While the Internet can provide an endless stream of photography articles and tutorials, there’s something to be said for a good old-fashioned magazine that’s been written, edited, and curated by professionals. From the thoughtful themes and specific genres to the simple experience of holding a printed periodical, we would all do well to turn off our screens and pick up a magazine.
I have twelve magazines for you to consider, some worth your time and money, others maybe not. This won’t be a scientific comparison by any stretch, nor will I rate certain aspects on a star scale. Instead, I’ll comment on things like the magazine’s intended purpose and audience, the articles themselves, the organization and polish, and the experience of flipping through the pages. Ultimately, my opinions will be drawn from whether or not the magazine held my attention. Did I want to put the magazine down and do something else? Or did I read from front to back or even return to the magazine a few days later to read something again?
I’ll start the reviews with the more accessible, mass-market magazines available in the U.S. I’ll move on the genre-based magazines as well as international offerings. Without further ado, here are the twelve photography magazines to consider:
Popular Photography’s tag line is, “How to make great pictures.” As promised, I actually learned a great tip from this magazine, one that I had never heard of despite over two years of near-daily photography research and education: when using the Spot Removal tool in Lightroom, dial down the opacity to give more realistic-looking retouching on portraits. Such a simple tip, one of many found in the January/February 2017 issue.
(Update: with my nose buried in magazines these last few weeks, I missed the news that Popular Photography is ceasing publication in April. The March/April 2017 issue will be the last issue.)
As a mass-market magazine, Popular Photography won’t wow you with its paper quality. It doesn’t feel substantial in your hands, but the information provided outweighs its mass-market printing. Many of the features provide advice for beginner and intermediate photographers, advice that can be used almost immediately. Where necessary and useful, image and camera stats are provided so that you can try out the techniques for yourself.
You’ll find the usual mass-market sections like news, gear reviews, and thematic features. The features are well-written and journalistic. The features in this issue were well-researched and professional. With helpful tutorial sections sprinkled throughout, I would return to another issue of Popular Photography.
Who is Popular Photography for? The beginner and intermediate photographer looking for a little bit of everything.
Digital Photo Pro
Digital Photo Pro was my least favorite of the mass-market magazines. Perhaps the biggest turn-off for me was a section called “HD Video Pro,” touted on the cover as “Now Inside Every Issue!” For twenty pages, I had trouble distinguishing whether I was reading articles or advertisements. Maybe that’s due to the nature of the magazine’s design and layout more than the content. However, with a stack of photography magazines waiting for me, Digital Photo Pro just couldn’t keep my attention.
Too many of the features in the January/February 2017 issue were interview-style articles rather than articles written based on interviews. Of course I see the value in a professional photographer’s actual words, but six pages of a Joe McNally interview were saved by McNally’s great photos, not the reprinting of the interview.
Speaking of photos, by comparison, the photos in Digital Photo Pro were some of the least impressive. The photos included in the article about adding speedlights to ambient light would turn me off from speedlights. The best photos were provided by the magazine’s readers in their “The Face 2016 Contest Winners.” The handful of photos featured for the contest results were stunning.
Maybe I need to give Digital Photo Pro another chance. After all, it is in its 15th year. But with plenty of other magazines out there, I’d most likely pass over Digital Photo Pro.
Who is Digital Photo Pro for? The beginner and intermediate photographer or videographer looking for a little bit of everything,
Anyone who’s been with Improve Photography for a while now knows that Jim is a fan of Shutterbug. In fact, his photo is featured on the ad for the “digital edition” on page 77 of the February 2017 issue.
Of the mass-market magazines published in the U.S., Shutterbug featured the largest array of photos. Each article showcased amazing photography, either from an artist or from readers. The magazine’s “Picture This!–Reader’s Assignment” not only had great photography but also had descriptions from those featured, a real benefit and incentive to submit a photo of your own.
With a good balance of gear reviews, feature stories, and tips and tricks, Shutterbug held my attention with good writing, great photos, and a polished layout. I would certainly read through another issue of Shutterbug.
Who is Shutterbug for? The beginner and intermediate photographer looking for a little bit of everything.
With a tagline that reads, “Your Guide to Everything Photo,” Photolife is another mass-market magazine, though this one is from Canada. It’s also better than the three U.S. mass-market magazines. The quality of the magazine’s printing is the first thing that beats its American counterparts: the paper stock is thick, and it has just the right amount of gloss to make the photos really pop. The February/March 2017 issue of Photolife just felt good to flip through.
The layout and design leave room to breathe on the page. After reading a dozen photography magazines, I was surprised by how many tried to cram their pages to the edges. Not so with Photolife. The white space on the page was just enough to be comfortable without seeming wasteful.
The writing is professional, the articles vary in style, and the photos are stunning from start to finish. Photolife is the first magazine on this list that seemed to have a high bar for including a photo. Not a single photo featured was a dud. I found myself studying several just to reflect on the photographer’s technique and choices. Kudos to Photolife for outstanding photos.
The feature titled “200 Years of the Photograph: Has it all Been Done Before?” was interesting on two levels. First, the other mass-market magazines didn’t really have such an article that balanced reflection and editorial. I appreciated the chance to read an author’s research- and experience-based opinion. Second, this article had one of the many Canadian references that went over my head as an American. The author wrote that photos “help us define our identity in the collective imagination–recall, for example, the famous image of Terry Fox running ahead of the RCMP cruiser.” While that allusion drew a complete blank for me, I did appreciate being put out of my comfort zone and forced to do a little research of my own.
I came back to Photolife’s pages after my first sit-down with the magazine, which is always a good sign. If I was deciding on a subscription to a mass-market photography magazine, I would definitely choose Photolife.
Who is Photolife for? The beginner and intermediate photographer looking for a little bit of everything in a polished package with a Canadian perspective.
As I read the February 2017 issue of Shutter Magazine, I only needed to read a few pages before saying to my wife, “This is the one I would subscribe to. This one is for me.” Shutter Magazine’s successful implementation of its mission spoke to me, the portrait and wedding photographer trying to grow my business. Indeed, their mission in part reads: “Our goal is to provide current, insightful and in-depth educational content for today’s professional wedding and portrait photographer.” Over the course of 208 pages, the magazine did just that.
Centered around the theme of “Sales and Marketing,” the magazine featured articles from over a dozen professional photographers giving their tried-and-true advice on specific business topics. In one article, Moshe Zusman explains how he quickly began a successful headshot business in the photographer-saturated city of Washington, D.C. In another, Curtiss Bryant describes the specific steps to follow in order to run a successful social media contest for your company. The advice is honest, specific, and actionable.
And the photos are amazing. While the styles vary, the entire collection of photos in the issue is top-notch. The design of the magazine is also a huge step above the American mass-market magazines. Like Photolife (described above), each page has room to breathe. Nothing is cramped or crowded. In fact, Shutter Magazine almost feels like a textbook rather than a magazine, with room to write notes and mark up the text.
Combine photo quality, excellent writing, and stellar design, and Shutter Magazine is a winner in my book. I’ll definitely be purchasing the March 2017 “Senior” issue; that is, if I don’t buy a subscription first.
Who is Shutter Magazine for? The working professional photographer seeking advice, education, and inspiration.
Click’s tagline is “For the Modern Photograp(her).” A partner magazine for the Click & Company network (heard of Clickin Moms?), Click is written with female photographers in mind, though that doesn’t mean a male shouldn’t pick up an issue. While the tone is almost overly positive and inspirational, the magazine’s writing will make you feel good and help motivate you to work towards a positive photography future. There’s a place for optimism and warmth, and that place is Click magazine.
With youthfully titled recurring sections titled “Adore” and “Become,” this isn’t your usual photography magazine, which could be a good thing. While there are post-processing tips and tricks and gear reviews, this magazine sees photography (and the business of it) as a lifestyle to be cultivated. There’s a section about designing your “dream” workspace, and there are interviews about life as a female photographer. The magazine is youthful in its writing and design choices. For example, on one page, a quote in a trendy swirly font above a photo reads, “Often, there’s a sense of place so strong it’s almost another presence.” On another page are listed “Favorite Jams for Ultimate Productivity.”
The “Critique” section was unique to Click. Several photos are printed large. Underneath, the CEO of Click & Company, Sarah Wilkerson, describes what works in the photo. Wilkerson considers elements like composition, light, color, posing, and selective focus. The descriptions are a good model for photographers to use as they critique their own work.
Click is a larger-format magazine. As such, the photos are impressive. While Click might seem like a mass-market, all-in-one magazine, its layout, design, and quality are a step above. While Click’s tone and perspective aren’t exactly what I’m looking for in a photography magazine, I don’t discount that there’s a huge audience for the magazine.
Who is Click for? The budding and working female photographer looking for knowledge, great photos, perspective, positivity, and inspiration.
Photograph is a tiny magazine by comparison, about the size of a diary or journal. Photograph is based in New York, NY, and for good reason: this magazine is your guide to photography gallery showings in NYC. While there are photographer features, book reviews, and portfolio spotlights, all are only a page or so of writing followed by a page or two photos.
The January/February 2017 issue of Photograph is half-full of advertisements for gallery shows. While perhaps a turn-off at first, the ads do give the reader a sense of what is happening in the fine art photography world this very moment. A savvy reader could study each ad’s photos and use them for inspiration just as much as any feature article or portfolio spread.
The last twenty pages of Photograph are dedicated to listing information for current gallery shows. The pages dedicated to NYC include street maps. For galleries outside of NYC, the shows are listed by state.
Photograph is a niche magazine for someone curious about the world of fine art photography and where to see it displayed. The pint-sized design might cause browsers to pass over this magazine, but the purchase price of $5 makes this a curious read every now and then.
Who is Photograph for? Anyone traveling to New York, NY, for photography galleries, and anyone curious about the world of fine art photography.
Nature Photographer is an impressive magazine. The entire magazine is filled by either editors or “field contributors,” subscribers who not only receive the magazine but also have the chance see their photos published. What’s more, each set of photos is partnered with an essay written by the photographer. Nature Photographer had by far the most human touch of the magazines I read. (In fact, the editor-in-chief sent a gracious handwritten note with the two issues she sent for review.)
The photographs in Nature Photographer are stunning. More often than not, only one image is printed per page, and most take up the entire page. The standards for a published photo are high. Nature Photographer was the first magazine where I continually interrupted my reading to show a photo to my wife. The theme of the “fall/winter combo issue” was autumn and winter landscape. From Grand Teton to Arches and from wandering bears to soaring raptors, the photos showcase nature at its most beautiful.
Almost as impressive as the photos and writing is the lack of advertisements. Of the 162 pages in the magazine, only 11 were advertisements. I often forgot that I was reading a magazine, not a book, so engrossing was the experience without ads.
All of the photographs are joined by the camera settings and other gear specifics. Several articles focused purely on tips for shooting landscape and wildlife. As I said before, the advice comes from the photographer, so there’s an added level of credibility and humanity in the how-to essays. To see the photos, know the settings, and read the photographer’s words about each photo will keep you flipping the pages and itching to get outside and shoot.
With an emphasis on community and nature, Nature Photographer is an excellent choice for anyone, beginner to advanced, interested in nature photography.
Who is Nature Photographer for? Anyone from hobbyist to professional interested in landscape and wildlife photography, especially those looking for a chance to be published.
Published in the United Kingdom, Outdoor Photography is a polished, detailed mass-market magazine focusing on landscape, wildlife, nature, and adventure. With its tagline, “How to Capture the Beauty of Winter,” the February 2017 issue had no shortage of masterful photographs. Outdoor Photography is one of the larger-format magazines of the bunch. The larger canvas is used beautifully to showcase richly-colored photography.
With a range of sections from tutorials, gear reviews, editorials, and news, there’s a little bit of everything in Outdoor Photography. Unique to the magazine is a section called “Locations Guide,” which details over a dozen photography adventures. With photographs and matching descriptions, a hike-difficulty rating system as well as lodging and meal ideas, “Locations Guide” is a great at-a-glance resource for those traveling specifically for photography.
The magazine has an environmentalist tilt, with several articles and features dedicated to preserving nature and conserving our planet. The feature about photographing the osprey in Scotland was engrossing thanks to detailed, personal writing, unique images, and great technical advice.
Several pages of the magazine are dedicated to reader-submitted portfolios. Winning submissions are coupled with a short essay. The photos themselves each get an entire page, lending value and emphasis to a reader’s work.
I particularly enjoyed a single-page section called “Inside Track.” The essay written by Nick Smith was easily the most literary writing of the entire batch of magazines reviewed here. With style and great attention to storytelling, Smith’s essay chronicles a photographer’s worst nightmare: having all of your gear stolen as soon as you arrive at your photography adventure destination. I appreciate the attention given to good writing in a photography magazine. Kudos, Outdoor Photography.
Who is Outdoor Photography for? The beginner and intermediate nature photographer looking for a little bit of everything.
Another publication out of the United Kingdom, Black+White Photography is a mass-market-style magazine with a twist: every photo is black and white. You’ll get your standard sections like news, gear, technique, and feature stories. The design and layout are stellar: out of the selection I read for this article, Black+White Photography is my favorite to flip through. From the weight of the paper to the texture of the cover, Black+White Photography is just plain good. In fact, I’ve read through it twice, just to see what I missed the first time.
The “Inspiration” section is particularly good in the January 2017 issue. One article discussed the merits of printed photos versus digitals, a conversation we’ve all had, I’m sure. In fact, the artist profiled, Alex Schneideman, talked about how some of his photos are only seen (and sold) in print at his studio, never online. I sat wondering whether or not I cheapen my photography by constantly sharing it online rather than printing.
I also enjoyed the technique section about “Minimalist Landscapes.” Appropriate for a winter issue, the photos are starkly alluring, and the adjacent tips and techniques were clear and specific. My hometown didn’t really get much snow this winter, so I’ll return to this issue next year.
The reader-submitted photographs are given ample space, especially the featured reader photographer section. With three dedicated pages, two of which are full-page photos, what an honor it must be to see yourself printed in such an outstanding magazine.
(Do not confuse Black+White Photography with Black & White, reviewed below. Black+White Photography is all-encompassing, while Black & White is focused on fine art photography only.)
Who is Black+White Photography for? The beginner and intermediate photographer looking for a top-notch mass-market-style magazine.
Black & White
Black & White’s tagline reads, “For Collectors of Fine Photography,” and the magazine delivers on that promise. From cover to cover, Black & White features fine art photography from the past and today. And as the title suggests, every photo is black and white.
The majority of the magazine focuses on artist profiles and reader galleries. You won’t find gear reviews or dedicated sections on technique or Lightroom. Artist profiles are detailed and informative. Balancing interviews, storytelling, and biography, the artist profiles are well-worth the word-count invested by the writer.
Several early pages of Black & White’s April 2017 issue are dedicated to detailing the publication contests the magazine is currently running. There’s a little something for every photographer, from nature to nude and architecture to abstract, every photographer can find a contest suited to their tastes. The magazine features galleries from previous contests, both single-image winners and spotlight portfolio winners. The portfolio winners are featured on several pages, complete with a short written profile and several images.
Black & White offers a different perspective than almost every other magazine in my comparison. Black & White offers the point of view of the photographer solely as artist. The singular focus had me thinking about my photography beyond the weekend family session or engagement shoot. Any reader of Black & White will be inspired to do more with their photography, and perhaps even submit for publication.
(Do not confuse Black & White with Black+White Photography, reviewed above. Black & White is focused on fine art photography only, while Black+White Photography is an all-encompassing, mass-market-style publication)
Who is Black & White for? Photographers of all levels interested in the fine art side of the craft, as well as any photographer looking for something outside the usual mass-market, catch-all magazine.
Calling Aperture a magazine almost isn’t fair. The 152 pages of issue #225 are printed and bound on such large, high-quality paper that Aperture feels more like a book. The content suggests the same. With far and away the best, most in-depth writing of any magazine in my comparison, Aperture is a publication you can spend time with. Aperture is released quarterly, and you could spend the entire quarter reading the magazine, returning to articles, studying the photos.
On the page detailing the publication, the mission reads, “Aperture, a not-for-profit foundation, connects the photo community and its audiences with the most inspiring work, the sharpest ideas, and with each other–in print, in person, and online.” True to its goal, the photographs and feature essays aim to raise the level of discourse and thought we have about photography. After a short essay of introduction by the editors related to the issue’s theme “On Feminism,” six “leading artists and thinkers” are presented, one page each, describing their thoughts on photography and feminism, both its past and present.
The majority of the magazine contains profiles of artists and collections, each explored over a dozen or so pages. Photos are printed large, captions are illuminating, and the accompanying essays are without compare. Aperture, it seems, is the pinnacle of photography magazines. We would all do well to escape from the gear-obsessed, post-processing-preoccupied world of modern-day hobbyist photography and dive into Aperture’s expertly crafted collection of academic photography essays.
Who is Aperture for? Photographers of all levels interested in photography as high art and looking to push themselves beyond the day-to-day obsessions of gear reviews, technique, and clients. Aperture is about photography as art, statement, argument, document, and history.
After several weeks of reading through a dozen photography magazines, I can say that the printed word is certainly alive and well. Despite the avalanche of daily digital articles and updates (of which my writing belongs to), the value of curated, edited, and printed work is confirmed. Just about every magazine was as good or better than what I can find for free online. With time on their side, and with a specific theme to tie the pages together, the magazines were a focused, refreshing experience compared to my usual ingestion of podcasts and clickbait.
With that said, here are three categories to give an overall review for the magazines:
What I’m not really interested in reading again:
- Digital Photo Pro
With better mass-market magazines out there, I just don’t need to read Digital Photo Pro again.
While Click is a good magazine, the perspective and focus just isn’t for me. I can see myself browsing through it at the newsstand, though. I’m not the intended audience for Click. But any female photographer could enjoy the positive, female-oriented perspective of Click, especially if you’re looking for a mass-market-style magazine.
Photography is too location-specific to be required reading. If I was in New York specifically to visit photo galleries, Photography would be a must-buy. Otherwise, I’ll probably just skim the pages at the newsstand and move on.
What I’d buy on the newsstand every now and then:
- Popular Photography
- Black & White
Popular Photography and Shutterbug are magazines I would buy at the airport, something to tide me over during a day of travel, to fill down time. Both are good magazines, but I’m looking for something a little more to earn my subscription dollars.
Black & White and Aperture are excellent magazines, worthy of quality reading time and attention. I would certainly benefit from reading about the art of photography rather than the business of photography, so I’ll look for these on the newsstand whenever I head to a bookstore.
What I’d like to subscribe to if I had unlimited money for magazine subscriptions:
- Black+White Photography
- Nature Photographer
- Outdoor Photography
Photolife and Black+White Photography are high-end mass-market-style magazines, both worthy of a subscription. Outdoor Photography is a high-end mass-market-style magazine focused on nature photography. All three reach far beyond the quality of the United States mass-market publications. I would read all three every month.
Nature Photographer stands out as the most accessible, community-oriented magazine. I would not hesitate becoming a “field contributor” if nature photography was my hobby and passion.
What I actually subscribed to:
Shutter Magazine. The content is exactly what I’m looking for right now. The opinions are candid, the photos are gorgeous, and the content is actionable. Plus, a subscription not only provides a printed copy of the magazine but digital copies of the current and all past issues. With over 50 previous issues to scroll through, I have plenty to read.
Finally, I’ll say that my comparison is not all-encompassing. In my early research, I reached out to twice as many magazines as I present here. At the newsstand, I found over a dozen more. That’s at least 30 photography magazines you could check out. My advice? Pick up three or four magazines, each with a different purpose, and give yourself some time to pay proper attention. The time you’ll spend away from a screen, without headphones, and focused on a paper publication will be time well spent.