A friend recently asked if I have in my library an end-all, be-all, go-to book about photographic lighting. While I have a handful I’m quite fond of, I hadn’t thought of any one of them as my "lighting bible." So now I’m on a quest to find the best lighting books around and answer this question. Until I do, here are some recommendations for books I think are great. My friend showed me his favorite, "Light, Science and Magic" by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua. Flipping through it I found very useful, very hands on and specific ways of shaping light for specific subjects and surfaces. The approach to lighting transparent subjects outlined in the book is actually very similar to the way I teach it in my studio product photography class—that’s when I knew it was a great book. It makes me think this book might make for a great general lighting textbook because it does a great job of explaining the reasons behind why a particular type of lighting is necessary. That "why" is important to really understanding how to light.
From my own library, the first favorite that comes to mind is Michael Grecco’s "Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait." It’s filled with very interesting and creative celebrity portraits, some of which were made very simply, while others are very complex. Not only is it useful for hands-on lighting technique, but also for good creative portrait inspiration.
I’m also a big fan of Steve Bavister’s "Lighting for Still Life." Much like Grecco’s book, this one is filled with interesting and creative approaches to still life and product photography. Maybe I have such a soft spot for it because it’s one of the first still life lighting books I ever owned, but I have definitely found myself going back to it again and again so it must be valuable.
There’s a book that was long out of print that has recently been reissued. It may technically be old and outdated, but it is also unbelievably useful for learning what’s important when it comes to lighting people. It’s called "Painting with Light" by acclaimed cinematographer John Alton. He may have written it for a moviemaking audience more than 60 years ago, but the principles of lighting are exactly the same for photographers today. You may have to get past the dated nature of some specific equipment, but it has so much to offer in terms of how you think about lighting. It had a big impact on me, and that’s about all I can ask for.
What are some of your favorite photographic lighting books? Please feel free to share them in the comments.