10 Eye-Opening Photography Books

They say a picture is worth one thousand words, and that has rarely been more true than in the photographs captured by these 10 incredible books, which display the beauty and ugliness, unity and diversity, horror and wonder of life on Earth.


National Geographic: The Photographs (National Geographic Collectors Series)

Bendavid-Val, Leah – National Geographic: The Photographs

No discussion of the power of photography to open eyes and change minds would be complete with mention of National Geographic. The long-running educational magazine has employed many of the world’s greatest photographers and published many of the world’s most famous photographs through the years, covering the full range of science and the human experience. This book gathers hundreds of National Geographic’s best and most beautiful images.


Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

Fuller, Errol – Lost Animals: Extinction and the Photographic Record

A sad and beautiful photographic profile of 28 species lost (or most likely lost) forever, including rare images of the world’s last thylacines, passenger pigeons, Yangtze River dolphins, and more. For gorgeous professional photographs of some of the world’s most endangered living animals, also check out Joel Sartore’s Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species and Nick Brandt’s Across the Ravaged Land.


Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Menzel, Peter – Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Photographer Peter Menzel and his team traveled to 30 different countries around the world, found a statistically average family in each one, and photographed the family in front of their home, surrounded by all their possessions, along with images from their daily lives. Although the book was first published in the early 1990s and some of the information about the different countries is now out of date (for example, the Iraqi family still lives under the harsh regime of Saddam Hussein), it still provides an incredibly personal and up-close look into different lifestyles around the world. If you love this book, you will also love its sequel, Women in the Material World, in which Menzel and partner Faith d’Aluisio revisit many of the families to learn more about the lives of the women in each family.


Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Menzel, Peter and Faith d’Aluisio – Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Another incredibly eye-opening and thought-provoking collaboration from photographer Peter Menzel and author Faith d’Aluisio. This time, visit 30 families around the world, from a Sudanese refugee family in Chad to well-to-do Americans, Europeans, and Asians, to learn how they eat. Menzel photographed each family with a typical week’s worth of food. The book also includes a recipe from each family and many interesting facts and tidbits, like the local cost of a Big Mac.


Where Children Sleep

Mollison, James – Where Children Sleep

As part of a project to raise awareness about children’s rights, James Mollison traveled the world, photographing children from many different backgrounds and their bedrooms, whether a posh Upper East End penthouse or a discarded mattress on an open hillside. Each portrait and photograph is accompanied by a short but informative blurb about the child’s life and circumstances. If you like this book, you may also want to check out Gabriele Galimberti’s Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things.


Before They Pass Away

Nelson, Jimmy – Before They Pass Away

This large, multilingual volume displays stunning portraits of some of the world’s last indigenous peoples and their vanishing ways of life, including Kazakhs, Himba, Maasai, Nenets, Maori, Rabari, and more.


Earth Then and Now: Amazing images of Our Changing World

Pearce, Fred – Earth Then and Now

A startling before-and-after look at how much the world – both natural and human – has changed in the last century and a half since the rise of photography, including images both of horrifying devastation and inspiring rebirth.


Humans of New York

Stanton, Brandon – Humans of New York

A thought-provoking and inspiring portrait of the amazing cross-section of humanity that fills a single city, based on the popular blog of the same name.


The Oldest Living Things in the World

Sussman, Rachel – The Oldest Living Things In the World

Get a glimpse of eternity and a new appreciation for some seemingly nondescript stuff in this beautifully photographed journey around the world to find the oldest living things, including a 2,000 year old brain coral, a 5,500 year old moss, an 80,000 year old colony of aspen trees, and oldest of all, a 400-600,000 year old colony of Siberian bacteria.


War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath (Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)

Tucker, Anne Wilkes et al – War/Photography: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath

A monumental work covering more than 150 years of war photography in all its facets, capturing the brutality, courage, terror, sadness, and even humor of war.


What are your favorite eye-opening photography books?

Chief Suggester

Chief Suggester is the founder of SuggestMeSome.com.