Photography: A Rich Person’s Sport 

Photography: A Rich Person’s Sport 

Most of you might be saying: "you're nuts! Haven’t you been sailing? Luxury car driving? Golfing all over the place?" And luckily, I have, and let me tell you, photography is the most expensive sport I have ever practiced.

Just Like Any Other Hobby

When you begin your adventure as an amateur photographer, you are so enthusiastic about shooting that you really don’t pay much attention to many things: you just want a reliable camera with which to walk around and snap some pictures. Some want the “best” camera even if they have no clue what ISO actually means or how any of the functions work, and some others look for the “cheapest” camera. I was like the second group. When I began shooting ten years ago, I did not care what kind of camera I was going to buy. I just went to a Best Buy and chose the cheapest camera. I was a young guy, broke and just out of college; I thought a camera was the way out of the corporate world or the way to find myself, and luckily, it was! Photography is a great hobby; it allows you to be out there shooting, do something artistic, tell your friends you are a photographer, and become more interesting. Most of the time when you are starting, you don’t need anyone else, which makes it a very easy hobby to commit to. Regardless of why you go into photography, you slowly find out how expensive it is. Equipment costs a fortune. Every year, there is new gear and you want to have a new camera or the new light system, you suddenly start playing more with lights and lenses and you decide now you never want to use AlienBees and your signature flash system is Briese.

Me on set for a shoot, BTS image courtesy of Tyler Klink

The Hobby Becomes a Lifestyle

After some years, you already have a website, some friends paying you to take photos, and suddenly, you are wondering if you should quit your full-time job to pursue your passion. You’ve already spent money buying gear and going to photoshoots or photo workshops to become better and you feel you are already in deep. My journey was a bit different. I started shooting street photography with my cheap camera, then found myself an internship at a fashion studio in Europe, sold my car, which was the only thing I owned, and left for adventure. After some years of learning from very talented and very untalented photographers and after shooting my own work on the side, I decided it was time to go fully on my own path as an artist. I left my cushion, which was nothing but a couple of hundred euro from assisting gigs and decided I was not going to assist anymore and I was going to shoot my own things, even if I starved to death. Fast-forward some years and I am still pursuing my own projects, but luckily, all the money I invested shooting my personal projects have led me to bigger clients, a better portfolio, and eventually being able to call photography my way of life.

A very expensive hobby image

This Is When It Gets Expensive

Being a professional photographer is not an easy thing to do. With the democratization of the arts, photographers have been emerging out of every college bedroom, rates have been lowered, and every industry list where your portfolio could be showed to creatives is way too pricey. Not only do you need to have better gear, a studio, post-production software and the “best" camera, you also need to spend money on printed promos, business cards, promotional materials, Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and many more places. These are basic expenses for every business you could say; the only problem is that creative industries are quite different. There are lists and platforms that promise they can send your work to creatives so they can see it. There are other consultants that will charge you thousands of dollars for advice on your portfolio, your workflow, what images to use, where to market, and how to sell yourself. There are entry fees to many contests worldwide, fees for databases like Agency Access, fees to be in a production paradise newsletter, and you are not even considering the amount of money you need to produce new personal work and collaborations that will keep you fresh and will keep the creatives interested in your work.

With all these in mind, what can we do to compete with other photographers that have the resources to pay for this and play the sport at a higher level? My only answer to this is nothing. The only way you can play this sport if you don’t have money is to do the best work possible. If you do great work, people will talk about it and share it, your marketing will be done by others, creatives will find your work more easily, and eventually, you will be hired for more projects. My advice for you: invest most of the money you make in your business and do your homework so you can shoot great work. The combination of both along with patience and good networking will make it all happen.

Log in or register to post comments

26 Comments

Michael Jin's picture

"Most of you might be saying: "you're nuts! Haven’t you been sailing? Luxury car driving? Golfing all over the place?" And luckily, I have, and let me tell you, photography is the most expensive sport I have ever practiced."

Still cheaper than audio engineering from my experience. :)

Like all hobbies, though. It's only as expensive as you want it to be.

Leigh Miller's picture

Yep...even a Jetski costs an arm and a leg...before you even get to insurance, maintenance and storage in the Winter!

This is brilliant! One of the differences is that people will be able to see a better photo and not necessarily hear the difference between KRK and Adam :)

Michael Jin's picture

This is true... Differences in audio can be so subtle that the arguments (and prices) surrounding it get pretty stupid. Doesn't mean that I don't have an API Channel Strip on my wishlist, though... LOL!

Right there with you!

Leigh Miller's picture

This entire article is sad. The last paragraph gave me the most giggles. I paid for two houses, a number of cars and padded a retirement account on the back of two cameras and two lenses. Everything else was gravy...no idea where or what kind of photography you practice but I spend more on travelling than I ever have on gear. Thanks for writing/publishing it though...everyone is entitled to an opinion.

Is it April 1ist or something...

JetCity Ninja's picture

spending more money just increases your odds of taking a great photo. otherwise, you can still take great photos, though you may miss a few more opportunities here and there.

but no matter how much you spend, you will always miss opportunities, unless every shot you take is choreographed.

user-189304's picture

Rubbish. It's expensive because you choose to make it expensive. You can buy something like a Nikon D90 with lens for bugger all. For that matter, there is no reason you cannot shoot on a mobile device.

Now, if your professional practice demands hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear, that's fine, but then we are no longer talking about a hobby or a "sport".

As to your assertion that photography is more expensive than sailing (any half-way decent boat is going to start at over $100k, and then we have mooring and maintenance and gear) or motor racing is questionable.

Karl Johnston's picture

I don't buy any of this.. sorry

You and I clearly have a different opinion on what is considered a sport.

ryan christensen's picture

The internet is a tough place...

“Most of you might be saying: "you're nuts! Haven’t you been sailing? Luxury car driving? Golfing all over the place?" And luckily, I have“ - If he’s telling the truth he must be a millionaire, so why is he’s still taking pictures, writing poor articles on the internet and bitching about the photography business?

Aldo Chacon's picture

For everyone out there that needs some clarification on the article or maybe isn’t a professional photographer and thinks that this article is only about expensive gear:

- You can always be resourceful and shoot projects with whatever you have in hand, I shot with a canon 5D MkII, and one of the first old Sony’s and a simple canon flash for over 5 years without needing to shoot with the most expensive gear. Ive shot projects for years that costed me no money, it is all about creativity, but that dosen’t mean your time has no price, or the work you put into it is valued at $0. Remember while you are out there shooting your personal projects nobody is paying for your bills.
- If you have ever worked on a commercial/professional photoshoot you would know the costs of producing one of these projects which can be more than 100K.
- If you only want to shoot street photography or simple setup portraits it will never get too expensive, just get a camera, normal lenses and a bounce board, or a simple flash, and I bet you can produce cool images, Ive seen great work that costs no money, but then again what is the new perspective you are bringing to the game? What happens when you want to create an image that needs more lights? Needs you to travel to document a project? Needs you to not work for 2 weeks while pursuing a story for people that are photojournalists? what about makeup? models? Assistants? production? Styling? Art direction? Props? Editing? Are you assuming all is for free? Are you a photographer that doesn’t like paying their team?
- If you are a professional photographer working and competing at the highest levels in the industry you would know how much advertising costs to get your work out there . Anyone has evaluated the costs of having a professional website? Social Media ads? Anyone sending printed promos? Anyone buying all these databases like agency access to get information about where to send our work or who could be a good lead? Anyone submitting work to photography competitions? Anyone submitting work to magazines that won’t pay for publishing your work? Or yet again is this all for free?

I am just like all of you a photographer trying to produce great work, and trying to put things in perspective and making the photo industry a better one, I am open to debate and hearing thoughts and ideas.

user-189304's picture

Sure, I'll bite.

So, your assertion (upon your clarification here) is that photography is the most expensive profession. And I will assume that you are near the top of your field. And as you have stated, you are buying all your gear, and properly paying all your support staff.

So, let's run with the like for like, and look at the cost to the people who are financing these "sports" at a professional level:

Cycling: "When a well-funded team arrives on the scene and offers top talent $5-$6 million per year, lesser stars begin to estimate their own value at a $2-$3 million per year, and on and on down the talent ladder." Then bicycles and backup bicycles. Spare wheels, mechanics, cars, drivers, team vehicles where massage is done, etc.

"The Cannondale-Drapac team ... has a $15 million budget, once a king’s ransom in professional cycling, is simply no longer competitive amongst the big-budget teams."

Yachting: "These are the 100-foot monsters that chew money like a shredding machine. It costs $100,000, for example, just to replace a mainsail. A super maxi such as the Oatley family's Wild Oats XI costs about $1 million a year simply to own, and that doesn't count the cost of campaigning and crewing it." and "It would cost $25m to build a new boat."

Aldo Chacon's picture

Hey William! Never mentioned here this is the most expensive profession, but surely being an artist is expensive, and If you want to compare a photographer to a cyclist for example, then it could be the same; compare it to the cyclist as an individual before getting sponsorship from a brand. He has to pay for his training, his gear, his spare wheels, traveling, going to competitions, if he is not rich how is he affording all of these things? Maybe he has a part time or full time job, but then again he has to make time to practice the sport, which could be calling in sick, using vacation days and so on, that is costing money as well. Before getting the sponsors money someone has to finance his career am I wrong?

user-189304's picture

You reframed your stated premise from that of a "sport" to that of a "professional" who is paying for a team. In order to compare like for like, you have to compare the professional paying for a professional team and making use of professional equipment, to a professional paying for a professional team and making use of professional equipment. Conversely, it is necessary to compare amateur to amateur.

I would reflect that when I was cycling I spent tens of thousand of dollars on bicycles and related gear, and could easily have spent a lot more (which is in line with what you say above).

In any case, to compare professional with amateur is disingenuous.

Leigh Miller's picture

Nonsense.

I guarantee you that there are people out there who have made more money than you (and I) using an iPhone, Compact Camera or entry level camera with a kit lens while you waste your time talking/agonizing over gear.

You (and others of us professionals) missed the point..it's not about the gear, it's always been about the images. The gear lust thing...that's just for show...like a nice gal/guy in skimpy clothing. Doesn't change your life one bit, but nice to look at.

Aldo Chacon's picture

"For everyone out there that needs some clarification on the article or maybe isn’t a professional photographer and thinks that this article is only about expensive gear" This is not about gear...

Leigh Miller's picture

Maybe you should consider publishing a follow-up...then use it to explain just what "this" article was about. If everyone is taking it the way I did, while you meant it some other way..... you see?

Studio 403's picture

Great Post. I started shooting after seeing a therapist for 7 years. She said, “do something in art”. What? All these years in therapy, Now I must have been seeing a Voodoo Doctor. Well, she was right. Now 11 years ago I started. I so enjoy this craft. Rich man you say? Thats not me, but sure have spent a lot of money and time in the medium. So at at 72, creeping to 73 could not be more satisfied. So grateful and thankful the craft found me. Fstoppers is an excellent recourse for what I do.

Ákos Dián's picture

So let me disagree.
I used a Huawei P9 lite with Adobe lightroom app to shoot raw, and I get my first paid job with it. Since that I bought a Sony a6300, with a kit lens, (i bought because the small body and hove much money I had at the time for news-street style photography) and I did win a photography competition, with that combo (political activist photo competition). I am now $0 with the paid jobs and sold photographs. I believe in creative, and style is the way of improve, not the gear it self. The gear is jut a tool, a tool, which may close or open my creative box. And my box is open with this little sony. I'm not say some bullshit, like "I will be okay with this combo forever" but I will only buy a new gear when I REALY need to continue. Like now, I will buy a fast prime and a telephoto lenses. But I need those two, because of the types of jobs I do now. If you buy the "high end" you close your creativity, and use those tools. A high end photograper in my view, is relying in the gear too much, and not thinking about the shoot so much, the camera do the hevy work.

Aldo Chacon's picture

Hi Akos! I totally agree with that photography is not about the most expensive gear, and my article is not only about gear it is about the costs of practicing photography. I believe we can be resourceful and creative enough to shoot with the cheapest equipment and still get great images, what I refer to is the amount of time it takes you to build a career, put your name out there, the number of projects you have to do unpaid and so on, that is why I believe it is like a rich person's sport, because not everyone has the luxury to do all this without making money.

Jorge Andrés Miraglia's picture

Ha-ha!... try alpinism.

A very long piece that amounts to nonsense. But isn't that the point?

Photography isn't a sport

Carl Murray's picture

"Facebook ads, Instagram ads, and many mor places."

Spelling error for "more"