might well have been the father of modern photography. Weston’s work spanned all genres, including masterpieces in still life, nude, and landscape imagery. In an era when the trend was soft-focus, ghostlike imagery, Weston championed crisp lines, powerful contrast and intense detail. $23

Frans Lanting
Wildlife photography has been conspicuously absent on this list, and with good reason. Passably impressive wildlife photography is a dime a dozen these days, no more than a few minutes away on your default screensaver. The work of Frans Lanting is worthy of the exception. His animal portraits, like the great human portraiture that litters this list, find the soul of their subject, revealing the character of the animal portrayed with astonishing clarity. $56

The Iconic Photographs
Steve McCurry
Photojournalist Steve McCurry has the distinctive honor of having taken one of the most iconic photographs of all time. His Afghan Girl, the cover of a 1985 issue of National Geographic, stands as a symbol for his towering body of work — an effort to put a face on suffering. $37

Georgia O’Keeffe A Portrait
Alfred Stieglitz
Alfred Stieglitz (1864—1946) was one of the first photographers to elevate photography to the realm of high art. Known for his iconic photographs of urban landscapes and also of clouds, Stieglitz was also the late husband of painter Georgia O’Keefe, and their relationship became one of the most storied in the history of art. They were married for over 30 years, until his death, over the course of which Stieglitz took hundreds of portraits of the famous artist. This collection of 79 photographs presents the highlights of this collection with visual intensity and intimacy. $300
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
More From Buying Guides