I hear it every week. People want to find ways to save money on their photo hobby. While the economy is on a rebound and things are improving, I know it’s still tough for some of you. So here are some tips that might help you get more out of photography without breaking the bank.
1. Buy used. Photographic gear depreciates quickly. There are many reputable camera dealers who specialize in or offer used gear. All the big New York camera stores have a significant used gear department. Your local store may also have used gear. There are brokers like KEH which have a very good reputation in the used market. And then there’s always Craig’s List – which requires a little more care (to make sure you’re getting what you pay for) but there are plenty of options. If you buy an older, but high-quality piece of fast glass used, you’ll end up with great image quality at a reduced price.
2. Buy refurbished products. I’ve found some very good deals from Canon in particular on refurbished products. Most of the big camera stores offer refurbished items. These are returns that have been checked and restocked and are sold with a warranty in most cases. Many of the manufacturers also have refurbished items available for sale on their web sites. This can save you 15-20% and still give you a like-new item.
3. Buy gear that matches what your friends have and form a swap club. Agree that you will loan lenses and flashes, etc. in return for the same option. Maybe you buy the 70-200 and your pal buys the 400. You don’t need the 70-200 every day and he doesn’t need the 400 every day and since you have the same system, you swap. It’s a fun and safe way to use lots of gear without having to own it.
4. Rent. If you’re only an occasional shooter, then why buy? I know a guy who photographs birds once or twice a year. He bought a $14,000 telephoto lens that will be used 20 times maybe before he dies. He could have rented that same lens and kept most of his money in his pocket. All the big camera stores have rental departments and that is always my first choice. That way you can examine the gear you are renting before you walk out the door to make sure it’s up to snuff. There are half a dozen online rental companies. Some of these are better than others. Be sure to ask about how new a particular item is before you rent it and ask lots of detailed questions about the item’s condition. I recently rented a slider that was utterly useless because the tracks were all dinged up and the camera wouldn’t move smoothly across the rail. As long as you ask lots of questions, you should be fine.
5. Use the Internet. There are tons of how-to/DIY You Tube videos on how to make studio gear or get more out of what you have. There are several good blogs. My favorite DIY blog is Larry Becker’s Cheap Shots – http://larryscheapshots.com. Larry works for Kelby Media and is a great guy, who’s come up with some neat stuff.
6. One of the easiest ways to save money in photography is to get the most out of what you have. I seriously doubt that five percent of you reading this are utterly familiar with all your gear. You are probably using about 10% of its capacity. Before plopping down extra cash to get the next great thing, read and re-read your manuals for the gear you own. Practice with it. Scour online resources provided by your camera/lens manufacturer. Chances are you can do things with your current gear you didn’t even know you could do.
7. Save money on photo workshops and conferences by offering to volunteer in return for free admission. Sure, you have to work for your beans, but even if you only end up getting to attend a few sessions or are working in a session as a volunteer, you’re getting free info and getting exposure to other photographers for great networking opportunity.
8. Offer to assist a photographer you admire – for free. While most working pros already have assistants on staff, they can always use one more hand and you could be that hand. Then do what they ask, shut up and listen. You’ll end up with a free photo education and real-world working experience that puts you in front of your competition.
9. Learn to prioritize. I mean prioritize everything. There’s the obvious. Prioritize gear purchases (Lenses over bodies, etc.) Prioritize your time. Prioritize your education. If photography is truly important to you, then maybe you could give up 15 Lattes a week in return for better gear or training.
10. Use friends, family as models rather than hiring pros. Learn how to do makeup and save money on makeup-artists. Find aspiring models and offer to trade prints for modeling to save modeling fees.
Everything costs something. There is even a cost to doing things on the cheap. Sometimes you do in fact sacrifice quality. But if you’re just learning or testing or experimenting, what does it matter if it’s only 95% of what it could be? When you get to the point where you are ready for prime time you can spend the money the pros do. And you’ll have it to spend because you used these tips.