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  1. #1
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Summae Photographica

    I hope my insufficient Latin knowledge nevertheless can convey the proper meaning of this thread's idea: there are photography books which are not only useful, they are a condensed yet exhaustive repository of all that's really important.

    Obviously, you can't put everything in a book, but some books succeed in reaching an apex no other work can. Here are the ones that I have digested/consulted:

    • Haist, Grant. Modern Photographic Processing. v.1 and v.2. John Wiley and Sons : 1979. 1442 pages.

    I have actually read, though not necessarily always closely, that whole thing. It's perhaps the only book still in print covering both the principles and the engineering of B&W and colour film. We're down to the gory details here: numbers, curves, chemical equations, but also lore, mythbusting, and historical perspective. You could consider it as the biggest literature review of scientific papers on light-sensitive materials, coherently assembled into a readable narrative.

    • Mees, C. E. Kenneth. The Theory of the Photographic Process. MacMillan and Co.: 1942. 1124 pages.

    Before Haist there was Mees: first director of the Kodak Research Lab, founder of the Wratten company (to whom we are indebted both filters and panchromatic sensitization), Mees is a towering figure. The driving force behind Kodak's technological and industrial domination during the first half of the 20th century, Mees reigns supreme among photographic scientists. This book is the consolidation of half a century of work on dry plates, and contains countless details on the properties of light-sensitive materials, the scientific principles underlying them, the modelization of their behaviour in mathematic formuale, and the means of their study. One glaring omission however concerns the manufacture of emulsion: to avoid disclosing trade secrets, nothing is said of emulsion-making. Even though it's a precursor to Haist (who was also the head scientist of the KRL, later on!), the angle is slightly different since the theory is more detailed than in Haist. Haist really covers everything, but Mees will go deeper into the experimental protocols. The chapter on the study of tone reproduction is particularly fascinating in explaining how they combined both objective and subjective criteria to arrive at the particular tonal compression we find most pleasing in B&W.

    • The Kodak Encyclopedia of Practical Photography. Amphoto: 1977. 14v

    Not in print anymore, but your local library must have a set, and you can still buy it around online vendors. Worth reading for every photographer, budding or pro. Photo dictionaries and encyclopedia come and go, and are sometimes nothing more than mere rehash of the same stuff over and over, but Kodak's achieves that rare goal of being entertaining, technically rich (something other encyclopedias usually avoid), fully illustrated with lots of meaningful diagrams and photos, and accompanied by practical recipes/advice/guidelines. Contains one of the best explanation of Tone reproduction theory for the layman, demonstrating what the combined effects of lens, film, and paper do to image tones.

    • Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Various editions

    Although I prefer the Kodak one for its accessible style, the Focal Press Encyclopedia is also worthy of the Summa label. The 1969 desk edition I have is a dense, exhaustive survey of photographic tools, materials, and means, whereas the more recent electronic edition (2000-ish) is of a completely different style: more content is devoted to history, trends, aesthetics, and academic research on photography. The focus has shifted from the photographer to the Fine Arts student, but it acquired valuable scholarly information in the process. Although I love the old edition for its tables of now-obsolete formats, and oddities such as electronic printers...


    Originally available as printed book, now famous as a PDF, this is a must read for beginning to understand the durability of colour materials, what makes them fade, the science behind it all, and what to do to protect your assets.

    • The Photo-Lab Index. Lifetime edition. Morgan & Morgan: 1977.

    Huge compendium of formulae for developers, stop baths, fixers, toners, test solutions, washing aids, etc. Superseded in print resources by more recent compendiums such as the latest Darkroom Cookbook, but a touchstone for photographers over the years of its existence.

    • Rudman, Tim. The Photographer's Toning Book: The Definitive Guide. Amphoto: 2003. 208 pages.

    This is the smallest book in this list, but it is worthy of the Summa label for being the only available book to cover in depth this narrow subject. Toning is always a topic in various books, but seldom (never?) has it been so thoroughly investigated, demonstrated, and taught as well as here. Required reading even if you just dip your prints in 1+19 KRST for "archival permanence." You might be surprised...


    Phew! There will be more to come, but I'd like to encourage you to submit your own. Remember, we're not just talking about merely useful books here: we're talking about totalizing books. The kind that aims to harness ALL the knowledge about a subject (even if we know that it's patently impossible). The clearest omission from my list is a history of photography. I know there's about two really good ones in print, but most of the others are rehash of rehash of Newhall: dearth of original treatment is what keeps me at bay from most histories.

    Add your own!
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  2. #2
    holmburgers's Avatar
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    J.S. Friedman - History of Color Photography

    This was recommended to me by Photo Engineer a year or more ago, and with good reason. It's exhaustive, and well written. It covers every development in color photography from the beginning, with references to patents, early texts and practical experience from the author himself. Some chapters seem like rocket science, but others are quite digestible even for an amateur such as myself.

    An earlier book, E.J. Wall's History of Three-Color Photography, is equally monumental judging by the thickness of it, but I've yet to delve into it.
    If you are the big tree, we are the small axe

  3. #3
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Friedman's book available from Archive.org: http://www.archive.org/details/histo...orph00frierich
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  4. #4
    Thingy's Avatar
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    When I read the Summa Theologiae at school in the 1970s I seem to recall Aquinas's reasoning was not altogether sound.

    On a lighter note...

    Steve Simmons: Using a View Camera

    Leslie Stroebel: View Camera Technique

    Jack Dykinga: Large Format Nature Photography
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    Large/Stort-format: Ebony 45SU (field camera), Medium/Medlem-format: Mamiya 7, Hasselblad 503CW
    35mm/Små format: Nikon: F4, D800 (yes digital, I know)

  5. #5
    dasBlute's Avatar
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    *HUGE* pitch for "Way Beyond Monochrome 2", Lambrecht and Woodhouse; deep, empirical, well written,
    marvelous plots for the math-minded, great photo examples showing the results of techniques...

  6. #6
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    For the camera buffs:

    • Gustavson, Todd. Camera: A History of Photography from Daguerreotype to Digital. Sterling Innovations. 2009. 368p.

    For camera lovers, this is perhaps the best history of picture-taking devices. Made in collaboration with the George Eastman House, this book distinguishes itself from the other "1000 cameras" books from its rigour (nobody calls it 120mm !), its depth and its breadth. Too often books on collections of cameras are biased toward a particular collector's quirks, or suffer from incorrect fact-checking, fanboyishness, and lack of historical connexions. This book is free from those defects, and articulates clearly the links between the various models and styles.

    • McKeown, James M. and Joan McKeown. McKeown's Price Guide to Antique and Classic Cameras. Centennial Photo Service. 2004. 1248 pages.

    Powerfully exhaustive list of an incredible amount of cameras from the 19th century onward. Authoritative, big, and heavy. Worth checking to see if you have all the models in your collection or to discover new gear to lust for.

    • Stafford, Simon et al. The New Nikon Compendium: Cameras, Lenses & Accessories since 1917. Lark Books : 2004. 416 pages.

    Catalog of every lens, camera, viewfinder, accessory, cable release, finder, etc produced by Nippon Kogaku since its inception.

    There are plenty of compendia for other camera makers (Zeiss Ikon, Rollei, Leica, Canon, etc), but I don't know them all since I'm not really of a collector. Many are labours of love, printed on small presses, but they also tend to be the only things available since the makers themselves do not so religiously compile their own data.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  7. #7
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    Also in the labour of love category:

    Merklinger, Harold. Focusing the View Camera. Self-published. http://www.trenholm.org/hmmerk/FVC161.pdf

    Seems that Harold Merklinger is among the few sufficiently dedicated to analyze the manipulations of the plane of focus possible with a view camera. Fits perfectly the bill with respect to totalizing ambitions.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  8. #8
    Diapositivo's Avatar
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    Fil Hunter and Paul Fuqua
    Light Science and Magic
    An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
    Focal Press, 1997
    ISBN 0-240-80275 - 6

    This is a book mainly devoted to use of artificial light sources, with a "bias" toward studio product photography. I find it teaches a lot.
    Fabrizio Ruggeri fine art photography site: http://fabrizio-ruggeri.artistwebsites.com
    Stock images at Imagebroker: http://www.imagebroker.com/#/search/ib_fbr

  9. #9
    Michel Hardy-Vallée's Avatar
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    • Ray, Sidney. Applied Photographic Optics. Focal Press: 2002. 680 pages.

    The content of this book was hitherto spread among different editions and volumes, but this puts it all together in one place. Explains in careful detail the design, performance, and principles of optics as applied to the field of photography and imaging. A nice companion to...

    • Kingslake, Rudolf. A History of the Photographic Lens. Academic Press: 1989. 334 pages.

    Not the easiest read because of its sometimes confusing writing style, but it is so far the best thing we have on the development of objectives and optics for photographic tools.
    Using film since before it was hip.


    "One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11

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  10. #10

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    'the Reflective practitioner' Donald Schön...

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