September 2

3 comments

The 3 Best Books for Learning Outdoor Photography

By Dan

September 2, 2010


I learned a great deal about photography by reading books when I first started out. I used to spend hours on rainy Saturdays at the Boston Public Library in the photography section, poring over books on composition, technique and lighting like they were tomes that held the secret of life. I some ways they were, since my life and livelihood has now become inexorably intertwined with photography.

Although I gathered useful and interesting information from just about every book that I’ve ever picked up over the years, there are three books on outdoor photography that have influenced me more than any others. As far as I’m concerned these are the best books on the subject and I’d highly recommend them to anyone who likes to shoot photos of nature and the outdoors.

1. Mountain Light: In Search of the Dynamic Landscape, by Galen Rowell

A true visionary, Galen Rowell was, without a doubt, the father of the modern day adventure and outdoor photographer. He paved the way for every one of us who are out there tramping around the world, climbing mountains, and exploring the rugged natural places on the planet with our cameras and making a living at it. We owe it all to him. Even after his passing over ten years ago, his work continues to inspire countless photographers, travelers and outdoor enthusiasts.

His book, Mountain Light, which was first published by The Sierra Club in 1986, is considered the bible for outdoor, mountain and adventure photographers. It features 80 of his most well known images, accompanied by technical and compositional information, as well as introspective notes about the circumstances and ideas behind each of his shots. He details his methods and approach for a number of different subject types, including mountain landscapes, nature, adventure and expedition imagery and cultural travel photography. If I could only have one book on photography, it would be this one.

Sadly, Mountain Light is currently out of print. If you can find a used copy, grab it and hold onto it as if it were gold. His most recent book, Galen Rowell, A Retrospective, is also a wonderfully inspiring book to any photographer, and it contains reproductions of many of the same images that appear in Mountain Light.

2. John Shaw’s Nature Photographer’s Field Guide

John Shaw is an expert on teaching photography and his books are packed with useful information, as well as gorgeous imagery. His Nature Photography Field Guide is filled with creative methods, technical tips and equipment recommendations that will help any photographer improve their ability to create beautiful and striking images of nature and the outdoors.

He details how and when to apply the different techniques and methods that are essential to working with outdoor subjects in a variety of situations and natural settings.

Unlike some photographers to teach in a very “preachy, I know best” style, John explains concepts and photographic methods in a very down to earth and conversational way. He presents the information in a way that makes you really learn and appreciate the technical and artistic craft of photography.

John Shaw actually has a number of books out there about nature photography, and I’d recommend any of them. However, this book brings together a great all around combination of methods, tips and subject matter.

3. Understanding Exposure, by Bryan Peterson

Geared towards the serious amateur photographer who is already comfortable shooting photos in a variety of settings, Bryan Peterson’s bestselling book, Understanding Exposure teaches you how to deal with light and capture more dramatic and creative images.

Since photography is all about light, learning how to master it is an essential concept towards becoming a better, more successful photographer. Bryan is indeed a master, and whether it be side light, back light or overcast, he shows you how to make the most of any situation and how to use it effectively to capture your subject matter in the (no pun intended) best light possible.

He also helps you get a solid handle on the technical aspects of exposure, camera settings, f-stops, apertures, ISO, color temperature, focal lengths and other aspects of photography, that are not always entirely understood.

The book is filled with full color examples as well as exercises that you can do to help improve your photography and master the concepts that he explains. Understanding Exposure is a great and worthwhile learning tool for any photographer and one of the most popular and enduring books ever written on the subject.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Dan Bailey, a 20+ year pro outdoor and adventure photographer, and official FUJIFILM X-Photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska.


As a top rated blogger and author my goal is to help you become a better, more confident and competent photographer, so that you can have as much fun and creative enjoyment as I do.


  • This is definitely a site to remember. I love looking at it and I even learned a lot of things from this post. Having an evidence of every beauty in this world is such a great thing to do so photography is really something.

  • Bryan Peterson’s books have been valuable in shaping the way I approach photography. His writing accompanied by numerous well-explained examples combine for very easy reading.

  • Understanding exposure and your book Going Fast with Light have been a big boost in helping me take better photos.

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    Terry Bourk

    I have read you new book “Behind the Landscape.” I could not “put it down” meaning that I kept at it because each photo you presented/analyzed was interesting and informative. I am trying to develop an eye for composition (both the scene and the light).

    Thank you! The examples you present and the suggestions are very helpful. Purple Mountains, McKinley River and Wonder Lake are fascinating.


    Roger Sinclair

    You have done it again! Another triumph.

    Your generosity to share, the clarity of thought and concise explanation thereof is brilliant. Perhaps I should also mention the beautiful photos and the talent necessary to produce them.

    Thank you, Dan.