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:
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.