When you’re a working photographer, the overhead costs can seem overwhelming. From renting studio space to purchasing the latest gear, the price of doing business can add up quickly. Luckily, in recent years, photography has become more affordable and more accessible. And thanks to social media, more artists are willing to share their insider secrets for not breaking the bank.
We asked a diverse set of photographers to let us in on some of their best tips for saving money, both short-term and long-term. While they all prioritise quality and high-end production value, they’ve picked up some invaluable insight on keeping their business practical and affordable. Read on to hear how they cut costs without cutting corners.
1. Buy gear second-hand
Mark Forbes is a street photographer based in Australia. Since he regularly shoots on film, he has to come up with creative ways to save. “Don’t feel the need to constantly upgrade to the latest camera,” he advises. “You will find that some of the best photographers are often not using the latest gear. Buying the model that has just been superseded or even the one before will often give you just as good performance with much less outlay.
“Buying good quality second-hand gear can save you lots. Especially when a new camera model is coming out and all of the other photographers are upgrading their gear—selling off their current equipment at a good discount. I almost always look at second-hand gear when upgrading.”
2. Shop vintage
The “second-hand rule” needn’t apply only to camera equipment. The Long Island-based photographer and retoucher Aakaash Bali is known for his atmospheric, cinematic images, so furniture and clothing are important elements in his work. “Vintage and thrift store shops are a great place to source out props,” he tells us.
“I’ve purchased many affordable lanterns, decorative pieces, dresses, as well as other vintage items to use at these. Chances are your town has a few stores to check out, and I highly suggest you do. There are also lots of affordable items on Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and even Craigslist. The key is to make a list of potential props for upcoming projects, then source them out in your free time.”
3. Rent equipment
Need a high-end camera or studio light for a specific job? Borrow it!
Renz Gonzaga is a lifestyle, fashion, travel, and wedding photographer based in Los Angeles. Before he expanded his own collection, he used to turn to friends and colleagues from time to time when he needed to borrow different lenses. “If they said yes, I would buy them lunch in return,” he says. “If not, there’s a local camera and lens rental near me that rents out lenses for a whole weekend for about $25-40.”
Renting equipment is also a wise decision if you’re not quite ready to commit to a camera platform. Try them all out and see what you like the most. Once you make the purchase, it’s best to stick to the platform you’ve chosen—otherwise, you could end up buying a whole new set of gear every time you need a new lens.
4. Share your studio
The New York City-based photographer Jordan Tiberio juggles personal projects as well as commissions from leading brands, so studio space is paramount.
“I shoot out of a daylight studio space, which I share with four other photographers,” she says. “We have a Google Calendar to schedule our individual shoot days. Sharing rent with a group of people definitely brings the monthly rent cost down, which helps in a big city.”
If you opt for a studio, team up with peers and split the bill. There are few professional relationships as valuable as those you build with fellow photographers.
5. Or skip the studio altogether
No studio, no problem. “When lit or staged correctly, a bedroom wall can substitute for a studio,” Alex Stoddard says. “Just string up a piece of fabric or tape a length of seamless paper to the ceiling. Otherwise, get outdoors into the park or wilderness. The most beautiful backdrops you can find are free.”
As an alternative, several of the photographers we interviewed recommend rental services like Peerspace or Airbnb. The first will let you rent by the hour, while the latter will give you a whole day. Take advantage of these websites anytime you have a specific type of location in mind. Then use the space for however long you need without making a full-time commitment.
6. Collaborate with models
To foster a long-term working relationship with models, you have to offer them something valuable. Make it a win-win: they give you some of their time, and in exchange, you give them stunning images to add to their portfolios.
Some of the photographers we spoke to find models through an agency, while others contact talent directly via social media. Regardless of where you look, take the time to select your models carefully. They will end up playing a crucial part in the creative process.
Tarek Mawad, a photographer, filmmaker, and 3D artist based in Germany, always takes a collaborative approach to working with models. “When I search for models, I love to shoot with people who are interested in creating new things,” he tells us. “It becomes a kind of teamwork instead of me being ‘the photographer’ and her being ‘a model.’ That connection is always key.”
7. Do it yourself
Easy, homemade solutions can also help cut costs. Unique backgrounds are fun to make at home or in the studio, and you can use fabrics or even a shower curtain in place of a diffuser. If you really want to get creative, you can even build your own softbox or other lighting equipment.
Anatoli Ulyanov is a photographer, filmmaker, and writer living in Los Angeles. He believes that being frugal can actually inspire you to get more creative. “Limitations are muses,” he tells us. “There will always be better cameras and lenses out there. What matters, though, is that you keep going, using whatever equipment you have at the moment. There are no ‘better’ tools. Every tool is a brush. Paint with the one you have before you get another one.”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.