Since your reading this, I can confidently assume that taking beautiful pictures is a goal you have.

While there are tons of useful (even essential) resources, there’s one simple trick that will do wonders for your photography: study the works of other photographers. In fact, this is one of the most common advice in our Photographer of the Month interviews.

Why You Should Study the Work of Others

So why is this so important? What makes this such an effective way of improving your photography?

Think about it. Anyone with success in their field dedicates time to stay inspired and study others. Musicians listen to music that inspires them. Authors read books from their colleagues. Chefs develop their taste by eating other chefs’ food.

So why don’t you spend time viewing the work of other photographers?

There are many benefits of doing so. Not only in order to stay inspired but also to develop your style and photographic vision.

Studying Other Photographers
This shot was inspired by my friend and fellow photographer Stian Klo

Learn What You Need to Improve

Studying the work of your favorite photographers gives you an indication of what you need to work on. It gives you an indication of why your images don’t reflect your vision.

Ask yourself this while viewing their work:

  • What is it about their images that you like better than with your own?
  • What is it that stands out about their images?
  • Why does this image work?

Answering these questions gives you an idea of what you need to work on with your photography. You’ll learn which fields you should put more effort into mastering. Either it’s technical or creative, setting of time to do this will give you a clear roadmap to work with.

Get Inspired

That isn’t the only reason to study other photographer’s work, though. Staying inspired is just as important.

We all have periods where we lack the inspiration, and motivation, to grab the camera and go out photographing. Perhaps you’re in a period like this yourself? Personally, I’ve been in a period where I’ve lacked the inspiration to process my images (which is why the backlog keeps growing!)

Study the work of other photographers
David Thompson is a photographer whose work I often visit to get inspired. Image by: David Thompson

Browsing through the websites of photographers I admire is a pleasurable task, especially in these periods. Sure, my motivation doesn’t magically reappear but it gives me inspiration and the small push that I might need to keep going.

Look Beyond the Surface

When I say study the work of others I don’t mean just scrolling through your Instagram feed. Take the time to open the images on your computer (or even better; go to a gallery.)  In order to really benefit from this exercise, you need to view the images in full size.

A cropped and downscaled version viewed on the phone won’t do the trick.

Take the time to really analyze the picture. Try to see why this picture works. What techniques did the photographer use? How did they take advantage of the light? What about the color harmony? Composition?

If you’ve only got 10 minutes to spare it’s better to view only one picture than to browse through their entire gallery. Try to really go into depth and break the image down part-by-part.

There are hundreds of questions and answers you can find by viewing the picture.

Study, Don’t Copy

Studying the work of others is not the same as copying their work. You don’t want to replicate their work. The intent is not to find their tripod marks and process the image with the exact same techniques.

Mimicking or replicating certain effects and creative choices is a good way to learn but do it to develop your own style.

What Now?

I’ve got a task for you: set aside time each day to study the work of your favorite photographers. At the very minimum, you should study one image a day, for the rest of this week. Hopefully, you’re able to turn this into a habit and keep doing it in the future as well.

And no… Viewing images on Instagram or your smartphone does not count. Visit the photographer’s website, on your computer, and view the images in full size. Visiting galleries and studying physical prints will be even better!