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Book Advice: Technique and Theory in Documentary Photography

Making a photograph of the instant when a real moment in life unfolds is what documentary photography is all about. Staging and editing a scene removes the reality, but learning about photojournalistic techniques and theory like “The Decisive Moment” can allow amateur and professional photographers to master their skills. The following selection of books are filled with these kinds of advice.

01. The Documentary Impulse

“Tank Man” photographer Stuart Franklin explores how we, as humans, are driven to visually document our experiences and the world around us. Looking at photojournalism, war photography and work recording our culture, Franklin identifies some of its driving impulses: curiosity, outrage; the search for evidence, for beauty, for therapy; and the immortalization of memory.

Publisher: Phaidon Press Ltd | Author: Stuart Franklin | Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-0714870670

Buy on Amazon

02. Storytelling for Photojournalists: Reportage and Documentary Photography Techniques

Learn what it takes to shoot photojournalistic images from developing an idea to making travel plans, gathering the requisite information about the subject/scene, packing the appropriate gear and understanding the technical aspects of a shoot. In this book, you’ll learn how to determine cultural basics that may impact how and what you can photograph, how to get your images onto editors’ desks and in front of the eyes of the wider world audience.

Publisher: Amherst Media | Author: Enzo Dal Verme | Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1682030004

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03. Within The Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision

Within the Frame is a book about finding and expressing your photographic vision, specifically where people, places, and cultures are concerned. Author David duChemin shows both the how and the why of finding, chasing, and expressing your vision with a camera to your eye. This book helps you on your photographic journey to make better images of the places and people you love, whether they are around the world or in your own backyard. 

Publisher: New Riders | Author: David duChemin | Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-0134288628

Buy on Barnes & Nobles

04. The Photographer’s Eye

Based on a landmark exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in 1964, The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski is a classic introduction to the visual language of photography. Szarkowski’s text eloquently complements skillfully selected 172 photographs drawn from the entire history and range of the medium. Works by such masters as Cartier-Bresson, Evans, Steichen, Strand, and Weston are juxtaposed with vernacular documents and even amateur snapshots to analyze the challenges and opportunities that all photographers have faced. 

Publisher: Museum of Modern Art | Author: John Szarkowski | Release Date: 2007 | ISBN-13: 978-0870705274

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05. The Street Photographer’s Manual

This book speaks about the possibilities of street photography, and how it can be approached in a tangible way. It examines its past, present and future, and shows how the genre has changed over time. The reader is then introduced to the most acclaimed international street photographers, among them Bruce Gilden, Alex Webb, Nils Jorgensen and Saul Leiter. Integrated are twenty fully illustrated tutorials, including how to shoot a face in a crowd and how to train your eye to observe and capture the unexpected. 

Publisher: Thames & Hudson Ltd | Author: David Gibson | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-0500291306

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06. On Photography

Susan Sontag’s critique of photography asks forceful questions about the moral and aesthetic issues surrounding this art form. On Photography is a study of the force of photographic images, which are inserted between experience and reality. Photographs have the power to shock, idealize or seduce, they create a sense of nostalgia and act as a memorial, and they can be used as evidence against us or to identify us. In these six incisive essays, Sontag examines the ways in which we use these images to manufacture a sense of reality and authority in our lives. 

Publisher: Picador | Author: Susan Sontag | Release Date: 2001 | ISBN-13: 978-0312420093

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07. Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach

Photojournalism: A Professionals’ Approach blends insightful interviews with professionals, practical experience, current equipment and camera technology, and high-impact photographs to create a sort of bible on photojournalism. Readers are brought on assignment with industry greats, whose experiences provide a guide on how to take your work from a hobby to a profession. The revised and expanded business chapter goes the next step and outlines how to make a living in photojournalism. 

Publisher: Focal Press | Author: Kenneth Kobre | Release Date: 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1138101364

Buy on Amazon

08. Observations: Essays on Documentary Photography

Observations: Essays on Documentary Photography contains nine recent essays on different aspects of documentary photography, from Atget to Evans to Levitt, as well as the photographer’s social image, documentary persuasion, and the humanist document.

Publisher: Friends of Photography Bookstore | Author: David Featherstone | Release Date: 1991 | ISBN-13: 978-0933286399

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09. Larry Fink on Composition and Improvisation

In this workshop series from Aperture Foundation, photographer Larry Fink explores composing photographs and improvising within a scene to create images with both feeling and meaning. He reveals insight into his own practice and discusses a wide range of creative issues, from connecting with the subject in front of the lens to shaping a vision that is authentic. With him, learn how to create pictures which capture the energy of a tense scene and to use the whole frame to create sophisticated photographic compositions. 

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Larry Fink | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1597112734

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10. The Decisive Moment

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s iconic photography book, “The Decisive Moment,” is one of the most famous books in the history of photography, assembling Cartier-Bresson’s best work from his early years. The book and its images have since influenced generations of photographers. This concept has defined the notion of the famous formal peak in which all elements in the photographic frame accumulate to form the perfect image. Paired with the artist’s humanist viewpoint, Cartier-Bresson’s photography has become part of the world’s collective memory. 

Publisher: Steidl Verlag | Author: Henri Cartier Bresson | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-3869307886

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11. On Street Photography and the Poetic Image

In this workshop series from Aperture Foundation, internationally acclaimed color photographers Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb, offer their expert insight into street photography and the poetic image. They share their thoughts about a wide range of practical and philosophical issues, from questions about seeing and being in the world with a camera, to how to shape a complete body of work in a way that’s both structured and intuitive. With them, learn how to discover luminous, poetic images in the world, work with complexity, color, and creative tension within the picture frame and gain confidence photographing among different cultures

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb | Release Date: 2014 | ISBN-13: 978-1597112574

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12. Seeing Things : A Kid’s Guide to Looking at Photographs

Initially aimed for children, Seeing Things is an introduction to photography that asks how photographers transform ordinary things into meaningful moments. In this book, acclaimed photographer Joel Meyerowitz speaks about photography’s abilities to freeze time, tell a story, combine several layers into one frame, and record life’s fleeting and beautiful moments. Pictures of Mary Ellen Mark, William Eggleston and many other masters are accompanied by a short commentary, encouraging readers to look closely and use their imagination to understand key ideas in photography such as light, gesture, composition.

Publisher: Aperture | Author: Joel Meyerowitz | Release Date: 2016 | ISBN-13: 978-1597113151

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13. Wear Good Shoes: Advice from Magnum Photographers

This free 60-page PDF from Magnum Photos contains an excellent collection of tips, advice and inspirational quotes from the photographers of Magnum. Accompanied by their iconic photographs, this insight is a great resource for anyone looking to find their vision and therefore create better pictures. 

Publisher: Magnum Photos | Author: Shannon Ghannam | Release Date: 2017 | ISBN-13: NONE

Download on Magnum Photos

Cover photo by Jonas Cuenin

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