Exploring Los Angeles Through Photographs



There are many ways to experience a city like Los Angeles. You can walk its streets and neighborhoods (my personal favorite mode of exploration), hop on a bus or train, bike the city’s streets, drive around in a car, read about it, and / or talk to people who live there. While each of these methods can provide valuable insights into the city’s physical manifestation and the lives of its inhabitants, so too can viewing images taken by professional and amateur photographers alike.

In this post, I present some of my favorite online photo resources. These are the sites I turn to when I want to experience Los Angeles through someone else’s lens. They capture moments in time over many decades and shed light on the city’s inhabitants and ever changing built and natural environments.

I’ve divided these sites into two groups: (1) archives and (2) community generated image collections. I hope you enjoy perusing these incredible resources as much as I do.



Anyone interested in archival materials related to Los Angeles needs to know about LA as Subject, “…a research alliance dedicated to preserving and improving access to the archival material of Los Angeles history…. With an online directory of more than 230 separate collections, L.A. as Subject ensures that researchers know what materials are available, where they are located, and how to access them.”

If you’re looking for photos of Los Angeles, this is a great place to start. Just search the directory and select “photography” from the dropdown menu.

By the way, Curating Los Angeles is a member of this wonderful local organization and I highly recommend that you attend the organization’s annual Archives Bazaar. I’ve written about the event several times in the past. You can read those posts here and here.


The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection emphasizes the history of Los Angeles, Southern California, and California. This Internet-accessible collection is comprised of several million images, more than 60,000 of which are available online. The Library continues to add photos as they are cataloged.


Metro makes historic Los Angeles transit photos available through several web sites. They include:



“The UCLA Digital Library Program (DLP) serves as the catalyst for the creation, management, and delivery of digital content in support of the UCLA Library mission and goals. The Program provides for the storage and dissemination of digital objects, including text, images, audio, and video in their various digital manifestations and combinations.” Type “Los Angeles” in the search field to find relevant photos.


“The USC Digital Library offers digital images of drawings, illuminated manuscripts, maps, photographs, posters, prints, rare illustrated books, as well as audio and video recordings.” Type “Los Angeles” in the search field.


“The Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world, with millions of books, recordings, photographs, maps and manuscripts in its collections.”


Shorpy.com is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. To find images related to Los Angeles, you have to submit various search terms such as “Los Angeles,” “Hollywood,” “Santa Monica,” “Culver City,” and “Pacific Electric.”

You can explore the LA Times archives, 1881 to now, via the paper’s Tumblr.  You’ll find lots of fantastic images and interesting stories that will keep you coming back for more.


“The Online Archive of California (OAC) provides free public access to detailed descriptions of primary resource collections maintained by more than 200 contributing institutions including libraries, special collections, archives, historical societies, and museums throughout California and collections maintained by the 10 University of California (UC) campuses.”


The earliest photographs in the fototeka – LAPD Archives collection date to 1925. “The film used was large-format (4″x5″) cellulose nitrate until sometime in the early forties when it was replaced with safety film. In the early sixties, the size changed to medium-format (2-1/4″x2-1/4″), which was used until the mid-seventies when it was, in turn, replaced with 35mm.

All of the prints in this collection are hand-printed from the original negatives on fiber-based, museum-quality, silver-gelatin (SGP) archival stock. Each numbered print is embossed with a stamp of authenticity created by fototeka and the Los Angeles Police Department.”


Retronaut is “a digital collection of tens of thousands of pictures from across the past, all with one thing in common – each one has the power to warp your sense of time.”


When visiting the following sites, search for “Los Angeles” or other related terms. 


Google is replacing its Panoramio service (see below) with Google Views, a site that allows users to share 360-degree panoramic photos, which Google calls “photo spheres,” to Google Maps.


Panoramio is a community-powered site, owed by Google, for exploring places through photography. It’s “different from other photo sharing sites because the photos illustrate places,” not people.


Flickr, a Yahoo company, is an online photo management and sharing application that enables users to upload, access and organize their photos and videos from anywhere.


Pinterest is a social media platform that enables users to discover, collect, share and organize collections of visual bookmarks (pins) on virtual boards.


  1. Thanks for posting this Jim – very helpful. It’s wonderful so many vintage images are now available for searching online.