Although not a traditional art book, "The Photographer's Manual" By John Freeman is by far my favorite photography book. When I was about twelve years old I got my first camera for my birthday, and Freedman's "Photographer's Manual" and I still reference it regularly to this day. "The Photographer's Manual" explains everything from the most basic disposable camera to the most complex professional camera, from basic natural light to studio lighting techniques, and almost every other aspect of photography.
"The Photographer's Manual" is pretty much the only reference book I use. I have come from playing around with a disposable camera, not paying attention to photography as art, just capturing moments, to working as a professional photographer in fashion and commercial advertising, and I still use the same manual.
The reason I feel this book is so excellent is because it takes everything from the absolute basics to the very complex, and explains almost every aspect of photography. How can you expect to master your art if you do not understand the way the tool that captures your vision works? A painter knows how his paint will react with different strokes and how the canvas will receive the paint. Shouldn't a photographer understand how the film or sensor sees what it is you are attempting to capture in order to use it to its fullest abilities?
It is so important to learn these basics and throughout the book we find it happening on many different aspects of photography, not just the workings of the camera. First and foremost you must understand how your camera works, without that, your driving blind. Next you have to understand the way that the camera captures light, through the lens, reflecting off of mirrors and on to film or a sensor. If you do not understand the way the light gets to the film or the sensor, how can you expect it to get there the way you want it to?
So, so far the book does an excellent job of explaining the technical details of photography. How your camera works, what lenses are used for what kinds of pictures, how to set your camera up manually, pretty much everything you need to know in order to take a picture. What really surprises me is that the book goes further than that. Not only do we learn everything there is to know about camera's of a great variety, but we are taught about other essential principals like composition, lighting, subject matter. A lot of people think you can learn anything you would ever want to learn with some basic web searching skills, but there are some things in this book you just cant surf the web and find out.
My two favorite sections of the book are those dealing with composition and lighting. These two things are so essential to a beautiful photograph, it sets the amateur "point and shoot" photographer apart from the artist. There are a few different fundamental rules you have to consider when composing your image, and those change depending on what it is your are capturing. The same thing goes for lighting. If you do not light your image correctly, or use the light you have available in an effective manner, your image will not turn out the way you see it in your mind. The book describes so many different ways to light everything from landscape photography to very up close and personal intimate portraits. The difference between lighting for sports and action shots and in studio commercial work, it is all there!
"The Photographer's Manual" also includes a section on entering competitions and whether or not you can sell your photos. This is something every artist struggles with, that's why we are called starving artists, we can produce, but we cant sell (gross generalization). With just a brief description on how you can get your photos out into the world and seen, and eventually profit off of them, is something that is left out in photography books far too often. Even though this section only occupies around four pages of the two hundred and fifty page book, it may be one of the most important, and rare in a book of this kind.
The thing that astounds me the most about this book is that it was published in 1994. Before the days of digital the only option was film, and film is the only medium this book addresses. This would cause many people to dismiss it right off the bat, because "everyone shoots digital" these days. All of the basic ideas of photography are still there. I shoot primarily digital for companies like T-Mobile USA and National Geographic, but I still reference this book regularly. No matter how many times I read "The Photographer's Manual" cover to cover, I always learn something new, or find a new way to look at things. I find this book to be so informative and easy to understand, I lend it out more than any of my other possessions. Whether you are a beginning amateur with a desire to learn or a industry professional working in the field for years, "The Photographer's Manual" has a lesson for you to learn.