Last week I told you about some super collections of pictures that make ideal Christmas gifts for photographers. Now I'd like to tell you about some of the best "how- to" books.

THE MASTER GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHY -- By Michael Langford, Alfred A. Knopf, publisher, $35.

The dust jacket is accurate. This is "an encyclopedic, fully illustrated compendium of information and basic reference material on all aspects of the art and craft of photography."

With more than 400,000 words and 1,500 illustrations, this book certainly is encyclopedic.

It's divided into five main sections and while each of the chapters stand on their own, they also refer to one another.

The first chapter, "The Art of Photography," deals with how you can see a subject, and how you compose it. It shows the relationships among lighting, viewpoint and subject, form and texture and discusses simple methods of composition.

Sections two and three are more technical, dealing with photographic tools and methods. The section on "Techniques of Photography" is about cameras, lenses, film and general accessories. "Post-Camera Techniques" covers darkroom work in layman's language. Simple darkroom method gives way to more advanced manipulation of images in both black-and-white and color.

The section on "The Specialized Subject" deals with photography in such areas as space, scientific and medical research, sports and fashion and discusses problems and equipment to help solve them.

The section on "Photographic Styles" is, in part, a collection of work by leading photographers and compares styles and general approach. The book also contains a complete glossary of subjects, titles and terms, one of the most valuable of its kind.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S HANDBOOK -- By John Hedgecoe, Alfred A. Knopf, publisher, $18.95.

This book, a fully revised second edition, has more than 600 separate entries and more than 1,200 photographs, diagrams, drawings, charts and tables covering a huge range of subjects, from buying a camera to sorting finished prints.

It's one of the best textbooks I've found. But it isn't dry or hard to read; the writing is simple, concise and in an easy-to-read type face. It's beautifully organized, and the illustrations are great. I really liked the cutaway drawings of equipment.

In the section called "Working With Light," there's a fine illustrated layout on shooting into the sun along with an extensive discussion of all the variables involved.

The section on shooting the sky at night is great fun. There's also good information about taking pictures of natural objects, along with the first section I've ever seen on photographing man-made objects.

But the part that sold me was the section on action photography. Hedgecoe goes into all phases of action shooting, including moving the camera (panning), fast shutter speeds, fast films and even pushing the ISO rating. Anyone who can follow directions can learn to make action shots using this book.

One of the neatest things about the book is the troubleshooting guide in the back with simple answers to troubles we all experience.

THE NEW JOY OF PHOTOGRAPHY -- By the editors of Eastman Kodak Company. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, $15.95.

This book takes an entirely different approach to "how-to" photography. It doesn't seem to have enormous amounts of technical material but it's loaded with instruction, very palatably presented.

Part I, "The Vision," includes some rules and techniques of basic composition. It also contains collections by Harry Callahan, Annie Leibowitz and Elliot Porter.

Part II, "The Tools," talks about camera operation and the huge number of accessories available to today's photographer. There's a great part on automatic cameras, and another on problem-solving.

Part III, "The Image," talks about specific kinds of picture-taking, such as pictures of people, wildlife, sports, landscapes, architecture and still lifes.

Part IV, "The Process," gives well-written and well-illustrated information on darkroom procedures, both black-and-white and color.

Part V, "The Joy," deals with the use of pictures, their display and how best to enjoy them.

The book's approach is a knock- out. The editing is excellent and the reproduction top quality.

Carl Kramer is a former director of photography for The Washington Post.

P.S. -- The book "Washington, D.C." by J.C. Suares, which I mentioned in last week's column, is published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., New York. The list price is $50, but it can be found at discount.