The Evergreen Value of Old Photography Books

The Evergreen Value of Old Photography Books

What's old is new again, and for the generations who grew up with digital cameras, there's a lot to learn now that film photography is regaining popularity. Thankfully, the books published at the height of film's heyday are still around, and relevant as ever.

Essentially, film photography hasn't changed over the last 30 or 40 years. Availability of resources has become an issue, and some things may be gone forever, but film is still developed in the same way, old cameras still work, and the laws of light, physics, and chemistry certainly haven't changed. Film cameras are future-proofed against firmware updates, changes in file formats, and exponential improvements in technology.

Photograph by Arnold Genthe taken in 1908, from a nitrate negative. From Library of Congress.


The way film photography worked in the 1900s, is the same way it worked in the 1970s, is the same way it works today. All that can really change is the way that you get digital copies or prints of your negatives. Instead of getting your scans on a CD, you may have the files transferred directly through the ever-growing power of the internet. That won't change the fact that you can load film into a camera, shoot some pictures, run the film through chemistry, and end up with photographic negatives. Moments in time preserved on cellulose strips. A practice spanning decades.

Photograph by Arnold Genthe taken in 1920-1926, from a nitrate negative. From Library of Congress.


Bookstores, libraries, thrift stores, and camera stores near you are likely housing texts on that practice for cheap. The age of the books plus film's decline equals low prices. The knowledge within, however, is priceless and evergreen. Although the books may cover certain brands or materials that have fallen by the wayside, the concepts, techniques, and principles will still be relevant. That's the nice thing about principles--they don't change when the world around them does.

Photograph by Hanna Safieh taken in 1958, from a nitrate negative. From Library of Congress.


Most everything within old photography books are based on principles: rules of composition, the physics of light reflecting and refracting in mirrors and prisms, the chemical reactions of light-sensitive emulsions, and the fact that well-maintained equipment works better. If you take the time to read an old guide on film photography, you'll be better off for it.

Photograph by Paul Rudolph taken in 1974, from a Kodachrome positive. From Library of Congress.


Here at the shop, we have a few books available for purchase. Read the summaries below and see if they'd be a good fit for you!


A Short Course in Minolta Photography: A guide to Great Pictures by Barbara London, published in 1982 by Curtin & London, Inc. and the Van Nostrand Reinhold Company

Although the Minolta brand is featured in this book, it can be used as a general guide to 35mm single-lens reflex cameras. The back of the book includes a guide to Minolta gear: the X-700; XD series; XG series; SR-T series and XK Motor; and accessories. Chapter topics include the Minolta camera, the Minolta lens, film and exposure, color, special techniques, lighting, and how to see like a camera.



The Joy Of Photography: A Guide to the tools and Techniques of Better Photography by the Editors of Eastman Kodak Company, ninth printing in 1982 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company

Nearing three-hundred pages, this book is a comprehensive guide in five parts: the vision, the tools, the image, the process, and the joy. Imagine if a coffee-table photography book and a year-long class on photography, darkroom processes, and image presentation had a child. This printing includes special portfolios by Gordon Parks and Ernst Haas.



More Joy of Photography: 100 Techniques for More Creative Photography by the Editors of Eastman Kodak Company, second printing in 1982 by Addison-Wesley Publishing Company

If The Joy of Photography is an all-encompassing guide, More Joy is an extensive program allowing you to flex all the photographic knowledge picked up from reading the other book. Parts one and two take up only 53 pages discussing photographic style and reviewing the fundamentals. Part three takes up the rest of the book, including techniques from rim lighting, to painting with flash, to laser posterization. While some techniques come off as slightly gimmicky, there is plenty of great inspiration to experiment as a photographer.



Kodak Professional Black-and-White Films, published in 1998 by Kodak Books

Although this book includes certain Kodak films that may or may not be in production anymore, the majority of the book is a general exploration of black and white film, from the quality of negatives, to the properties of film, to the best ways of using and processing film. Since black and white film photography is very different from digital black and white photography or even color film photography, this in-depth guide is definitely valuable to anyone interested in the art.



Basic Photographic Materials and Processes by Leslie Stroebel, John Compton, Ira Current and Richard Zakia, published in 1990 by Focal Press

This is a genuine textbook, and the previous owner clearly got a lot out of reading the book if the highlights and underlines are any indication. Helpfully, each chapter features review questions at the end, to make sure the reader truly comprehends the highly-technical information. While this may not be the book for those uninterested in formulas, graphs, and figures, it is the perfect tool for understanding the sciences behind film photography.


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