AS "point and shoot" cameras, mini-videocams, and computer-image manipulation permeate the world scene, photographers must ever more prove that talent is not the same as serendipity and remind us that pictures capture personal vision. Photographs are not reality, they are a gift of that photographer's reality. The Monitor's Director of Photography Neal Menschel and Design Director John Van Pelt offer a selection of this season's notable photography books that convey such vision.In a media age where the iconmakers can themselves become icons, Annie Leibovitz stands out. With her audacious wit and tremendous versatility, technique, and originality, she has richly documented many of the leading pop icons of our time in Photographs, Annie Leibovitz: 1970-1990 (Harper Collins, 232 pp., 228 photographs, $60). These images range from documentary work covering subjects such as the 1972 presidential elections, Nixon's resignation, and the Rolling Stones' 1975 tour, to a large variety of portraits, mostly candids - from Waylon Jennings to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Her work from the late '70s and on is more directed and heavily produced yet contains remarkable spontaneity. Subjects are mostly the "hip" and recognizable, but the portraits nevertheless stand on their own in this finely produced book. If Annie Leibovitz enables you to schmooze with the "rich and famous," Mary Ellen Mark hits you squarely between the eyes with her sobering images of society's fringes. Mary Ellen Mark: 25 Years, by Marianne Fulton (Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown & Co., 192 pp., 130 photographs, $60) is divided into four sections. The first three are a retrospective of her well-known, startling photos of humanity, such as the homeless, the mentally disturbed, and Mother Theresa's hospice patients. The fourth section is a s howcase of new work. Unflinching, these photographs are filled with a dignity of the human spirit. Irving Penn, one of the most prolific American originals, begins his sixth decade of work with Passage: a work record, introduction by Alexander Liberman (Alfred A. Knopf, 300 pp., 469 photographs, $100), a magnificent record of a diverse vision. Penn displays his development through fashion shoots for Vogue magazine, starting in the '40s; hundreds of portraits of notables; his well-known series of tradespeople in their work clothes; and extraordinary contemporary images of Ungaro and Issey Miyake fashio ns. Many of Penn's pictures deal in the bold extremes of light and dark necessary to fashion advertising, but these are not simply commercial images. The book includes pictures from his world travels: most remarkably, black Africans posed against studio backdrops in Dahomey, West Africa, and tribal warriors and women of New Guinea. With its exacting production standards, "Passage" is well worth its coffee-table freight to anyone interested in Penn and his epoch of American culture. Robert Capa has long been known for his bravado and sensitivity as a war photographer (he covered five wars between 1932 and 1954). Now comes a surprise from this legend. Children of War, Children of Peace (Bulfinch Press/Little, Brown & Co., 168 pp., 123 illustrations, $50) with an introduction by Cornell Capa is a must for Capa fans or lovers of humanity and children. The book is insightful and compassionate without being sentimental. What wit and intelligence, to take a simple idea like "pictures of flowers" and bring about a book like Flora Photographica: Masterpieces of Flower Photography: 1835 to the Present, by William A. Ewing (Simon & Schuster, 224 pp., 183 photographs, $50). That there can hardly be a photographer who has not at one time taken a picture of a floral subject only seems to confirm the daring in the project. Ewing's historically annotated collection is organized with whimsical themes: "Bloom," "Eros,Hybrid,Quinte ssence." From Steichen to Man Ray to Edward Weston to Mapplethorpe, photographers have turned to flowers as studies in light and form, decay and regeneration. Elliott Erwitt: On the Beach, by Elliott Erwitt (W. W. Norton, 128 pp., 150 photographs, $39.95), is a photographer's insightful saunter down the beaches of England, France, Brazil, the United States, and other countries: beaches filled with Erwitt's ironic frozen moments and wry vision of people (sometimes baring all), pets, and relationships. The introduction is Erwitt's conversational and entertaining observations about beach life. Humor in photography is rare, but in his extensive career Erwitt has consistently pursued it with integrity, gentleness, and wisdom. "On the Beach" reflects that commitment. Light on the Land, with text by Art Davidson and photographs by Art Wolfe (Beyond Words Publishing, 196 pp., 100 color photographs, $75), offers gems of retold folklore based on Davidson's travels across seven continents, but Wolfe's photographs are the main event. Wolfe consistently demonstrates how well he understands light, design, and color. The glow of mist in Yellowstone Park, a glimmer of sun across Kara Kul Lake in China, a tenacious sapling glimpsed between canyon walls in Australia, Wolfe ekes out his theme of light and land with infinite care in this luscious book.