One (Cheap) Purchase That Can Make the Biggest Impact on Your Photography

One (Cheap) Purchase That Can Make the Biggest Impact on Your Photography

It's incredibly common to see any marketing campaign talk about how some accessory or lens is "life changing" and will bring your photography to the next level. And then you buy it and inevitably realize that it is your own ability that is holding you back. But there is something you can buy, multiple somethings actually, that will honestly help make you a better photographer. 

Any artist out there stands on the shoulders of giants, learning from the greats of the past and present. To become a better photographer, we need to know both our history as well as the work that is currently getting commissioned. So, the one purchase that has had the biggest impact on my photography has been, believe it or not, a magazine subscription. 

I know that this may sound odd, but buying a magazine, or a subscription, or a photo book from one of your favorite photographers, is absolutely integral to improving. Instagram is built around influencers, and there is a specific "Instagram Style," whereas looking through magazines and photo books, you are given the opportunity to see work that editors and advertisers are buying as well as to see images from a large swath of photographers that you won't easily find on Instagram. 

When I walk through the mall, I am paying attention to the photography that is on the walls, looking at how they retouch it or the colors and themes that are trending. Looking through a magazine like GQ, Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, or a book like "200 Best Ad Photographers Worldwide" (which is my personal favorite) and just filling them with bookmarks of images that inspire you is an incredible resource to learn from. Having a hard copy of an image is almost always the best way to really examine it, to see what the standards are for big-time publications. You may say: "I shoot landscapes, what does GQ have to do with that?" But landscapes have their own magazines and books out there too.

The point here is that by looking beyond instagram and into the bookstore to pick up a magazine, it's much easier to find photographers you like outside of the Instagram algorithm and learn from them ad the work they create.

Image Credit: roungroat on Raw Pixel.

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Hector Belfort's picture

What a great idea. Be a better photographer by reading photography magazines. Why has nonone thought of that. You’d make a killing if you set one up.

Vincent Alongi's picture

There's a big difference between IG hacks and published professionals. If I'm looking for inspiration and want to see what 'sells', I think I'm rolling my dice with the latter.

FWIW, I'll thumb through and pick up fashion mags myself. IG, Facebook, and the rest of social media pales in comparison a good amount of the time.

Jeff Walsh's picture

Next time read the whole damn thing before trying to be a smart-ass, because now you look like a dumb-ass. The point was that when we stare at Insta all day, we aren't seeing what editors and other people who actually spend money on photography are wanting.

I mean the writer even put a TLDR summary at the bottom.

kenny grimes's picture

Must really sux to be miserable enough to demand attention on someone website. Move along son.....nothing more else to see here.

Douglas Turney's picture

David great article. Too many people only look at other images and then try to copy. Where as the smart photographer looks at all the images they can, BUT then tries to understand the elements that make the image so good or bad. A chef knows how the ingredients work together, a cook know how to follow a recipe.

Julian Ray's picture

Spot on David.
Looking at, and hopefully learning from, what many different genres of photography is really great way to really push ones vision and skills.
Alas the endless downward spiral that is social media seem to only serve to degrade and narrow. Great article.

Robert Nurse's picture

W Magazine anyone?

Jordan McChesney's picture

I bought a book about Japanese waterfalls, the photography isn’t world class, but it completely changed the priority of my travel locations. I probably wouldn’t have gone to Akita or Yamagata without it, and now they are two of my favorite places I’ve ever shot.
So I think buying photography books of your area/country/city are a great way to get inspired, as well.

Timothy Turner's picture

I like magazines that offer tech lines, what camera and settings, were used, iso etc.I also subscribe to nature photographers network, they offer a lot of information on technique.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Rather than magazines - which tend to follow current trends and hence look similar - I like to look at books from 10, 20, 50 years ago, partly to find truly unique work, and partly to see old styles that might, or should not, be revived.

Vincent Alongi's picture

This. It's a nice way to go back in time and understand how they composed and developed analog photography. Must have been nice in simpler times without the overprocessing that takes place today.

Matthew Hamilton's picture

Agreed! Good to get a wide variety of content to look through.

Thorsten Merz's picture

I stopped buying photography magazines many years ago; they simply kept turning out the same old stuff time after time. Instead I switched my focus subject specific magazines; there are so many out there, even now, despite the internet killing many of them off. From fashion magazines, lifestyle magazines, car magazines, fitness magazines, architecture magazines, etc., there is so much to choose from and so much more to learn from these than from photography magazines. Nowadays I buy very few magazines as most have a very solid online presence as well and that's more than sufficient to learn and get ideas from as well as seeing what's current.

Griffith Bowen's picture

I like this. Great idea, thanks for sharing this.

Studio 403's picture

good post. I do this all the time. I take my iphone to all my doctor's office. While waiting, I snap away

Trevor Douglas's picture

Also try your local Library, my local has about six subscriptions to various international photographic magazines plus countless photography books. I am not sure how other libraries work but mine is always open to new book purchases and will buy what ever I suggest. Makes for a cheap way to see the best the world has to offer.

Mark Ostrom's picture

Great article the only problem I have is that my two subscriptions went bankrupt: Popular Photography and Shutterbug