Spiraling costs are hitting photographers hard. Here are more ways to save money and do photography on a shoestring.
I get occasional messages from readers. Most of them are kind and complimentary, and one article generated several nice emails. Back in May, I wrote a relatively popular piece about photographers saving money. Photographers are still being hit hard by the effects of the war in Ukraine, the after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic, and here in the UK, the extra financial costs and restrictions placed on us after leaving the EU.
Fortunately, there are ways of reducing your expenses. Sometimes, that may mean abandoning what some believe to be the best options and seeking alternatives instead. Whether you are an established photographer or a beginner just dipping your toes into this fabulous art, there are ways to ease the costs and it is just a case of thinking of them as a different way of operating. Being different can bring uniqueness to your photography.
Let's face it; photography is not a cheap hobby or inexpensive business to run. Cameras are costly, as are their lenses. Ancillary equipment and software aren't always affordable either. However, there are ways of significantly reducing the costs.
Let me repudiate three common beliefs by reinforcing what I've said many times before. Firstly, years ago, top photographers used cameras that were the bee's knees back then but are now widely considered obsolete. Consequently, the second-hand camera market is flooded with inexpensive older cameras that can still take great photos.
Some may claim that any serious photographer needs the most up-to-date camera and that older cameras are no longer any good. They are wrong. Don't believe me? Go onto the photo hosting site Flickr, and type 2012 into the search box. Flickr was still popular back then. There are some stunning photos there taken with what would now be a 10-year-old camera. You can now buy those cameras for a song. B&H, and others have great deals on second-hand cameras. A quick Google search will give second-hand retailers elsewhere in the world.
Because these cameras are older, they have had more time to show their common faults. For example, the Canon 5D Marks I and II regularly shed their mirrors. Some of their other models have a propensity for showing error codes. Other brands have duff models too. So, do your research before buying. Also, check the shutter count on older cameras. Many are limited to under 100,000, which isn't a lot.
Next, search for photos taken using any smaller camera brand on Flickr, and you will again see great shots. You don't have to own a Canon, Sony, or Nikon; other brands can take great photos too. It's worth checking because they may be more affordable than the more common brands. Furthermore, if you seek a style that is individual to you, that takes a step closer if you don't use the same camera and lens as every other photographer. I'm not saying you shouldn't buy any particular brand. Just consider other options.
I repeatedly refute one false claim that you must have an expensive full-frame camera. They tend to be more expensive. Many of the cameras used to shoot those fabulous pictures you've just seen were taken using crop frame devices. You don't have to have a full-frame camera to get good photos. Like everything in photography, no matter which format you choose, there will be compromises.
Furthermore, I earn my living using crop sensor cameras. None of my clients complain, some of which are internationally known businesses. A fabulous wildlife photographer near me also uses the same system, and an award-winning wedding photographer I know does too. The same will also apply to the other formats; they can all take great pictures if held in the right hands.
Another way to save money is to play with legacy lenses. The look they give to a photo is utterly different from modern glass. Here in the UK, there is a phenomenon called the car boot sale. That's boot as in the British word for the trunk. People turn up with cars full of stuff they want to sell. I've found plenty of old cameras and lenses at them that I have bought for the equivalent of $5-10. Yard sales, flea markets, charity shops, and online auctions are all worth searching.
In my previous article, I pointed out that you don't have to use Lightroom and Photoshop. Still popular with students, many photographers cut their editing teeth using Gimp, which has a look and many tools similar in functionality to Photoshop. That often partners UFRaw for raw editing. Alternatively, if you have an older version of a photo editing program, such as one of the CS versions of Photoshop, you can download the free Adobe DNG Converter. That will change the raw files of your new camera into a format that can be read by earlier versions of the Adobe Camera Raw plugin.
Talking of plugins, some years back, the excellent NIK collection was bought by Google, and they made it available for free. They then stopped supporting the program, and it was snapped up by DXO, which now sells an updated version of it. However, the free suite, which included Silver Efex Pro, a personal favorite, is still available as a download from third-party sites. I've downloaded these from techspot.com and scanned the files with Norton, which showed no infections. This version is for Windows, and this one is for Mac.
There are plenty of free phone apps too. Snapseed is one of the most popular editing apps. Here it is for Android, and here it is for iPhones. Again, it was first developed by NIK and taken over by Google. They discontinued the desktop version and introduced the Android one. Both Lightroom (Android and iPhone) and ON1 (Android and iPhone) have free mobile apps too.
Also for both Android and iPhones, The Photographers Companion is particularly good, and ad-free versions are also available for a small fee. If you don't mind paying a few dollars more, then Photopills is great too. They both have an array of tools, including an ephemeris for calculating sun and moon directions, plus a depth of field calculator.
One tool I use a lot on my PC when planning a shoot is the desktop version of Google Earth Pro. It used to be a premium app, but now it's free. Like the ephemeris apps just mentioned, you can use it to see the direction of the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies in relation to any place in the world. I also use it to plan shoots by remotely exploring new locations, so I have an idea of what I am looking for before I get there.
There are ways you can operate that can save money. Fuel costs are even higher than when I first wrote about saving money back in May. You don't need to travel to take great photos. No matter where you live in the world, there are opportunities to photograph near you. Of course, if you live in Arizona, Wyoming, or any of the 25 other landlocked states in America, then you won't be able to shoot seascapes on your doorstep. Similarly, I cannot photograph deserts or towering mountains from h re. Wherever you are, you will have unique photographic subjects and backdrops. Unless you live just down the road from my home, what might seem commonplace to you will be exotic to me.
Most outdoor spaces have free access. I have run hundreds of photography workshops and have only had to pay for entry a handful of times at specialist locations.
Finally, if you want to learn about photography, then there is no better place to start than here on Fstopp rs. The writers scour the internet for exciting training and informational videos, and they write excellent original content as well. Much of it is entirely free, although there are some superb premium online training courses from top photographers that are worth the investment.
Do you have any tips to give people that will help them reduce their photography budget? Do you need to ask about other ways to cut your costs? Please let us know in the comments.
When I was teaching photography to middle school students, my syllabus started with this: "'I use the best, most expensive camera made.' Cameras don’t take photographs. People do."
This was from 2007-2012. I could not expect my students to go out and buy a dslr. Basic ones were over $1000. My students used film cameras. Many of them over 25 years old. Some of those students produced absolutely phenomenal, award-winning photographs.
There are very few of us who genuinely need the latest and greatest of anything. If older works for you, use it.
One of my photo professors gave me this advise regarding gear: "Buy the best gear you can afford and will use consistently." I've tried to follow that, and it has worked out for me just fine.
Professional Amateur Photographer
That is all so very true, Jim. Thank you.
These are great tips as to how to save a lot of money on photography gear.
Unfortunately, photography gear is only a smallish fraction of the expenses one incurs in doing photography.
For wildlife and nature photographers who have exhausted local opportunities, or simply grown tired and uninspired with what is close to their homes, travel expenses are about 10 times the cost of gear, on a yearly basis. Camping gear wears out quickly when used often, and has to be replaced regularly. Campsites are expensive. Gasoline and every other type of fuel is at all time highs. Hotels and other forms of lodging are also at all time record highs. Even AirB&Bs have soared exponentially in price over the past 12 months. Same with air travel and rental cars.
Compared to these things, cameras, lenses, and computer software is a tiny little drop in the bucket of a photographer's total expenses.