Photography is an expensive game, I’ll give you that, and it’s not getting any cheaper. Have you priced high end DSLRs lately? And while we’re on the subject, neither is anything else. Have you filled up your four wheel drive adventure wagon lately?
Whether you’re an weekend enthusiast or a full time working pro, you don’t want to go overboard on your photography budget. Yes, money makes the world go ’round, and yes, good camera gear costs a pretty penny, but in the end, being resourceful will get you farther in this game than simply throwing more cash at everything.
Aside from the usual money-saving tips, like riding your bike instead of driving, and conveniently showing at friends’ houses just when they’re about to sit down for dinner, here are some rock solid ways that you can save money as a photographer. Every little bit that you save is another gallon of gas, another meal on the road, a few bucks closer to a plane ticket or a special item that you’ve got your eye on, all of which will directly lead to more, and hopefully, better imagery.
1. Buy Used Gear
Even though digital cameras don’t have the shelf life that they used to, there’s still a great market for used camera gear. I’ve bought a number of used lenses and secondhand speedlights during the course of my photography career, and they’ve all performed fine. There’s an awful lot of gear sitting on used shelves and on eBay and Craigslist that was dumped when the recession hit, and many of these items are in near mint condition, ready to be snatched up by a photographer who will give them new life. Also, check out the used department at B&H Photo. You never know what gem you’ll find hidden there.
2. Rent Gear
The camera gear rental business has boomed during the past couple of years. You can pretty much get anything you want- camera bodies, lenses, flashes, lighting gear, video equipment, MacBook Pros, iPads, GoPro video cameras, and even compact cameras like the Fuji X10 and the Canon G12. Prices are very reasonable, and shipping to and from your house is a snap. I recently rented a $6,000 lens for a week long photo assignment and paid around $400 for lens, two way shipping and insurance. If you don’t absolutely need an item long term, then consider renting it instead of buying it. Try Borrowlenses.com or Lensrentals.com.
3. Trade For Stuff
Even though you don’t want to get into the habit of trading with clients instead of being paid for your imagery, trading for services can actually be a very resourceful way to save money. Your photography has worth and value, and if you can barter it for stuff that you were going to buy anyway, you can actually make out quite well for yourself. Think beer, food, bike parts, guiding services, gear, clothing, graphic design, marketing, etc… Be careful with this one, and be smart. I generally like to limit my trading towards other small businesses and self employed people. Not corporations.
4. Visit the Library
You know, that place where they have all the free books that you can take home for a week or two? Next time you’re about to head to Barnes and Noble, stop by the library and see what they have. Sure, it’s definitely nice to own some key photography reference books for permanent instruction and inspiration on your shelf, but don’t forget about the library.
5. Don’t Upgrade Unless You Absolutely Need To
I keep writing about how photography is not about the the gear. Well, ok, it sort of is, but, nothing will send you to the poorhouse faster than upgrading when every new pice of gear comes out. Good photography gear can last for years, and unless there’s a specific reason why you need or want a particular item, and you can justify it’s purchase with increased quality, shooting options, pro work or some other important result, don’t just think you have to get every new item. The reality is that you don’t. Make due with what you have an invest wisely when practical or necessary.