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5 Inspiring Coffee Table Photography Books In My Collection

I absolutely love getting a spare 20 or 30 minutes to open up the pages of one of my favourite coffee table photography books. Anyone who appreciates great photos should try to get hold of at least one really great collection of images. You can lose yourself in other worlds for a little while, feel inspired to travel and experience new things, and also realize that you have the power to create similar beautiful images with your camera, if you want to learn how to. These are the books in my collection that I have enjoyed the most...


1. National Geographic: Simply Beautiful Photographs

National Geographic produces thousands of magnificent images every year. This is a selection of some of the very best work of recent times, compiled by Annie Griffiths. The broad theme of the book, as the title suggests, is beauty, which is defined according to the 6 sections: light, composition, movement, motion, palette and wonder.

The images are utterly breath-taking, and printed on good quality 10 x 10" pages. I've discovered some photographers through this edition who have gone on to become some of my absolute favourites. It's difficult not to tear some of the pages out and put them in a frame(!), but thankfully the vast majority of images are also available to order as prints. Amazon: National Geographic - Simply Beautiful Photographs.


2. Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs

All paid-up fans of the epic black and white landscapes produced by Ansel Adams own this book. It's the largest collection of his work available and is structured chronologically, with brief but essential interjections of text, to give a clear sense of how his style and technique evolved.

It's extraordinary that the editors actually had to be selective in picking 'just' 400 of Adams' images for this edition. The fact the quality is sustained at such a high level, with no exceptions, makes you wonder whether it should have been "500 Photographs"! Adams is the king of black and white landscape photography and this book will be a pleasure for all photography lovers. Amazon: Ansel Adams 400 Photographs.


3. Photo Inspiration: Secrets Behind Stunning Images

This is a book that I love because it provides both indirect inspiration in the form of amazing (and some of these really are amazing) images and direct inspiration/advice from the photographers themselves. Each picture takes up a full page and is accompanied by a full page of comment by the photographer who took it.

The tone of most of the photographers is very down to earth and helpful. They don't wollow in the glory of their brilliant photo(!), but get straight to the point of telling us the exact settings, gear, light, preparation and post-processing that went into creating it. There's nothing like real-life examples for learning photography, and these are seriously good examples. There are 13 different genres covered, so a broad range of photos are included, and the pages are 9 x 7.5". I strongly advise getting the print edition rather than the Kindle edition, as the images are too small to be appreciated in the latter. Amazon: Photo Inspiration - Secrets Behind Stunning Images


4. National Geographic: The Photographs

This is another fine collection of pictures from the National Geographic archives, which has been a top seller for a long time. The photos epitomize the approach of National Geographic - providing as much inspiration to get out and see the world as to photograph it. There are 5 sections: The Land, Underwater, Science, The United States and The World.

The images are beautifully taken and give a real sense of the diversity and beauty of life on earth. The print quality is good, but the 7 x 6" size is the smallest of all the books on this list, and not what you would normally characterize as a 'coffee table book'. I'd have preferred it to be a bit larger, but on the other hand it is easy to store. Amazon: National Geographic - The Photographs


5. The Unguarded Moment, by Steve McCurry

Although this is a collection of an individual photographer, it continues the National Geographic theme to my picks, because McCurry has worked for National Geographic for over 3 decades. This volume brings together some of his most impressive work from the last 30 years. It's just wonderful! Many of the images are from the visually exciting world of South East Asia, which McCurry brings to life with deep, rich colours and an eye for charmingly 'unguarded moments'.

His pictures combine an anthropological interest and emotional connection to the subjects. The clash between beauty and decay, life and death, the sacred and the profane is explored through dozens of passing moments in day-to-day life on the Subcontinent. The size of the book is easily the largest on this list, at 16 x 12", and the print quality is also the best. I adore this book and have reviewed it more fully here. At time of writing "The Unguarded Moment" can be tricky to get hold of, so you might have to wait a few weeks before it arrives. Amazon: The Unguarded Moment

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