Image: Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons
1. The Rules of Photography (And When to Break Them) by Haje Jan Kamps (Ilex)
Plenty of people will tell you that the secret to creating great photographs is to break the rules, but surprisingly few are willing to offer an explanation of exactly how to do that. After all, breaking a rule isn't the same thing as just being ignorant of it. Someone who gets this completely is Haje Jan Kamps, and he's come up with an ingenious solution in the bipartite structure of this book. First he explains the rule and how to adhere to it (keep ISO low, use leading lines, rule of thirds etc.) , then he goes on to explain how to successfully break it for unique results. It's a great approach that'll leave you brimming with ideas for your images, both traditional and more creative. Find Haje and the book at his website.
Best for: Getting yourself out of a creative rut
2. The New Art of Photographing Nature by Art Wolfe, Martha Hill and Tim Grey (Amphoto Books)
If you want to learn how to do something right, it makes sense to go to the best in the business. Budding nature photographers couldn't really ask for a better teacher than Art Wolfe. This book is replete with Art's stunning images, and for each and every one of them he and former Audubon editor Martha Hill analyse exactly what does and doesn't work about them, technique by technique. Prolific digital imaging author Tim Grey chips in with detailed breakdowns of various techniques and concepts. Useful for any photographer, indispensable for a nature photographer. On Amazon.
Best for: The last word in great wildlife pictures
3. Why It Does Not Have to be in Focus by Jackie Higgins (Thames & Hudson)
Knowing how to handle your camera's settings is all well and good, but turning a competent photographer into an exceptional one demands more than just knowledge, it requires a creative mind and a willingness to see things differently. If you feel you need to ignite your creative spark then this is just the ticket. Jackie Higgins examines modern photography with a critical eye, offering a defence for unique works that might in the past have been dismissed as overexposed or poorly focused. She looks at the motivations and processes of the photographers, and ably demonstrates that sometimes it's worth just throwing the rulebook aside and seeing what you can make. If nothing else, it'll give you a great way to convince future generations that you're not terrible, you're misunderstood. Buy from Thames & Hudson.
Best for: Learning to think critically and creatively about your pictures
4. The Photographer's Eye: A Graphic Guide by Michael Freeman (Ilex)
Michael Freeman is one of the most prolific photography authors around. His name is on dozens of works detailing pretty much every technique and area of photography we can think of. If you're going to go with just one of his books though, we reckon this one is a safe bet. Michael explains the ins and outs of photographic composition in his own unique style, showing you how a viewer's eye moves through a photo and how to break your images down into their constituent parts to understand why they work, or why they don't. It assumes a little knowledge on the part of the reader, which is most welcome if you already know how to handle your camera. On Amazon.
Best for: Improving your composition
5. Four Seasons of Travel by National Geographic
National Geographic have ventured into instructional photography books, but their ‘Ultimate Guide to Field Photography' is a little basic for our taste. If you're looking to get inspired by some of the best in the business, Four Seasons of Travel is your best bet. Season by season, this book takes you through the best locations around the world to photograph, with unforgettable sights, dazzling buildings and rare phenomena seeming commonplace by the time you're through. Pick this up and you'll be have enough material to plan photographic holidays for the next forty years. National Geographic.
Best for: Inspiration, travel ideas
6. Langford's Advanced Photography by Michael Langford and Efthimia Bilissi (Focal Press)
Langford's Basic Photography is the seminal textbook for anyone thinking about picking up a camera. If you're already there and looking to push yourself further, Michael Langford is there for you once again. With the basics out of the way, this book really gets in deep with the nitty-gritty, looking at genres of photography in depth and tackling advanced digital manipulation. Get this and get ready to push yourself. On Amazon.
Best for: Covering everything
7. Creative Digital Photography: 52 Weekend Projects by Chris Gatcum (Ilex)
Many photographers probably know the feeling of spending an entire week looking forward to a weekend shoot, only to get out with your camera and realise you're completely bereft of ideas. If you find yourself struggling to get motivated or to fit photography into your schedule, this is an excellent resource from photo expert Chris Gatcum. He offers 52 projects to bash out on a weekend, some simple, some more complicated, some involving a little DIY and almost certainly a fair few that will never have occurred to you before. There's a good difficulty gradient from beginner to advanced, so everyone should find plenty to keep them busy. On Amazon.
Best for: Challenging yourself creatively