From hard hitting photojournalism and comical dog portraits to bizarre fish faces and beautiful naked Japanese women, they show mastery in various niches of photography.
1. South Southeast by Steve McCurry
This portfolio covers Steve McCurry‘s 20+ year love affair with South and Southeast Asia.
Steve McCurry started his freelance photography career by going to India for 2 years with 200 rolls of film and not much else.
Today, he is one of the most universally respected photographer alive.
South Southeast is not the kind of book with several unforgettable photos in it, every photo is unforgettable!
2. Magnum Magnum by Magnum photographers
Magnum is a photographers collective started by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson and others.
This large coffee table book shows off their best shots and their best is pretty damn good.
So good you should first get your photo on the cover of National Geographic more than once before even applying to join.
Have a look at this book and you will see why they can be so selective.
3. National Geographic: The Photographs
You already know every photo published in their magazines are topnotch.
So when they carefully select 300+ to put in a book simply titled “The Photographs”, be prepared to be blown away.
4. Vanishing Act by Art Wolfe
His name says it all.
Art Wolfe has published many quality nature and landscape photo books, but Vanishing Act stands out to me because I have not seen anything else like it.
Kind of like the “Where’s Waldo” of nature photography with endless fun and beauty.
5. Life By Frans Lanting
I can’t imagine anyone who could envision a book so broad, so bold, and do it so well as Frans Lanting.
When most people reading this article were still dirtying diapers, Frans was living in the Amazon canopy for weeks at a time waiting for the perfect shot.
His curiosity has not faded with time and the depth of his stories just keeps growing.
It is a must see collection of 175 color photographs.
6. The Book of Photography by National Geographic
This amazing 400 page book is half photos and half words, and covers everything you need to know about photography, except how to use a camera.
While it deserves a serious read from cover to cover, it is also organized in a way that allows the reader to open up any page and not feel lost.
Plus it has lots of short side essays built into the main text which are perfect if you’ve got just a few minutes to spare.
There are thousands of books about cameras but very few about the art of photography. Don’t judge this priceless book by its terrible cover design though.
7. The Photography Book by Phaidon
Each of the 500 photographers highlighted in this book get one page introductions and a photo.
It is a great and fun way to get a sense of the endless variety of photographers that exist.
You will probably never remember them all, but a few will really impress you and you can find more of their work.
The Photography Book was my first coffee table photo book. It is now officially out of print but with the millions of copies sold it is still very easy to find online and in used bookstores.
8. Life Laughs Last by Life Magazine photographers
A light book of the funniest photos from decades of Life magazine.
Before National Geographic magazine took center stage, the most talented photographers in the world flocked to Life.
Life’s incredible pool of talent and longstanding notoriety as America’s primer photo magazine show in this timeless book of comical black and white photographs.
Most used bookstores have a copy.
9. Fish Face by David Doubilet
David Doubilet is arguably the undefeated master of underwater photography.
His new book Fish Face shows close up portraits of the underwater world from the very beautiful to the very bizarre.
David Doubilet published his first underwater photos in National Geographic before my mom could drive a car.
His love for the underwater world and his ability to tell its stories and secrets keep aging like fine wine.
10. Santa Fe by Kishin Shinoyama
What half of you have been waiting for….a nude photo book.
Some of the best advice for a photographer is to shoot what you are interested in.
Kishin Shinoyama followed that advice and remains one of the most famous and certainly most controversial photographer from Japan.
Controversy sells and so do Kishin Shinoyama’s books. Santa Fe sold 1.5 million copies.
Pick up a copy to find out why…
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Ryan Libre is a photojournalist based in Japan and Thailand. He was awarded the 2010 Nikon Inspiration Award for his photographic work on the Kachin struggle for independence in Myanmar. Please visit his homepage www.ryanlibre.com.
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