Credit Where Credit is Due. Or Not.

In Freelance and Business, GEAR, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, VisionMongers by David99 Comments

GEARGOLD

I got this email yesterday, and I’m quoting it here in full with only a few edits to protect the identity of the one who sent it:

Dear David,

What do you know and think about stock photography, and which stock photography company would you recommend using? Really any information you have about stock photography will help.

I’m seriously thinking about taking out a loan and upgrading from my Canon 30D to a Canon 5D II, and adding a few L series lenses (the 30D isn’t meeting my expectations any more). But before I do, I want to ask you and a few others to reassure my wife that it will help support us.

Sincerely – Taking Stock, Podunk, WA

So. You know I’m about to launch into a sermon, don’t you? This week we’re talking about issues relevant to the VisionMongers out there. Today’s your pep talk about money, specifically debt. Here is a much-expanded version of my reply.

Dear Taking Stock,

First of all, it’s quite a coincidence but my buddy Gavin Gough is writing an eBook right now called Taking Stock, Vol I and it’s about this very thing. It’ll be released, along with Vol.02 under the Craft&Vision banner and I’ll announce it loud and clear when it’s out. And there’s a little bit about stock in VisionMongers itself. So, let me address the two very separate issues you’ve asked about.

One. Stock. I make a few thousand every now and then on stock. I don’t pursue it and I think those that do need to treat it very specifically as its own market. You need to study it, shoot specifically for it, and spend as much time maintaining your relationships with the clients as any other vocational photographer. If you want to make good money at it, you need think of it like a job and work at it; it is not a hobby.

Two. Loans. This is one I get really fired up about. Don’t do it. Don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do it.

Yes, there is a time and a place for loans and leasing. When you are buying a proven asset – something that will make you money – then a loan is sometimes a good idea. When you are buying a liability, it is not usually a good idea. In your case, the camera and new lenses might be either. Only you can answer that. But I doubt you can answer it from where you sit right now. You’re gambling. You have a camera. You aren’t currently making money in stock. If you’re looking for a confederate to gang up on your wife, I’m the wrong guy. Listen to your wife.

I’ve been there. I know the allure of the gear and the siren-call of newer, shinier, and better. I know the way that little gear gremlin whispers in your ear, saying things like, “if you had that new camera you’d make more money.” Bologna. If you aren’t making money with the 30D or D90, then you aren’t going to magically make money when the new camera arrives. What you need to do is go out and make a pile of money with the images you have now, or go shoot new images and sell them, but the new camera is very unlikely to help. If you can’t afford to pay for the new camera and lenses with cash, you simply can’t afford them.

The single best way to begin and operate a photography business is in the black. I’ve gone bankrupt. I have friends that have gone bankrupt. It’s a product of this heady cocktail of impatience (I need it now!), delusion (it’ll help me make more money!), and greed (Shiny! My preciousssssss!)- don’t, for the love of Diane Arbus, do it! Yes, a loan can be a good idea. But when it is, you won’t need to convince your wife, the numbers will do that for you. Very, very rarely is gear the asset we believe it to be. It breaks, go obsolete, and is seldom the thing that sells a client on hiring you or buying your images. And when it is, you can rent.

If you want to get serious about this, and be able to live and create without the added pressure of the overhead that servicing debt creates, then kick that gear gremlin to the curb, tighten your belt financially, and buy that new gear when the old stuff is making you enough money that it’s not a gamble or a hope but a necessity. And for the love of all things good, don’t use a credit card. I have a credit card with a ludicrously high limit, and the only time I use it is when I can use it like cash – I make the purchase and IMMEDIATELY go online and pay it down. I get airmiles and purchase protection, but I pay no interest. If you must take a loan, take a low, low interest loan. Take it from one who’s been there.

Can I get an Amen? There’s a lot of us out there, many of you even more savy about finances than I am – if you want to echo this please add your voices. Sometimes people need to hear the same thing over and over again before it sinks in. Your life, your family, your marriage, your business – none of these need the stress of debt.

Comments

  1. Amen!

    In case you think David is sitting on the fence on this one (he’s not, that’s just what passes for humour where I come from), let me make it crystal clear:

    DON’T DO IT!

    DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.

    Having said that, on the other hand, for the sake of balance…

    PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ANSEL ADAMS, DON’T DO IT!

    OK, I think that’s nailed it.

    🙂

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  3. AMEN
    You can get a better deal by paying cash – often a healthy discount that more than offset any interest you would have to pay.

    David and Gavin are spot on. Its a tough message, but never start a business on the never never. I can’t tell you how many business I have been called in to help turn around where it all started like this.

    I’d hate for you to be one of them!

  4. I fully agree. While I’m not a “professional” photographer, I am friends with more then a few.

    None of them take “professional” quality photos because of the equipment they use. It isn’t because they have a shiny latest-model camera, flash, or whatever wizbang you think you need.

    They take professional quality photos because they have a “professional” eye and know what they doing to not only frame and capture the photo but also to process it and make it look good according to their vision and what their client needs.

    I have two friends, who are “getting into” photography as a profession. Both of them have sold thousands and thousands of dollars worth of their photos with nothing more then a 5 year old camera they purchased second-hand. They learned their craft on these cameras and can produce very high quality photos. Only now, after they have proven they can actually make and sustain a living (even with their old gear) are they looking at possibly upgrading to newer equipment.

    If you think a newer, better, shinier, camera is going to make you a better photographer.. I believe you are mistaken and/or self-delusional.

    This goes for just about any industry, in fact. Think a fancier car will get you more sales? Sure, maybe. But it isn’t necessary and the risk of destroying yourself and your family for the latest/greatest is much higher risk then just learning how to sell better with what you have.

    Think a faster computer with a bigger screen is going to let you program better? I doubt it. Will it let you design websites faster? Maybe a little. Will it let you do your video editing more efficiently? Sure… but is it worth the two or three or four grand, when waiting an extra 5 seconds for whatever program to load is MUCH less costly and certainly lower risk?

    As David seems to always say.. “Gear is good, but Vision is better.”

    When you have maxed out your Vision and can’t go any further… then.. and only then.. is it time to start thinking about more/better gear. (Notice I said to start thinking, and not start buying.)

    My 2 cents. 🙂

  5. Another amen here!

    When I first decided to upgrade from my old camera – a Canon 400D that had taken me as far as it could – I was aiming to get a 5D (the original one). So I started saving.

    About 6 months into saving, the rumours of a 5D Mk II started circulating and were eventually confirmed. So whilst I did think about getting a cheap 5D (original) as everyone upgraded I decided it was worth saving a bit more and going for the newer one. So I continue saving.

    Due to other things I was spending money on – trips overseas mainly! – it took me over two years to finally get enough cash together to get the 5D Mk II. But that made the final purchase so much better. It was mine and I didn’t owe a bank a cent of it.

    In truth, it would have been easy to charge it on one of my credit cards and buy it far sooner, but I think saving over all those months helped me confirm that yes, I really did want that camera and it wasn’t just an impulse buy.

  6. You’ll never convince me that better gear makes better pictures. Better gear sometimes allows you to get shots that you can’t without it – like low light and fast action. All lenses are sharp at f/8, even the $100 ones.

    I recently upgraded my camera after reading Within The Frame. I credit that book with convincing me that it was worth it. What did I do? I sold my Canon D60 bought second-hand almost five years ago for $150 and paid $250 for a Canon 20D. What!?!? A 20D?!?!? It’s an ancient dinosaur, right? That’s what the latest-and-greatest DSLR will be in just a few years, when you’ll have to take out another loan for what will then be the latest-and-greatest. Within The Frame includes at least one picture taken with the 20D and I looked at it and said, “If a 20D is good enough to be published in a book, it’s good enough for me.” In another four years, I’ll probably upgrade again, to something that is current now. And I’ll pay about 1/6th the price for it.

    If you are a really good photographer and you’re serious about making money now, here’s the radical, better idea: Buy a Canon EOS 1 used for about $250, take those pictures you’re going to sell to stock agencies with film (Velvia is an excellent choice) and pay the $20-$30 to have it developed and by NorthCoastPhoto or some other premium developer. The cost of film and development will probably be well under what you’ll pay in interest for that DSLR and you’ll get more megapixels, and your clients will never know the difference. And while you’re doing it, if you want, save up for that dream DSLR.

    Cash. Cash. Cash. It’s the only way to make money. Credit is a sure path to poverty.

  7. Amen.

    Finances aside, there’s no reason why you can’t make great stock photos with a 30D (or similar). If you feel that the gear is the reason your not making the images you want, then chances are it’s you!

    You can always test the theory… rent some of the gear your thinking of buying for a short period of time. put it through its paces. At the end of the rental period look at the images you’ve created and ask yourself, honestly, could the same be achieved with the gear set you have?

    YOU DON’T NEED A 5D MKII. YOU DON’T NEED A LOAN!

    You do need to use the gear you have to make images and try to generate revenue from that.

    As photographers I believe we’ve all been in the same boat. I know I have. Great advice David.

  8. I also briefly entertained the idea of buying new gear with a loan but what brought me down to earth was this.

    Go to flickr and do a camera search for something like an EOS 400D.

    When you see the fantastic photos folks are producing with these cameras you realise it’s not about the equipment.

  9. It’s such a tough one though…new gear is so seductive!

    I’ve been shooting on a Canon 400D for the past couple of years, with one L series lens and a prime lens. The L series lens was my one big (necessary) investment, and yes, it made all the difference. However, much as I’d love a pro body, I truly get by without it.

    I’ve been wanting and wanting to upgrade, and add a shiny army of lenses to my undersized kit, but life’s been getting in the way, and I just haven’t had the cash. And you know what? I get by. Shoot in raw, think about your aperture, shutter speed and ISO carefully, and you will get shots of suitable technical quality for stock libraries. Whether they’re saleable or not…well that’s always going to be down to you no matter what you’re shooting on.

    The deal I’ve made with myself is that I don’t buy anything new until I have a job or project that justifies it. And so far, that’s working. My collection of gear is growing alongside and at the same pace as my budding business. Boring and sensible? Yes. But it helps me sleep at night.

  10. I agree, David. Amen! The thinking that new gear will make you money is rarely a valid argument. Most stock agencies that I’ve researched have a 12MP requirement. Beyond that, it’s all about the shot.

    The “stock market” has crashed, and if you think you’re going to hit it big by going into debt and being able to support your family by doing so, you’re simply wrong. Even experienced shooters aren’t JUST shooting stock any more. You need to have multiple revenue streams.

    Work your way up to that slowly. Shoot with what you’ve got, funnel your extra money into training and marketing yourself. The fancy gear can come later when you’ve established yourself.

  11. Amen, brother David! I like how labeled the voice inside our heads as the “little gear gremlin.” Gonna have to remember that one. I’ve also gone the loan route for several things in life and found it not my best choice. Even now I drive a clunker of car, held together in places with duct tape. Yet, it was paid off over 5 years ago and not having a car payment is comforting.

    I too feel the camera does not make the photograph but the photographers vision and eye. Nice sermon!

  12. AMEN, Brother.

    In my freelance career I was stupid. I bought new equipment using the “easy lease” plans offered by a major camera retailer. Bad bad bad bad idea. Having shiny new equipment does NOT mean you will get shiny new clients. Didn’t go bankrupt but came very close.

    Unless you are making a lot of money RIGHT NOW from selling stock — which is VERY difficult to do — keep your credit card in your wallet and keep shooting with your current cameras. Work with your local clients, find new ones, and earn the money for any future upgrades. And if you don’t have any local clients, what makes you think you can sell stock that will pay for a $10K loan?

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  14. David, why haven’t you been blogging and writing books several years ago? 🙂 I could really use you advice back then! I couldn’t agree more with what you say. I have made that mistake by upgrading my old DSLR equipment to shiny new toys (FF body, 2.8 lenses and also studio gear) the moment I started as a part-time photographer. But after two/three years of hard work, I had no extra clients. Recently I decided to go back to the basics, with only a small FF body and prime lenses. Everything else has been sold. With your advice on your blog, e-books and printed books, I hope to make a fresh new start!

  15. Imagine if you were the bank manager and someone asked you for a loan so they could buy a lottery ticket. Would you think it a wise investment?

    Sales from stock work is a bit like that – a completely random chance of your work being used, and the amount you recieve is probably likely to minimal. Not a sound buisness footing to start out on 🙁

  16. New gear lust – especially on credit – is like the sirens’ song. Follow it at your own peril.

    If you’re doing things right, you’ll be making money with what you currently have. And when it comes time to replace worn-out gear, you’ll have your own resources to manage it. Buying on credit is too big of a risk.

  17. Amen!
    Be thankful to God…

    Anyway… it’s also true that stock photography requires killing mega patience and perseverance… I also tried, and got all pictures rejected (except one), but the quality issues are not merely introduced by the camera. I’d classify like this:
    – craft
    – context (lightning, subject & so on)
    – lens
    – camera
    (somewhere between might be other studio equipment..)

  18. That email has to be a joke, right?

    No one in their right mind would send David an email talking about going into debt to buy a camera that they don’t need. And talk of L lenses… Nah…

    Come on. Own up. Who’s the joker? 🙂

  19. What David said. With one exception…

    Don’t pay your credit card “immediately” after you make the purchase. Pay it one or two days before it’s due. That way you get the benefit of the float for anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks (and you turn the tables on the credit card companies at the same time).

    But the main message is what David said.

  20. Another “Amen!!” from here.

    Personally I couldn’t care less about money. As Jaz Coleman once said “Money is not our God!”. At the same time, i’m not stupid and I won’t allow myself to be ripped off or taken advantage of. I’ll give stuff away if I feel like it, i’ll charge the earth if I think something’s worth it. The same goes for buying.

    Everything’s about balance, whether it’s life or money. I’ve been at the bottom, not declared bankrupt, but as clsoe to as possible where you get blacklisted for 7 years and nobody’ll touch you with a bargepole. It’s not a nice place to be but it teaches you what David says and that’s to pay cash for everything and if you can’t, then you can’t afford it.

    If you can’t afford the stuff now with a guaranteed income, you certainly won’t after buying it and giving up the day job. Sitting there scared to open your mail or dreading the sound of the phone ringing because you’ve already got half a dozen messages from companies asking for their money back is no fun at all.

    Materialism can quite literally be a killer so never let it rule your life, but at the same time, don’t give it the chance to by being reckless. Cash or nothing.

  21. amen!

    field of dreams is echoing in my head…’if you build it, they will come’. patience. it takes time.

    in the digital age, we’re all in an instantaneous state of mind. we’ve lost the appreciation for working ‘in the trenches’ and truly appreciating the path we’ve traveled. it’s true that some things happen overnight…but that’s rare.

    if you’re passionate and dedicated…..you’ll make it to your goal….whatever/wherever that may be. the path varies for everyone. in the end…success is relative.

  22. That definitely is a wise advice. I often get upset by letters from the bank, offering another credit, und you just have to look at it from their point of view: They are the real winners. You do just the sweating and toiling. And if they get you, they have you, all of you, all of your possession, all of your family’s possession. So don’t do it.

  23. At this point in the comment line, I’ll refrain from the “Amen” and just nod knowingly in your direction, David. We clearly agree and appreciate your sage advice on gear acquisition syndrome and all its inherent dangers.
    So, my comment is actually in reference to your allusion to Diane Arbus, as in “…don’t, for the love of Diane Arbus, do it!” Did you actually intend to mention Annie Leibovitz instead? Or, did Diane Arbus fall victim to bankruptcy and indebtedness, too?

  24. David, thank you for posting this. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    As the staff photographer at a creative agency I couldn’t agree more. We rented almost 100% of the gear we needed for client jobs until we were booking enough to make purchasing our own gear a sound financial investment. We owned some “hobbyist” gear that we had on hand but the client always covered the equipment rental cost in our bids for jobs, as it should be.

    Always remember the business part. And of course if you can’t get it done with the equipment you have then the newer, shinier stuff probably isn’t going to help.

  25. Author

    Hi Tobias – No, I actually meant Diane Arbus, though the reference to Annie Leibovitz is much, much funnier. “Don’t for the love of ________…” is just my way of being photographically relevant while avoiding blasphemy. I usually just pull a photographer’s name out of the air, but your suggestion is way better. 🙂

  26. Ok, Im stuck in the same predicament of the guy who wrote the letter to David. I have a 30D and an L series lens. Ive been trying to get into the stock game for several years.

    Every stock sight Ive tried has rejected my images due to “noise/grainy” images and “artifacting.” Those were all images taken at ISO 100 in excellent light.

    In this case, where does the problem sit… with the photographer, or the camera?

  27. Great advice David. I’m a young guy trying to break into the wonderful world of photography. Transferring out of a perfectly stable learning environment to study photography at The School of Visual Arts full time. I’ve already made the mistake of getting myself into debt (though not as severe as many others). But I’m pulling myself out! And this just reassured me that I DON’T need the shiniest new toy to take better photos. Thanks!

  28. Another Amen for the chorus. For me, having lived life as an expat for close on a decade, credit cards and the like are much harder to get than they are for the average person and I’m definitely better off financially because of it.

    As for gear, my stock shots from a few years ago shot with a 20D still sell just as often as my recent stuff with newer cameras.

  29. If you can’t pay cash, then you can’t afford it. If you don’t have enough turnover to pay for it as a business expense, don’t buy it. Listen to your wife.

    If you need it, rent it. People need to spend less on gear and more on improving themselves.

  30. I couldn’t agree more, with David and everyone else who’s commented so far. You can buy all the snappy new gear you want and go into debt up to your eyeballs, but you can’t buy a better eye.

  31. I hate debt. And you should hate it too. I am building a house with my wife, and everybody said we were crazy not to get a loan from the bank when we begun. Well it takes a lot more time this way, but I can sleep at night, and the house is taking shape and I don’t owe a cent to no bank. It’s just a way I think of loans. I don’t want to be chained to some bank for 30 years and risk losing it all because something unpredicted happens and I can’t pay the rates.

    And I’ve done this “new and shiny camera” once, and never gonna do it again. I had a Panasonic Lumix, and my photos were crap. So the gremlin said “You need a DSLR so your photos would improve.” So I sold the Pana and I bought a 350D (with cash). Surprise. No better photos. That was when I understood that it’s not about the camera, it’s about the vision, style, knowledge and practice.

  32. Okay, I think the guy might get the message.

    I’m currently fighting the gear gremlin voice. I’m happy to say that I’m over halfway to saving for my next camera, not cause I think it will make me better but because I think I can succesfully explore some scenarios where I currently feel limited.

    Regardless, I too have fallen victim to the credit card but I’m doing my best to keep it “offline” with this one.

  33. Amen! I’ve been there with the credit card purchase for gear stint. It’s not fun to have every red cent going to the credit card company instead of into things like holidays or lenses. Learned my lesson and saving the $$ for the next purchase…more rewarding in the end anyways!

  34. Amen. (sigh) Any thoughts on the how to kick the gear gremlin to the curb? (…the new quad-core iMacs just came out).

    Love the “Gear Gold” Visa, …will it be our wallpaper for the month? 🙂

  35. David is right, don’t think new gear is going to suddenly make your work more saleable. I’m shooting two Canon Mark II bodies and the lenses I purchased way back in 2004. Have a look at the URL below to see what they looked like as of April 2009

    http://www.karlgrobl.com/EquipmentReviews/ThrashedCanons.htm

    I just spent the last 4 months in Asia, working them every single day, so as I write this, they are 7 months older and even more thrashed.

    In today’s age of “newer, better technology every 3 months”, these 2004 cameras are dinosaurs but they are still capable of producing images that allow me to continue making a living in the vocation I love.

    Just for the record, I’ve got a bank account, specifically earmarked for stashing money away for the purchase of new gear. I’ve had enough in that account to go pay cash for new equipment for over a year, but I’ve been reluctant to pull the trigger and buy new stuff because the old Canons are still working fine.

    I’m not against owning the latest greatest gear, as there are many technological advances these days, like clean high ISO for example. But don’t go into debt thinking that the new technology will make you a better, more profitable photographer.

    Karl Grobl, photojournalist

  36. Amen! The gear giddiness will wear off about a month after getting the new Super Whamidyne camera, and then a newer, shinier, more-megapixel monster will be announced. It happened to me. I bought my D300 a month before the D700 was announced. I still have gear envy. But the truth is that my D300 is better than top-of-the-line pro gear from only a couple years ago. In plain English, my gear is better than what was available to any pro in 2005 (at least in Nikon World). When the old gear breaks or somehow limits your creativity, then (and only then) is it time to upgrade!

    (Part of the reason I’m writing this is to calm the gearhead in me down. It screams at me every time I lay an eye on a picture of a D3X.)

  37. Another Amen! A very wise man once said “Don’t let your yearnings exceed your earnings.” Easier said than done, but it will save much heartache.

  38. To taking stock,

    The less your overhead expense the better your chances of making it. Currently you have a good camera (check out Lawrence Kim – he still uses a 30d for weddings and his images are awesome) so if you don’t buy an new one you are ahead when you do your end of the year accounting.

    Also with any business there is a chance it will fail or succeed. What will you do if it doesn’t work for you and you have a brand new expensive camera? Rather than gear, invest in a good business plan that you are willing to follow through for at least a year. You can even put purchasing a new system down the road if you make x amount of money.

    Good luck!

  39. AHMEN, Brother David!

    I have never been in bankruptcy but I have been in serious debt. It sucks your soul and steals your freedom. Working a crappy job you hate because you have to pay bills is a horrible existence. One of my biggest regrets is buying a brand new truck in 1989 while making very little money. The next week, I found out that I was one of 40 people accepted to a graphics arts program from 340 applicants. I couldn’t go because of my debt. That fancy new truck(gear) proved to be a huge liability.

    Today I have a credit card that I pay off every month that I use it. I use it for more expensive items for the insurance and bonus dollars. One time, I had $300 charge reversed on my Visa for a service that I did not receive. If I had paid cash, the $300 would have been gone. I am unemployed now so I don’t use it at all because I won’t be able to pay off the balance at the end of the month.

    A word of advice that I had taken from my first Journeyman Pipe Fitter when I was an apprentice.

    He said, “Nothing(stuff) is worth anything after ten years. Boats, trucks, motorbikes… I had it all but after 10 years they are all worth nothing. The only thing that is worth something in ten years is property.”

    That lesson was learned by my own experience with my 1989 Ford. Now I drive a Chevy Cavalier that is paid off. Currently, my debt solely consists of my two properties which have gone up in value.

    David suggests reading The Wealthy Barber and Rich Daddy. I had read them a long time ago. I recommend them as well.

  40. @ comment number 28 by: Randy … It’s hard to say over the internet without seeing things for reference but have you read David’s previous post http://www.pixelatedimage.com/blog/2009/10/whats-with-the-iso/ ? With limited information i’m inclined to think that could be a part of the problem. It might not be the only problem, the gear could well be causing it, but certainly i’d have a read of the above before buying anything new.

  41. Pingback: Credit For Cameras | Taking Credit | Credit Cards, Credit Ratings, And Credit Resources

  42. Amen. Here’s a true life story. I had a project to shoot & needed a camera with higher mp. So I bought the 5D MKII. I paid cash, but it was a significant purchase with the money coming from areas it shouldn’t have.

    There is hardly a day go by that I don’t regret buying that camera. Why? I got a lemon and now have a highly dysfunctional, very expensive camera that I can’t afford to replace.

    Marketers are very good these days. They make us believe we need more megapixels and full size sensors. We don’t.

  43. Work what you have, don’t listen to the little green gremlin. DD is right! It’s either cash or nothing, forget the loan. It’ll just make you more miserable.

  44. I agree that going into debt is a bad way to run a business. And there is no doubt that making money doing stock work is going to be an uphill battle that is difficult to win.

    But I disagree about a better camera does not make you a better photographer. I made the jump to digital with a Nikon D100, which had such a small buffer I could have sketched the images in less time. I then got a job working as a boxing photographer. I missed more shots because of that camera. Nikon’s system at the time was terrible so I made the jump to Canon and bought a new 1D Mark II and some new glass. I did sell all of my Nikon gear and had a plan as to how I was going to pay off the camera and a time frame to do it in, which I did in less time.

    Because of the new gear, I was making more and better frames than my competition, and started to get more paying jobs because of my images.

    I would like to think that my camera is not the sole reason behind the increase in money, but I was missing knock outs and action because of old gear, so it has at least a part to play in my photography.

    Now camera technology has increase so that these issues are not like they used to be, but my point is that sometimes gear does make the difference. But you better have clear reason to buy, not just because it is cool and new. And an even better plan to pay off the gear.

    I also want to point out that certain companies are giving same as cash credit for 18-24 months. I bought my last camera and lens that way and paid it off in 6 months.

  45. Champagne dreams, beer budget….I think everyone’s advice is: enjoy the beer!

  46. Author

    Hey M.D. I’d make the argument, in your case, that the camera still didn’t make you a better photographer, it just allowed you to capture what slower, weaker gear could not. Of course that then allows you opportunities to grow in your craft that you might not otherwise, but were you not already a solid photographer you’d have the reverse problem of gear that couldn’t keep up with you and your specific shooting needs – you wouldn’t be able to keep up with it.

    All of this of course has exceptions and I’m not trying to be prescriptive, just trying to remind folks of the danger of debt and the illusion that a camera will make up for the shortcomings of the photographer where issues like vision and creativity are concerned.

    Nice to hear from you again, MD, it’s been a while! 🙂

  47. David,

    I fully agree with you about gear vs vision. I just hadn’t played devil’s advocate in so long, I was missing it.

    Good to be back, thanks for the blog, the great posts and the books. I need to pick them up and join you growing cult.

    Do you and McNally have a side bet on followers?

  48. I’m not a pro, but I do sell my work.
    I lusted for years to upgrade my Canon 350d to a 1d and add some much lusted after L lenses.
    Everyone told me I would get more work if I got better gear.
    I would not go into debt for it.
    I waited years, then got my inheritance early and bought the gear.
    Did it make me a better photographer? NO!
    I just don’t have to work quite so hard to get the results.
    All my money now goes on acquiring knowledge.
    I don’t have debt, but did have to move my mother in with us to get my inheritance.
    That’s another NO NO.
    Listening to my wife bitching about my mother every night makes me wish I’d kept the 350d.
    Work for it and save.
    Gear isn’t a magic wand.
    Gear is good, vision is better.

  49. Pretty high AOI (that’s “amen on investment”) on a post not about God but about money… and I’ll throw my amen in the mix especially since you did throw the love of Diane Arbus (and then Annie!) into the mix. 🙂

    Preach it! If revenue is the goal, it’s better to generate revenue THIS week and THIS month with tools one already has, and invest in better tools with the fruit of those efforts.

    Steve: great story. LOL (laughing but also lamenting out loud with you)

  50. Great post and some really valid thoughts. I would like to add a question/angle to the conversation: What about fun? A 35mm f/1.4 is, if you like shallow DOF, a lot of fun, but comes at a really steep price. f/2 gets close, and f/4 not so much . For me at least, its hard to not notice faster lenses and harder to ignore the gear gremlin…

    I’m definitely not a vocational photographer, which negates the whole use the incoming cash-flow to buy lenses angle.

    I know, I know quit my whining, but it is hard to ignore the “better lenses can make for better photos”, at least in the shallow depth of field world. 85mm @ f/5.6 will not be as pleasing a photo as the same at f/1.2 for example…

  51. Lots of great people here saying far more relevant things than I could contribute. I’ll add that buying the gear, even if you have the cash, has an associated opportunity cost.

    Sure, I had the money to buy that shiny new Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS because it would help my non-existent macro portfolio (fun shots wheee!), could be used for portraits (so does my 70-200 f/4 L – half the price) and, well… I just wanted it because it was the best.

    So yes I had the cash for it, but sadly I didn’t have the cash for when my washer and dryer broke the next month. So I had to put $2,200 against my line of credit; more than half of that would have been paid off if I didn’t have the lens. Have I used the lens as much as we’ve cleaned our clothes since then? In a family of four I think not.

    Or how about last year when I got that job that afforded my 24-70 f/2.8 L outright, with a few bucks in the bank after. That was pretty sweet, but then I had to move from Toronto to Ottawa, upgrade a new house, and welcome a new life into the fold – there are expenses not direclty associated with the cost of your equipment.

    Do I regret either of these purchases? No. Do I delude myself into thinking the debt I currently have is solely attributed to moving and upgrading and housewares? of course not. If you only have a set amount of money in your life, you’re not going to magically have more of it when you want or need something – you can stretch the amount with inccurred debt and interest – but that’s not the same thing. Don’t for a minute think that sustainability in photography is spending 100% of everything you make on gear; that’s not realistic.

    I’ve setup my own dream grid, that takes my current income amount through regular work and then adds to it the costs of all the shiny things I’m going to want. To live at my status quo, and still get cool stuff, I have to make MORE at photography than I do – because then I’ll have to get personal insurance, health insurance, pay taxes on that income that right now is taken up in small cash deals, upgrade my computer more often to be able to keep up with the MP and video requirements undoubtedly are coming our way. And figure out a way to pay for my second son due in a month or two…

    If I had paid for my washer/dryer with money made from photography? I’d be laughing.

    So think twice before buying the latest thing, or anything for that matter, don’t just have the cash to pay for it, but have it exclusively for it. What I mean to say is, there are other things in your life that money you can make from Stock photography, wedding photography, portraiture, or band-shoots, will benefit.

    I know a lot of people still making money off the 30D – I’m getting by (aside from what I mentioned above) on a 1DMKII that I picked up used. These are wonderful machines that will give up the goods as long as you use them. There’s going to be something new and better next year anyways, guaranteed – if you must buy a new camera, look to last years model, it’ll be half the price of what it was, still “better” than what you’ve got, and loans may not be necessary.

  52. You’ve got my Amen!

    I went into debt to buy equipment and start a part-time business. Out of necessity I closed down and sold off all the equipment, but was still left with the debt (Wow! Equipment depreciates fast).

    Now after several years (and paying off the debt) I cannot let go of my passion to photograph so I am SAVING for all the equipment I will need to get back into it. My wife won’t let me go into debt again to get equipment, and because I’ve had to acquire stuff slowly I haven’t paid full price for an item yet. I thank God for the wisdom of my wife everyday!

    Taking Stock – Listen to David and the host of other comments on this blog, you will be grateful you did.

    David – Thanks for the great posts and for your books. I picked up VisionMongers last week and it has been a great read. It will be instrumental in my getting back into photography the right way (without debt, etc.). I am looking forward to one day turning my passion into my vocation.

    Thanks again!

  53. Randy (comment no. 28): as Ian said, it’s hard to tell from the info you’ve provided, but I wonder if you’re also shooting JPEGs and not RAW? Or are you making JPEGs from RAW to send to the stock house? If so, your images may be exhibiting noise and artifacts from too much compression.

    At any rate, methinks that it’s something correctable without buying new gear.

  54. AMEN!!!

    Excellent post!

    The gear gremlin will only leave you cold. lonely, and in a heap of debt. Even if you do succumb to the urges and get that new camera and lens, the manufacturers are going to come out with something better in a month! Then where will you be? Likely in the same boat again. Then what? Are you going to continue to spend? At some point, you have to come to your senses and say “what I have IS enough”

  55. Stuart (comment no. 62):
    What do you recommend for me to do?
    my current work flow is to shoot in RAW, edit in Bridge/photoshop RAW editor, open as a smart object in Photoshop, then export to JPG. (thats what I was taught to do in design school)

  56. Probably best if we take this offline and out of David’s comments. You can email me at the Gmail (digitalstew).

  57. All through my working life, I scrimped and saved, often doing without (i.e., doing without stuff; not in any way doing without passion and joy). When I reached retirement at 62 twelve years ago, I found that I had more than enough. What’s more, much of the stuff that I might have bought at 40 didn’t have any magnetic attraction. When I was in my 20s, a very successful service station owner told me that the key to success in owning a service station was being a good business person. Lots of fabulous mechanics bought their stations and failed, and the reason they failed was always because they were not good business men. That applies to any vocational endeavor, whether it be a business or a church or a family. Good administration is not what is most important, but without it, one is in for a life of misery.

  58. Agreed David! But to a few commenters who said “Pay cash!” etc… You need to remember what David pointed out at the end of the post: Buying on credit card and paying down immediately gets you numerous benefits. In my case I get Airmiles, money ( Dividend cards ) and most importantly, purchase protection.

    I had one of my 40D bodies fail on me during a Wedding this summer, it was the shutter assembly, and it died 15 days after the 1 year warranty expired, after only 35000 actuations. Thankfully I had purchased it on a credit card and they doubled the manufacturers warranty and paid for the $300 repair.

  59. I am the proud owner of a 350D. Every time Canon puts out a new model I lust after it, but then I ask “will it take better photos?”. As I said I am the proud owner of a 350D.

  60. Mr. 30D owner: here are a few of mine on Flickr:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/roboresteen/sets/72157622590951232/

    1. Get a Zeiss 85 1.4 Planar or Canon 85 1.8. Problem solved. There are Zeiss 85’s for the Contax mount. Buy a “C/Y” adapter (Contax/Yashica) to EOS, $30.00. The lens can be had around $600-$800. Zeiss sells them new for Nikon, Canon, Sony for $1,100 ish…same lens, really.

    2. Pump up saturation either +2 or +3 (Thanks Ken Rockwell) in “Picture Styles”.

    3. Become familiar with exposure compensation +/-.

    4. Repeat, rinse…

    Truthfully, I would like a 5D but only if i can pay cash for it out of wedding profits. If I can’t make a buck with a 30D, I won’t make it with a FF camera. End of story.

    PS – I have a beautiful, soulful image of my niece that might hold it’s own against some big name shooters (you know, duChemins, McCurrys, Avedon’s…ok, maybe not duChemin!!) that was taken with an Olympus E-1 and kit lens. the light was pretty good (reflector) – I haven’t equaled that yet on my 30D yet. E-1 = 5 MP.

  61. CUT UP YOUR CREDIT CARD! I’ve not read it here yet, but check out Dave Ramsey. The only GOOD time to borrow money is to buy a house on a 15 year loan.

    I worked my butt off after my kids went to bed cleaning a bakery to save up for my 20D. Once I got my gear, I had a hugh learning curve but started trying to make the camera work for me. Most of the things my camera made money with were not the things my heart desired… However, now I own a 1Ds (original) FF, 1D Mark II, 50D, 70-200 2.8 L, 24-105 f/4 L, and a 50 1.4 ALL OF THEM PAID FOR.

    Now I shoot what I want.

    Remember this…

    Proverbs 22:7 — The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.

    I WILL NEVER BE A SLAVE AGAIN. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER.

    I do not have a credit card… I have traveled to London, Israel, Uganda, etc. all with a debit VISA card. I have Airline rewards and hotel rewards…

    Don’t fall for the lie. Work your A$$ off and don’t borrow from anyone or you will be a SLAVE.

    CHECK OUT DAVE RAMSEY FINANCIAL PEACE UNIVERSITY. It will change your life.

  62. Here’s a dirty little secret. When I started into photography, I bought a used Canon 350d. This is an eight year old camera but it does the job. When I could afford to, I bought another one as a backup…for $200 off ebay. Believe me, I want to upgrade my camera so badly but I can’t afford to right now. I’ve invested in lenses but I’m still using an “obsolete” camera. But my clients have no earthly idea about my camera. I’ve found that some of my clients have better cameras than I do. But I know my camera inside and out. I know its weaknesses & limits. I know what it can and can’t do. I own it.

  63. Nail. Hammer.. David you nailed it.

    “the only get rich program out there is to sell a get rich program to other folks who want to get rich”

  64. Dear Taking Stock,

    What the heck go for it. It will make you feel better. Order everything you WANT. Now!
    There feel better? I thought so.

  65. And the congregation said amen!

    Preach brother David! Preach!

    Why make the banks, and loan companies any richer?
    It’s the person behind the camera, not the camera.
    Listen to your “WIFE”

  66. I was able to upgrade my Nikon D80 to a D700 this summer. What I wasn’t able to do is afford new lenses. I lost my 18-200mm VR, which I’d only owned 2 months, and my 18-55mm when I switched to full frame.

    I’ve been shooting with only a 50mm f/1.8 and a cheap 70-300mm f/4-5.6 for over three months now. It’s really made me get creative and learn more about my camera. I would love to get a more versatile wide-angle lens again, but for now I just have to wait it out until I can afford it, which will probably be a loooooooooong time.

  67. And NEVER, EVER quit your day job!

    BTW – I just published my first book and the best shot hands down was from my G10, not my 5D2.

    GIGBVIB (google it)

  68. Another Amen!

    Please don’t get a loan or use a credit card for a gamble like this one. Yes, new gear is like crack to a photographer. But without cash from previous jobs (ie stress free purchase power) one is just burning cash to “see what happens” and it rarely works out.

    Today, I am in so much debt I can’t make a living from my art (paintings and photography). Had I read this advice just a few years ago I could be paying myself instead of the bank and credit card companies. Now…I may never realize what making a living from my art would be like. I can only pay the debt with the jobs I get.

    A real catch 22 – I still love the art and photography but now it is a “have to” and not a “want to” situation. The worst part is that ALL my profits go to making minimum payments and it is not getting any easier.

    The market is thick, and full of gear junkies. Get good at the craft and buy the gear junkies used equipment when they quit trying to be the Mr. or Mrs. Jones we are all trying to keep up with.

    – Mike

  69. I moved to America from the UK and my credit Score was non existent because I wasn’t on their radar. While annoying when trying to get a cell phone contract and a place to live, I was actually thankful because, and I was fresh out of University ready to ‘invest’ in the best equipment, it made me realize that it’s not gear. It’s vision. I then used what I had (digital Rebel and a Rebel SLR) to build up my technique, my vision, my style and only last year did I upgrade to a 5D mkII.

    In my business I set aside money from every job for taxes, for my take home pay. investments/retirement and then for my business. With the money for the business I start with marketing materials, and if there is a lens I need for a lot of jobs I will buy if needed – only when the money is available and from the account where I set money aside for business expenses. A good example is a Tilt-shift lens when it made sense financially to buy and not keep renting.

    I try to keep my overheads as low as possible and that’s why I do like renting on a job by job basis on certain gear.

    I feel much more confident living debt free and feel very lucky to be in that situation

  70. Great article, getting a new camera doesn’t make the money rain from the sky! Starting with a good solid business plan is the way to go.

  71. Bump. Pay cash. Trade in your used gear for better used gear. Be debt free and a heck of a lot happier, your photography will improve because of it. Really.

  72. Very wise words indeed. Thanks for the post on this. It is a great reminder always. Everyone (including myself) gets caught up on chasing the latest and the greatest sometimes. Now I’m finding myself shutting myself out (but still occasionally updating myself) about the new technologies and gear out there. This is so I don’t tempt myself in wanting the latest and greatest. When in actuality, I already have all the basic ingredients to produce great pictures.

  73. Pingback: Fight the “Gear Gremlins!” | Plante Photography

  74. WOW! 88 comments! It’s been a while since I checked out the blog and it’s readership has grown exponentially. Well, with good reason! :^)

    However, I was surprised that in 88 comments, no one has yet mentioned the magic word in the photo gear conundrum: “rent”!

    This is what the pros do.

    This is an excerpt of a reply to a friend who was shopping for a camera before a vacation overseas and asked my opinion about what dslr camera she should ‘invest’ in to start a business with it in the next few years…

    After a moment of reflecting bemusedly to myself that no one seems to have photography as a ‘hobby’ anymore; they are all determined to start a ‘business…I suggested the following:

    “I recommend that you find a good camera store that rents pro equipment and rent for at least the first year. This allows you to play with stuff until you discover what you really want to add to your collection. And also helps you to remember that you cannot ‘buy’ photographer, you must ‘become’ photographer. (Zen, eh? ;*) )

    Right now, buy the minimum camera that you can get with manual settings. Spend 300-500 dollars at the most or buy a used Canon Rebel on Craigslist or Ebay and then every weekend you can rent the bigger ‘pro’ bodies and glass and–here is the key: spend what you save NOT buying a BIG camera on the computer gear for processing (at least 50% of photography in a digital world), training classes to teach you to use the computer gear, as well as photography classes & workshops & books. Educate yourself experimentally by renting a wide variety of rental lenses and rental camera pro bodies. And then after a year or two of learning / renting you will know what gear you ‘really’ need and you will have experience with a much wider variety of equipment than if you were limited to just what you could afford to put a capital expense into.

    Bottom line: invest in the photographer rather than the photography equipment. That is the best way for your investment to appreciate in value. Or put another way: Spend less; Learn more. This is the balance that pays off the best.”

    I’ll also add that in doing pursuing this course you have the opportunity to establish a relationship with your local rental guys, who can be a very valuable educational asset in themselves and point you toward gear to try that you may never have uncovered on your own.

  75. Whoops! My apologies for skimming the comments too fast! I just noticed that Tony Eckersley and also Dave HAD briefly referenced renting in their business strategy. 🙂 Oh well, the advice deserves a repeat!

    Here are a couple of resources for those who feel that renting may not be an option for them because they don’t live near a pro rental counter. I’ve heard amazing things about the customer service at LensRental.com. To find other good places you might consult this comparison of 8 online lens rental providers http://photodoto.com/8-online-lens-rental-stores-compared/

    Happy Renting! :*)

  76. Well said.

    I have always strictly stuck with my “pay cash” mantra. After years of coping with a student loan, I vowed never to be in debt and pay interest for anything again.

    If I used my one credit card, it was usually for online purchases, for the points bonus and insurance coverage. I always made sure that I had the cash to cover the purchase amount and always paid it off completely.

    I was laid off back in March and my policy with avoiding credit and loans made that situation so much easier. I had no loans to worry about and enough savings to help me out while I look for a job. If I had a debt when this had happened, I would be in big trouble.

    Anyone looking for a graphic designer/photographer? 😉

  77. Although I agree with the fact that Debt is an absolute killer and an unwanted thief. There does come a time where what you have cannot support your need to grow. Before jumping into my statement, I need to say first, Every individual is different in their current status and those are taken into consideration.

    For me, my current kit with regards to the Body (Understanding it is not all about the Body but lens too) is a limiting factor for me to grow in my photography hobby and so have to look at an upgrade of some sort. I am not down playing the model I have, its just that its entry level status and spec is not fulfilling my broad scope of interests.

    My options have tied me down to two models, One which will work well for now (purchase will inlcude a pro zoom of some kind prob. 70-200 2.8), to later become a secondary or a bigger model which will work for the next five years. Whichever route I take my final layout will be the around the same in $$.

    First prize is to go for the all cash in once and for all, however my alternate is also to go the loan route. In my favour right now is that Photography is not my full time profession and do have a full time job in a completely different industry. Waying up the the repayments say over 18 months is well worth it when the new kit whichever option, will stick it out for the next 3-5 years.

    I am at this time also looking at the stick it out for 5-6 months putting the money aside to end up at the same position but with no debt.

    So, I do Amen this post but have to look at it from both sides.

    Regards,
    Gareth

    PS. My other plus is that I am single… :p

  78. I have a friend who has, on paper, inferior gear compared to mine. He shoots with a 20D and third party glass, myself, 40D and L glass. I would kill to create images as nice as his. I could go buy a 1DsMkIII tomorrow and it won’t make me any better a photographer.

    Save your pennies, buy one less latte a week, and pay cash.

    I’ve been the credit card, debt up to my eyeballs route. You’ll will possibly still be paying for the gear long after it’s gone. Trust me, it ain’t pretty.

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  80. I know this is and old post, but I’ve gotten by just fine without credit.

    I shot my first wedding with a Minolta 35mm – the very finest technology 1985 had to offer (except this was in 2007). Some of those shots are still on my favorites list. It ain’t the camera.

    A year or so later, I went digital, and spent $500 on a Nikon. Since that purchase, I haven’t bought a single bit of gear that wasn’t paid for by my photography. I made enough shooting weddings to upgrade the camera, pick up extra lenses, flashes, etc. Make the money, THEN spend it.

  81. Amen brother, Amen!

    You make me feel a bit better about the decision that I had to make the other day about going there. Going where? Going there, that’s where!

    Been managing things OK for some while, when suddenly had the rug pulled from under me.

    I should have listened to a sage photographer from Australia years ago who spoke to me about the risks of investing yourself in the business of another (that’s another story for another time, but thank David A. Williams for that conversation.)

    So in short buy it when you can pay cash for it.

    Also don’t shoot stock for the sake of shooting stock. Shoot for your personal vision, and if you can sell it as stock, then fine do so. Other wise shooting stock for the sake of shooting stock will make you stock if you know what I mean.

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