Trading Pixels For Paper

Aside from Wouter’s vast archive of photography on his blog, I’ve not found much inspiration online recently.

So I’m going back to basics, and have just borrowed a handful of photography books from the local library, as well as resuming one I got as a present last year and got about half way through (the Nat Geo one).


I don’t feel I’m lacking direction or ideas in my own photography, just I like viewing other people’s and seeing what I find interesting, inspiring, and moving. Hence this shift in direction to find something new and broaden my horizons.

My library was a bit limited, so I might try to order in some others from the much larger county wide network it’s a part of.

How often do you read/browse photography books? How much time do you spend online looking at other people’s photographs, and where? 

Please share your photography consumption patterns with us in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

31 thoughts on “Trading Pixels For Paper”

  1. I love, love, love photography books. I sometimes fall short of this lofty ideal, by whenever I am seized by the desire to buy another camera or lens, I try to redirect my enthusiasm and buy a book instead. They inspire my own photography but, more than that, they are enriching in their own right.

    Sadly, even some of the best ones slip out of print often and can inspire their own kind of “collectors’ mania”. I’d love a copy of Saul Leiter’s Early Color, for example, but it ain’t cheap on that secondary market!

    I do look at a lot of photos online. Just the usual places – Insta, Emulsive, and various blogs. I’d highlight Physical Grain as a favourite though. I wouldn’t want every website to put up a single photo per week, but I’m glad there’s one that’s like that!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Steven. I confess I’ve never really got into photography books, and I think there are two reasons. 1. The photography shelf in the library is generally fully of titles like “How To Master Your Nikon DSLR” or “Digital Photography For Dummies” rather than collections of photographs by certain photographers. 2. The ones I have found and liked the look of online, are languishing on my Amazon wishlist in the “maybe one day if I have a spare £50+” category…

      I have read many times the advice to “buy books not gear” and it is very sound. I’ll try to explore the library ordering (and maybe second hand bookstore) options first, and maybe save up for something by Erwitt, Friedlander, Eggleston, Adams or Strand…

      Thanks for mentioning those sites, I’ll check them out.

  2. For the first 35 years of my life, I accumulated books. It was a real problem. Then 15 years ago, as my first marriage ended, I got rid of almost everything I owned, including most of my books. And then I didn’t miss the books *at all*.

    Today as much as I can I borrow books or download them onto my Kindle rather than own a physical copy. But I make an exception for books of good photography. I have a handful of books here now and I expect I’ll buy more. I have a book of Berenice Abbott’s New York photos, an Edward Weston book, and a book called “Home Photography” by a fellow named Sanderson. I have others, but these come to mind first.

    1. Ah so your hoarding inclinations didn’t start with cameras, how fascinating… Was it photography books, or all sorts?

      I used to have far more than now – dozens rather than hundreds – but the internet has largely usurped them. I did used to love big “coffee table” Phaidon art and design and typography and advertising books which I had a few of. You can really get lost in their pages, and a good book like that takes forever to complete pore through and absorb.

      I remember your Berenice Abbott post recently Jim, very impressive work. I know Weston from previous research, also one I like.

      Do you have any others on your books wishlist?

      1. All sorts. I used to say I collected collections! I don’t have any books on my wish list – I rather like finding them serendipitously.

  3. I have a small and growing selection (avoiding the word collection here) of photography books, I find them interesting and inspiring. I keep an eye out for them in my local charity/thrift stores and sometimes I get lucky. For Christmas I was given a copy of Les Americains by Robert Frank; very interesting images.
    I tend to avoid the “How to take pictures and use your DSLR type books to be honest.

    1. Yeh I avoid those books too, but obviously lots of people love them as my local library has maybe 50 books like that and maybe six or seven by specific photographers. I borrowed half the collection of the latter today!

      Good idea re charity shops as it’s one of those things that you don’t need the latest edition of. There are loads around here in the nearest couple of towns, plus quite a decent second hand bookshop (that’s a charity shop too). I might go for a wander and a rummage tomorrow…

  4. I picked up a book of Jane Bown Portraits (I hope I spelled that correctly) and a big book of John Gay’s photos of England that I am really relishing. I also really enjoy looking at Flickr a lot. I guess I am sort of addicted to Flickr. I looks like you found a good selection.

    1. Jon a couple of years back or not even that long ago, I loved Flickr. I just struggle to find much of interest there these days. I think partly because I used to always be researching a new camera and/or lens to buy, and I’d go straight to Flickr and do a search. These days I’m pretty settled with what I have so don’t do these kinds of searches anymore. How do you use/search Flickr?

      1. Just the daily feed of folks I follow. Lately Feleco, Kostya Fedot, Colton Allen, and Hiro Arano have been favorites. I don’t travel much, so it’s fun to look at wonderful pictures from far-away places. Some of the “suggested for you” follows have proven to be very enjoyable. I seldom use the search function.

  5. Hi Dan, On the book front, I don’t own any relating to photography…. I do have a couple of technical books I use as support for my other hobby (ham radio) but I do always look in the charity shops in town but stumble across the books already mentioned… the “how to use your dslr” etc… which I do always chuckle at as it always makes me wonder if they ( the reader ) have mastered the art of using a dslr or maybe they gave up early on and sent the said book to the charity shop….
    So far as where I look at pictures …. Flickr…. and I’m signed up to around a dozen blogs just like yours that I try and draw inspiration from…. some I follow just for the techniques used others I follow to try and gain an idea of suitable subjects, I do however have a tendency to favour the blogs that try and deal with B&W…. and all its various shades as well…
    BR Lynd

    1. Hi Lynd, yeh I hadn’t really thought of that with the DSLR how to books. I just see them as part of the whole planned obsolescence machine. Release a new DSLR, then release all the accessories, cases, manuals, straps and everything else to fleece the poor consumer further. A year later the same person gets seduced by the next latest and greatest camera and the wild stuff gets discarded…

      Any recommendations to follow on Flickr or other photo blogs?

  6. Not a lot of photography books at home, sadly… some Robert Frank, Vivian Maier, Matt Stuart and Trent Parke is nearly all. And Ansel Adam’s Negative, Camera and Print books… from my student days.

    As much as I like prints and real hardware photos I look for my inspiration online more often than not.

    Certainly no How-To stuff relating to gear though.

    1. Interesting Frank that like you say in some ways you like the old school ways – prints and film cameras – but prefer online for photography. I’m sometimes tempted by some of the how to books, just to see if there are one or two tips or ideas I can pick up.

      1. So strange how our value of money changes depending on what we’re spending it on. I’ve quite casually spent £50 on a lens in the past, but spending that in a photography book, which ultimately might do a lot more for my photography I baulk at!

    1. Thanks Jonathan, that Time link has some very familiar and very famous photos. Tubemapper looks very interesting too, I love those shots where the train is moving and blurred so you get just bands of colour as a background. Longer exposures like this (and light trail shots) were one of the first kinds of photography that fascinating me, simply because they appear magic, being able to present something we can’t see with the naked eye.

      Do you find much inspiration on Twitter? I just rebooted my account there as an experiment…

  7. As a librarian many years ago when I worked I looked at photography books and magazines most days. Nowadays I have gotten out of the habit of doing it. I am just rekindling my interest in photography on a daily basis so now looking at blogs and prompts etc. I’m enjoying taking photos around my home xoxo susanJOY

  8. hiya fella

    My first camera (I must have been around 9 or 10) was a crappy little 110, and if there was no camping to be done, a spool would last at least a few months. I then had to wait for the chemist/lab to process it (paid for with my pocket money). Upon receiving the return package, I would excitedly open the envelop to find the prints (and give the negs a quizzical peek). I was filled with wonder and intrigue that I (now) held in my hands a memory that would virtually never fade (unless I give away a print, or lost the negs) But I held it in my hands. It was a sensor experience that to this day I will treasure and never forget. THIS is how I learned to consume images.

    And of course there as the LIFE magazine. Images from all over. Places that would become romantic as I dreamed of North Africa and The Sahara. Images of Borneo and The Malaysia peninsula. Wonders from India and Nepal. And MANY more. The America West Coast. Carmel and up to Alaska. The Amazon. All brought to me on those pages usually in all the wonder of those vivid Kodachrome palettes. So many images, all held in my hand.

    Now this smacks a bit of being a Luddite due to my rose-tinted shades of years gone by. But that’s how I learned to enjoy images. So from the crappy little 110, I moved to a 126 Instamatic. Then on to a very basic Minolta SLR. I was even given permission to use my dad’s old German TLR. All the time I was making prints and pasting them in books, sending prints to friends, making collages on walls around the family home.

    For me a photograph (or a print thereof) is something that I can hold in my hands. I have tried for a long time to enjoy the online viewing experience. There is something missing when viewing an image on a screen. Even a E6 slide on a light table which also needs to be back-lit, has a tangible quality that connects you to the image.

    Unfortunately I will never be able to afford any of the great prints. Never will a Ansel Adams, or a Julia Margaret Cameron, or a Stieglitz, Strand, Weston, Modotti, Cunningham, McCullin, Bailey, etc, etc, grace my living room wall. But I am able to hold something tangle in my hands when I leaf through their publications. Maybe I am deceiving myself, but those prints still hold some of ‘their’ souls or spirit (do to me anyway)

    I feel that, because that is the only way I feel I can consume a photograph/image. Some time ago, I was lucky enough to meet Michael Kenna (who signed my copy of his FORMS OF JAPAN). I’ve met Don McCullin recently as well. At his final public event, he spoke with such grace, passion, and humility. My advice to anyone is to look away from your monitor, or screen for a while. Give up YouTube, Instagram, and Twitter for a while. Visit a gallery, a museum. Go see a print exhibition. Or just pick up a book or even just a magazine. Come face to face to a vision.

    THIS, is how I consume images…

    1. Anton, thank you as always for your passionate and inspiring words, love to hear from you.

      Your story explains abundantly why and how you so love the printed photograph. I never really had anything like this exposure, aside from family snapshots. Now, I consider myself a very visual person in all areas of life, but it took a while to manifest, probably well into my twenties. In my childhood I think more was in my head, my imagination, which I guess is visual, but internalised. I did always love books – including kids picture books, so I guess something was evolving there.

      I think my favourite online viewing experience is Flickr on my iPad. You can have the images full screen and just swipe through, without the surrounding clutter, comments, title, camera details etc you get on a laptop/desktop. The iPad is not huge, but large enough to get a good sense of the photograph and of course the iPad is usually held in your hands, whereas a laptop/desktop is sat on, well, a lap or a desk. This makes things more intimate, for me, with the iPad, than with a computer.

      Talking of displaying images, I picked up an old(ish) digital photo frame that I’m really happy with. I’ve loaded on maybe 50 family photos and have it change image randomly every five minutes. It’s in our lounge right under the TV. We’re all enjoying seeing past images of good times. It changes often enough to stay fresh, but not so often it’s distracting, like a TV. Thinking of getting another for my other photographs, ie the ones I take for my own artistic pleasure, rather than to capture a family moment.

      Yeh it’s pixels not paper, but it’s still giving us a new way of looking at photos that otherwise have laid dormant for years on my HD.

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