The wonderful and life-changing Time-Life Series of Photography

I can’t believe I’ve never mentioned these books on this page before. These four books are part of a set called the Time-Life Series of Photography.  They were published decades ago— I think when I was in high school so for me the timing was exquisite.  They were gorgeously designed and full of some of the best written how-to stuff ever done about photography.  The captions in this book are worth the price of admission alone.  My parents were completely broke, but I think they subscribed to these books for me. I’m remembering the price was something like $7.95 a book plus $.65 shipping. I’m not kidding.   I think that a book came every month in the mail. Wow.

I’m mentoring the high school son of a friend of mine now – he signed up for my Basic Course – and I just happen to see these books sitting on a shelf in a storage closet collecting dust so I’m going to loan them to him.

My point is this: I’ve seen these books in used bookstores and I know they are on eBay. There’s no question they’re dated. There’s a lot of talk about film and tilts and swings on view cameras.

But there is also tons of information that is completely timeless and the whole series is beyond inspirational. If you see them or you’re looking for something wonderful to keep your own photographic batteries charged search them out and buy them.

I’ve opened one to the spread about Irving Penn. This was the first time I ever saw his photographs or his name in print. ( Henri Cartier-Bresson and Diane Arbus, too.) Now he’s in my top two of the greatest photographers ever— Eliott Erwitt being the other one.

When I went to the University of Missouri school of Journalism and studied photography with some very serious photographers all of them had devoured and cherished these books. I look back on how fortunate I was that they came along at the right time in my life.

Years later, when I was working at a private school in Princeton, New Jersey I had lunch with one of the instructors there who told me he had previously worked for Time-Life books.  When he told me that he had actually been an editor on this particular series I could barely get through the tears to tell him how much they’d meant to me and so many my friends.

If you know a young photographer you could not possibly go wrong with these books as a gift. (I think I paid one dollar each for the books you see here at a used bookstore.)



  1. Terryl Hicks

    I found one of these the other day at Goodwill … I think it was the Photojournalism one! 🙂

  2. Lyle D. Gunderson

    How many of there were there in all? So I’ll know when to stop looking. 🙂

    I had the same reaction (tears) when I searched for these books and saw the covers and pages inside. I was also in high school when these came out– I was the photographer for the school newspaper. These were so inspiring!


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