Light Science & Magic, by Fil Hunter, Paul Fuqua and Steven Biver
THE reference guide to photographic lighting. Whether you're new at using artificial light, or an old hand, there's plenty to learn in this outstanding book. This one tops my list of books that make a difference simply because it made the most difference in my own lighting. The authors not only give you "standard" lighting setups, but clearly and entertainingly let you know why they're standards, why they work, how to tweak them, and the science behind them. They cover tough topics such as lighting metal and glass, how to manage reflections from shiny surfaces, and much more. Organized as chapters on specific lighting challenges and how to solve them, it's also an excellent step-by-step tutorial on using light to solve problems in your photos. What you'll take away from this book isn't just a bunch of lighting setups...you'll come away understanding how light works and how to control it in any situation. If you're only ever going to buy one lighting book, this is the one.
Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It! by Scott Kelby
Best known for his Photoshop expertise (he's the editor and publisher of Photoshop User magazine), Kelby is also a top-rate photographer. What's different about this book is that Kelby takes you step-by-step through a series of images -- starting with what he wants to accomplish, the lighting setup, the equipment used, the shoot itself, and finally a full post-processing explanation. The gear he uses is sensible and within the reach of most amateurs, and not super-high cost gear that most of us can only dream about. And his clear, personal writing style gives you the impression he's right there with you, mentoring you through your own shoots. Each setup is also accompanied by full photos of the entire setup, from light stands to subjects to camera, rather than sometimes hard to decipher lighting diagrams. A great way to see how an accomplished pro approaches photographic problems and challenges, and solves them step by step.
On-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Wedding and Portrait Photography, by Neil van Niekerk
While the first two books on my list mainly concentrate on studio lighting and photography, this one concentrates almost entirely on making on-camera flash not *look* like on-camera flash. It it succeeds wonderfully. Let's face it -- at weddings and many other fast-moving events we're asked to photograph, you're likely not going to ever be able to set up light stands with monolights on them, use big diffusers, or many other "studio" technqiques -- you'll be using on-camera flash. Neil gives some amazingly innovative solutions to making the most of such situations (I have to admit I probably never would have thought of bouncing light off a building 30 feet away), and making these shots look more natural and more professional. I use many of his tips at every wedding I shoot.
The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light from Small Flashes, by Joe McNally
Logically following after the previous book, McNally's fine work combines some of the setups and techniques from studio work with the speed and portability of on-camera flash; the result is a Strobist love fest, with McNally's work supplying most of the love. Joe himself is amazingly self-deprecating for such a master of lighting and photography, and the book is both funny and instructive while never seeming arrogant. This book is at #4 on my list only because this is pretty much (with the exception being the next one) the order in which I bought them, and how my own lighting progressed...by the time I got Joe's book, I had a good grounding in studio lighting, and so some of Joe's "crazy" ideas didn't seem quite so crazy, and actually made some sense based on that experience. It's just that at the time I hadn't really considered doing much of what he does with speedlights! And if you're a Canon shooter like me, don't hold Joe's Nikons against him...most of what he teaches will work with any camera and flash.
Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers, by Martin Evening
OK, strictly speaking this isn't a "photography" book. It is, however, the absolute best resource I've found for learning how to handle your images after the photography is over. While Kelby's book above is a great beginning for post-processing photos in Photoshop, this takes you from beginning to end -- I have yet to come across an image editing/processing problem that this book doesn't cover. And in case you were wondering, yes -- it's huge. Don't let that intimidate you if you're just getting into using Photoshop -- Martin gently leads you from the simple to the complex, and all with excellent actual examples from his own photographic work. A combination reference work and tutorial, if you use Photoshop, you need this book. Of the five books here, this was actually the first one that I purchased...it goes at the last because, well, that's where post-processing belongs, right? Highly recommended.
These are five books that really made a difference in my own photography; if you're serious about improving your own work, from studio to location lighting, from exposing to post-processing, these will make a difference in yours, too.