While photography definitely isn’t the cheapest business you could get into, you can definitely get started on a budget. Here are my tips for being prudent with your money as you start out.
Buy Secondhand Equipment
Try not to get swept away with feeling like you need to own the best camera on the market in order to be a professional. Start with what you can afford, and buy it secondhand. I bought the majority of my equipment from trusted sellers on eBay and on MPB and still today will look to see if I can purchase secondhand first.
As photographers, we all laugh when someone looks at our work and says: “wow, you have such a good camera!” We eye-roll hard because we know there’s so much more to it than the camera you are using. Sure, eye-tracking focus is nice to have, but a lot of the tricks that newer cameras offer are exactly that: “nice to haves” rather than essential for creating beautiful work.
Loan Before Buying
Get really clued up on why you need to add something to your arsenal before you buy it. A common trap to fall into is to waste money on equipment that you don’t actually need because you’re buying from a “should” perspective or because you saw some hype online. If you’re not sure about an expensive investment, lease the item a few times first to check out whether it would be really beneficial for you. I use the app Fat Llama to rent lights or lenses that I need for a specific job, but wouldn’t usually need in my day-to-day workflow. This is a great option for testing bits of kit out in an inexpensive way.
Create Your Own Backdrops
Textured surfaces to photograph product or food on are beautiful, but in the region of $100-200, depending on where you source them from. It’s obvious why they are expensive, because a lot of time and care goes into making them, but it quickly adds up when you’re looking to invest in five or six different colors and you’re on a budget. I recently made six of my own textured surfaces on MDF cut to a size of 2 x 4ft, for a total of $60. It’s a great way to create custom colors and textures suited to your specific needs. I created a reel to show exactly each step in the process so you can make your own too.
Make Your Props Go Further
Think about the mood and tone of the work you like to create or are being commissioned for and source props that stick within that mood. Buying neutrals that can be used in lots of different contexts and for different purposes is a great way to go.
Make a list of all the props you have, as well as what’s missing. This way, when you’re out and about in thrift stores, flea markets, or shops, you can easily see what you’re missing from your collection and what you have enough of. A lot of us are drawn to specific things, but you might accidentally end up with hundreds of side plates and no bowls if you’re not consciously aware of what you need to add to your collection.
Invest in Education Wisely
It’s amazing to learn and push the needle forward with free educational resources such as blogs, YouTube, or podcasts, but there comes a point where investing in a specific course to further your education in a certain area is really beneficial and can help take your work to the next level.
Start off with free resources, but as you begin to grow and save money to invest, be selective when choosing which teachers to purchase courses from and make sure you complete each one and put it into practice before eying up the next course. There’s no point having lots of courses downloaded but you don’t have the time to do them all or you find there's a lot of overlap between the courses you’ve purchased. Be selective, take your time to do them, and implement the strategies and learn the lessons before moving on to the next.
While photography can be an expensive business, it's also totally possible to do it on a tighter budget. More important than what lenses, camera, or lighting you have is your enthusiasm, your dedication to showing up again and again to keep getting better at your craft with each shoot. The most important part of photography is your own unique vision. As long as you have that, you have everything you need!