Use Pinterest as a Poor-Man’s Photo Library

Use Pinterest as a Poor-Man’s Photo Library

Building an insightful and inspirational library of photography books can be daunting, both from the perspective of the choices entailed in selecting works for inclusion and because of the economics involved. Pinterest boards are a great way to start a photo "book" library for free.

My first book of photography was the late Robert Frank’s, “The Americans”. I was spellbound on the first perusal, not just for its insights into our history and who we are as a people, but for the inspiration it provided as to how to compose an image, tell a story, raise a complicated issue. It also made clear just how vastly much I had to learn about the craft of photography. And this was just my first photography book representing a small fraction of the work of one photographer. How much more was there to learn from the other amazing photographers I knew of, not to mention the ones I didn’t?

My excitement was tempered a bit, however, when I started multiplying the tens of dollars a photography book typically costs, times the hundreds (or even thousands) of superlative photographers out there, times the number of photo books each photographer may have published. I needed a way to collate enough information to make informed decisions about where to spend my (very) limited budget. Then I recalled Pinterest.

My Pinterest library currently with boards for a couple of hundred artists of interest.

I use my Pinterest account now largely to catalog the work of documentary story tellers. It’s the area I see the most personal value for growth in (largely because it’s one of the areas I currently suck at the most). But you could use boards to document the work of influential landscape photographers, great portraitists, up-and-coming street photographers, etc.

I'll go through periods where I’ll spend an hour each evening nursing a beer and adding images and artists to Pinterest boards, hoovering up everything I can find that resonates with me, has the potential to make me a better photographer, or has the potential to make me a better person. And just going through the process provides both insight and inspiration as well as a far broader awareness of the photographic community, its history, its current state, and the often-amazing souls who have contributed to it. Every so often, then, I’ll take an evening or weekend and work back through each of the Pinterest boards, refreshing my memory, soaking up fresh inspiration, sprinkling the seeds of ideas around in the hope that some creative energy might later grow them into something useful.

There are a few downsides to this approach, though. Most obvious is the media. Rather than viewing works in their intended medium, usually print, you’re seeing things on a computer monitor, or worse, on a cell phone. It’s not the same thing. Second, web results are returned in the order that Pinterest or Google deems fit, not the artist. You miss out on the editing, rhythm, and pacing that the photographer intended when viewing a body of their work. You also miss out on an understanding of their broader vision for a project as a whole, including the fact that many of their lesser known, but no less insightful, images may not even be available on the web. Finally, you miss out on an opportunity to support the artist. We’re taking something of value from them, knowledge or inspiration, without directly providing compensation.

Still, if you’re beginning your photographic career or working from a limited budget (aren’t we all), Pinterest can be a great way to explore what the community and art form has to offer and to create a personal catalog of the work of artists that are inspirational to you. This collection of portfolios can, then, be used to prioritize investments in those photography books that are likely to provide the most value to you as you evolve in your craft.

Other interesting uses for Pinterest? Give us a heads up in the comments!

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3 Comments

Michael Penn's picture

Free is what's killing photography and photographers as artists

Marc Bee's picture

It should be said that I keep reference images far more for my work as a designer than for photography inspiration. When I need to render an object or scene I need reference for what things look like, materials, lighting, etc. My senior instructor in college days insisted that any good designer will keep a collection of images for this purpose.

Pinterest is fine if you don't mind tiny images that disappear off the face of the internet when you go back to see them again three years after you pinned it. After realizing that I started going back and finding larger versions of them and then downloading the images into an organized system of folders on my computer. Much easier to find and keep track of. The one thing I don't have is access to them from anywhere with an internet connection. Working on that...

Alex Herbert's picture

Google photos, it'll compress them, but not in any noticable way. And it's unlimited free storage as long as you let them apply their compression.