Light that Fire: A Guide to Finding Photo Inspiration at the Library

Photos for bloggers: 1, 2, 3

Dear Mr. Dewey,

Please point me in the direction of the photography books.

Thank you.

Love, A photographer in need of a little inspiration.

If dust is settling on your camera and your creative juices need some stirring, the library is a great place to explore photographers and books on photography that’ll light that photo bug inside you. It’s always in there… sometimes it just needs a a little push in the right direction.

Learn some super simple tips on finding the photo books in your library and what to do once you’ve found them.

If you’ve got yourself a free afternoon, strap on your sneakers and head to the library to peruse the photo books and get inspired!

Find Photo Inspiration at the Library


Find your local library.
This is a handy website to discover where to locate the library in your hood.

Walk into the library and breath in the musty and awesome smell that is special only to a public library.

Lots of people have been in this institution and many of them have come out of it knowing something they didn’t when they walked in. Or they went in, used the restroom, and left.

But not you! You are going in to be inspired by photography and all of the wonder that comes along with looking at a photograph in print.

What’s great about the library is that you have access to all kinds of photo catalogs that aren’t available online.

You are part of this storied piece of public learning now.

Go forth brave photographer. Inspiration is now shooting out of your fingertips.



Thanks to Melvil Dewey and his Dewey Decimal System there is a super simple way to find the photo books in most libraries.

When at the library head straight to the stacks labeled 770.

All nonfiction books have a 3 digit number in front of them that corresponds with their subject matter. The 700 section of the library is The Arts section. All photo books start in the 770 section of the library. Anything with the numbers 770-779 on the binding is a photography book.

If you happen to be in a library that uses the Library of Congress system, then you’ll find the arts in section N.

Once at the photo stacks it’s pretty darn fun to run your hand over the books and see a name or binding that strikes your fancy.

Pull some books off of the shelf and find a cozy place to peruse what you just picked out.



If you like to have a little more direction when you are searching for books here are some awesome books to look for.

Names of Photographers to Look for at the Library

  • Wegee (aka Arthur Fellig)
    Scandal! Intrigue! Awesome black and white photographs from a man who beat the police to the scene of many a crime!
  • Lee Friedlander
    Magic street photographs, idiosyncratic landscape photos, and bizarrely awesome self-portraits.
  • Francesca Woodman
    Beautiful and sad stories told through images of the artist herself. If you love taking self-portraits, take a look at Ms. Woodman’s poignant images.
  • Since there are so many amazing photographers out there, here’s a starting list of 100 of the most influential photographers of all time.

 Books on Photography

  • The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski
    A formative guide to the visual language of photography.
  • The Flame of Recognition by Edward Weston
    A fascinating glimpse into the life of a photographer who was constantly on the lookout.
  • The Education of a Photographer edited by Charles T. Traub, Steven Heller, and Adam B. Bell
    A great collection of essays about what it means to be a photographer now.

How-to Photo Books

  • Photography by Barbara London, John Upton, and Jim Stone
    This book guides you to be your own photo teacher!
  • The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression by Bruce Barnbaum
    Barnbaum explains photography in a way that won’t leave you saying “what?!!”
  • Image Transfer Workshop: Mixed Media Techniques for Successful Transfers  by Darlene Olivia McElroy and Sandra Duran Wilson
    Learn how to turn your photos into fun mixed media pieces.
  • Photojojo!: Insanely Great Photo Projects and DIY Ideas  by Amit Gupta and Kelly Jensen
    Lots of DIY ideas to help you inspire yourself and others with photo projects. From your favorite photo people: us!

Magazines Have Photos, Too!

Books aren’t the only sources for your photo research.

Magazines are full photos, and the amazing thing about the library is that they’re subscribed to basically every magazine ever.

Exploring magazines will introduce you to photography besides the kind you’ll find in the Arts section of the book stacks. You’ll see nature photography, fashion photography, interior design, and portraiture.

Magazines are also a great place to discover emerging photographers. PDN Magazine in particular does a fantastic job of featuring up and coming photogs.

Some more awesome magazines to check out: National Geographic, PDN, Vogue, American Photo, Kinfolk Magazine, Popular Photography, B&W, Wallpaper, Time, Vanity Fair.


beforeBring a notebook, sketchbook or your phone to the library with you.

While you are joyfully perusing the books you’ve picked off the shelves take notes on photographers, photo tips, or quotes.

Write down words that come to you while looking at photographs. You don’t have to get crazy or put pressure on yourself… free associate as you flip pages. This is all for the joy of photography.

If a photo really grabs your attention write down what you are feeling as you look at the photo. Why did this one photo jump off of the page and into your heart?

Remember how you felt when you looked at the specific image while you are out taking your own beautiful photographs.

When you find you are in need of a little inspirational kick in the pants you can look through your notes and see what inspired you.


Start  an inspiration archive by designating a folder or binder for all things photography.

We feel it important to note that this is a compilation of things you love and is only for personal reference. We don’t believe in stealing artwork or infringing on copyrights.

Once you’ve found something that strikes your fancy make some photocopies of images that you really love and put them in your binder. You can categorize them into sections, like street photography, portraiture, or landscape. Think of it as a Pinterest board, but for your eyes only.

You can also put the notes you have taken in the binder as well.

Organize the images by photographer’s name, subject matter, however you like to look at later and get inspired whenever you are feeling a creative lull.