How Do Photographers Afford All Their Gear?
When you see a photographer open their camera bag to reveal multiple lenses, camera bodies, lens filters, and more, you might start to wonder how they afford it all. There’s no denying that getting into photography is a big investment, but there are ways to make it more affordable. In this post, you’ll learn the different ways photographers can afford all their equipment and begin to build out their kit.
Photographers afford all their equipment by slowly accumulating it over time. Most will save for a piece of gear over several months, then make the purchase when they have the money. However, when photographers need gear that they cannot afford, renting equipment becomes the most realistic option.
If you’re like me and don’t have your pockets lined with hundred dollar bills, there are still ways to get the gear you need. Let’s break down 4 different ways photographers can afford the equipment, whether it be a professional or hobbyist shooter.
4 Ways Photographers Afford Camera Equipment
1. They Build Their Kit Slowly
The first way most photographers afford gear is by buying it over the course of several years (or even decades). When you see someone open their camera bag to reveal a heaping pile of equipment, they didn’t purchase it all at once. You only see the end result of years of saving and gear accumulation.
For example, my camera bag has roughly $8000+ worth of gear in it at any given moment. Do I have $8000 that I’m ready to spend right now? Well, not quite.
All the gear I own was purchased over the course of many years. A few hundred dollars once or twice a year doesn’t seem like as big a deal as dropping several thousand at once.
For professional photographers, they’ll save a certain percentage of their rate to put towards gear investment. For example, let’s use a wedding photographer who’s making $3000 total from a wedding package. If they put 5% aside for equipment, they have $150 ready for new gear.
Multiply that over several weddings, and suddenly you have a good chunk of change to reinvest in your equipment.
For hobbyists, the story is a little bit different. Perhaps they’ll work odd jobs to save money to purchase new equipment. Better yet, they might sell a few prints on the side to friends and family. Even if it’s a slight splurge, once you have a camera and lens, you’re ready to go.
When it comes time to get new gear, you can sell off your old equipment to help pay for the new. Although getting into photography from the ground floor can be a lot, it becomes more reasonable once you have gear to sell. Reselling and upgrading equipment is a very common way hobbyist photographers afford new camera gear.
2. They Rent
In some situations, it’s simply not feasible to buy a piece of equipment. Whether you won’t use it often or it’s way out of your price range, gear rentals are always an option.
When you rent gear, you can pay for a daily or weekly rental rate in exchange for a particular piece of equipment. Rather than spending $5000 on a fancy camera body, you can spend $250 and rent it for a week. Renting gear is very common among many professional photographers, especially if they need something in a pinch.
There are many ways you can rent camera equipment, but the easiest way is through a rental house. These companies can be found all over and work by giving you access to their huge inventory of gear. In most major cities, you can find a rental house with both photo and video equipment.
If you can’t find anywhere to rent, try asking your local camera shop if they offer rental options. In many cases, locally run camera shops will have their own rental program providing exchanged or used equipment.
3. They Borrow From Someone They Know
If you have friends in the photo or video world, they probably have a good inventory of camera gear themselves. If you know someone with a piece of gear that you need, ask them if you can borrow it.
I’ve done this many times myself and usually exchange some kind of favor in return. Maybe you help them with a project they’re working on, offer to let them borrow your gear, or simply buy them lunch. Whatever it is, it’s nice to offer something in return as a thank you.
4. They Purchase Gear With A Friend
In a situation where the piece of gear you need is way out of your price range, it’s possible to go in on it with a friend. By splitting up the price, you both get access to the equipment while paying a fraction of the price.
If you go about this, make sure you’re both on the same page about who gets to use it and when. If you both need it on the same day, make sure to discuss how to solve that issue.
Buying gear with someone is a great way to make a large purchase a little more affordable. If you know you’ll be using a piece of gear often and are tired of paying the rental fees; this is a great solution to think about.
How Much Do Photographers Spend On Equipment?
The average photographer has around $4000 in equipment between their computer, camera gear, and photo editing software. However, professional photographers are likely to spend far more than this after purchasing more specialized equipment such as strobes, additional lenses, hard drives, and more.
The amount each photographer owns varies widely. Since there’s no baseline for camera equipment requirements, it’s hard to say exactly what everyone owns. However, assuming the average camera and lens costs $1200, additional gear costs $1000 (camera bag, cards, tripod, etc.), a photo-editing computer costs $1500, plus photo editing software, you quickly get into the $4000 range.
If you add additional lenses, secondary camera bodies, hard drives, flashes, and all the other bits a photographer might need, the cost climbs even faster.
Since photography is a rather pricey endeavor, acquiring gear slowly or renting equipment is the most cost-effective way to afford the equipment.
What You Should Consider Before Buying Camera Gear
As tantalizing as new camera equipment can seem, there are few things to think about before you make a purchase. Unless you’re looking for an easy way to demolish your savings account, make sure you have very clear intentions with your gear.
1. Why Do YOU Need It?
It’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of new gear. Every year new cameras, lenses, and whatever else are released with game-changing upgrades that weren’t around before. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and spend more money on new gear. The trouble is that new gear doesn’t always provide the value it should.
Before you buy new equipment, be very clear about why you need it. Why do you need to spend this amount of money? Will this gear make your photos that much better? Will it give you more creative opportunities?
A good saying I’ve always gone by is that “it’s time to upgrade when you feel your gear is limiting you.” If your equipment doesn’t perform how you want in low light, isn’t reliable, or not performing the way you need, then that’s a clear sign it’s time to upgrade.
However, if you’re just caught up in the shiny object syndrome of new gear, then maybe it’s best to save the money. After all, you could spend your life savings on camera equipment and still not have everything you want.
There will always be something newer and better than what you have. What matters most is that you purchase camera gear that makes an impact on your work.
2. Will You Get A Positive Return On Investment?
Whether you’re shooting photos professionally or as a hobby, it’s important to consider what you’ll get out of investing in new equipment.
A positive return on investment means that the value you gain outweighs the cost of the item. If photography is your career, how will this piece of equipment help you make more money? For hobbyists, how will this gear improve your photos or make your life easier?
There are many ways to look at whether camera equipment will have a positive ROI or not. However, all that matters is that you gain more out of using the equipment than the monetary cost. Otherwise, you’re looking at a guaranteed waste of money.
3. Do You Have To Take Out A Loan To Afford This Equipment?
In the vast majority of situations, if you need to take out a loan to afford camera equipment, you probably shouldn’t be buying it. It’s never worth going into debt over a piece of gear. Especially if it doesn’t make the impacts you hoped it would; you’re just left with a less than ideal situation.
With that said, professional photographers may take out loans to purchase new equipment. The difference here is that they do so knowing they have a specific contract that will help pay for it. Nobody will take out a loan on gear just on a hope and a prayer that the equipment will recoup its value. With more of a guarantee of new money on its way, then a loan might make sense.
For most hobbyists or semi-professional photographers, this simply doesn’t make sense. More often than not, you can make do with the gear you own. If not, you can rent something better for a specific shoot. This is a much better option than going in the hole for something you can’t fully afford.
4. What Do Your Clients Need?
Before you splurge on new camera gear, think about what your clients actually need. If they need something that you can’t provide with the gear you own, then maybe it’s time to buy something new.
For example, if you get asked to shoot a video for a client after you’ve finished your photo contract, perhaps it’s time to consider a different camera. There are plenty out there that shoot amazing stills and video, so why not upgrade? If it’s the difference between landing a new job or not, it may be worthwhile.
At the end of the day, your client’s needs are what influence all your choices. Your goal as a photographer should be to provide the services they need in the best quality possible.
The majority of the time, people will be more than satisfied with the gear you already own. However, it’s important to think about your client’s needs as you look at purchasing new camera equipment.
5. Would It Be More Cost-Effective To Rent?
Let’s say you’re in a pinch and realize that you need that one piece of gear for a shoot. The problem is, you don’t own it. Should you just buy that item or rent it instead?
In some cases, there are pieces of gear you’ll suddenly need that prove useful long term. For example, a speedlight is always useful to have in your camera kit. Better yet, they aren’t very expensive. In this situation, it may be better to just purchase the speedlight.
On the flip side, let’s say you need a macro lens for a certain project you’re working on. You’ve never had much of an interest in macro photography and don’t see much further use out of the lens. Looking at the price, it’s near $1000, and you start to get sweaty palms dropping so much money on something you’ll hardly use.
Since you wouldn’t get long-term use out of that lens, it’d make a lot more sense to rent. That way, you still get the gear you need without shelling out a lot of money.
As a photographer, you’ll face this situation constantly throughout your career. Remember to consider the pros and cons of purchasing versus renting, so you don’t spend more money than you need.
So now you can see, you don’t have to be rich to get started in photography. Photographers can afford their equipment in a variety of ways, whether they’re pro-level or casual. Although there’s no denying that photography gear is expensive, there is always a way to lessen the blow to your bank account.