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.