Photography can be an expensive pursuit, and the cost of things (and the pressure to buy them all, buy them new, and buy them now) can get in the way of putting that money in better places. It’s not my place to tell you what to do with your money, but I don’t want to suggest you consider investing it in ways that give you greater creative freedom and make you a better photographer than the usual push you might be getting to buy the latest and greatest, which I’ve found to be an endless pursuit.
Here are four recommendations I want to nudge you to consider, none of them particularly novel, but I thought it might just help to hear it from me.
1. Resist the upgrade cycles. I know, I know, New Camera MK VII just got released and it’s sexy and shiny but it won’t make your photographs any better. Not these days. Unless you really do need ISO 250,000 for the series you’re doing on deep-earth spelunking. And the second version of that lens that you loved only months ago? You don’t need it. Skip an upgrade cycle. Let others pay top dollar to fund the R&D on the newest and shiniest. In a year, it’ll be obsolesced by yet another development. Buy it then. Or don’t. You don’t need the pro bodies, the L-glass, or the red dot to be a “real” photographer.
2. Don’t buy at all. Not everyone gets to do this but if you’re combining your craft with commerce and you’re making even just part of your living with photography, don’t buy the fancy lens you need for the gig; rent it and bill it to the client.
Technology is a terrible place to put your money, and the less overhead you have in gear, the better. Put that $2000 into your registered retirement savings (RRSP/401K) instead. I know, it’s less sexy, but it’s the better move. You get to keep $2000, avoid the interest on the credit card you’d inevitably have to use to buy the lens in the first place, and you get a tax break. And if you’re not doing this professionally, renting can still save you money. As can borrowing. You don’t have to own it to enjoy it and test it out.
3. Still have to buy? Consider buying it used. Most of us are really precious about our gear and we want it to be perfect. But my gear, perfect as it often is when I buy it, no longer is. Now it’s just my dented up, scratched-up gear that still works for me day in and day out, and if it’s going to be a little dinged up (but still working perfectly) in a year, you might as well buy it pre-dinged and save the money.
There are some great ways to buy used gear, often at a fraction of the original cost. Consider your local camera store first; they often have customers trading in gently-used gear for new gear, and they’ll stand behind what they sell. The same applies to some of the giants of photography retail, like B&H in New York. KEH.com (also based in the US) is very reliable for both selling and buying.
4. Sell It. Finally, if it’s not being used, consider selling it. The longer you wait, the less your gear will be worth. And if it’s not being used, it could be traded in for something that you will use—something that you might otherwise spend more good money on. Unless you’re an actual collector, there is usually no value in keeping that gear around; most often, the value diminishes the longer you wait.
So let me wrap it up with one last plea: if you’re going to spend your money, spend it where it really matters.
- Spend it on opportunities to learn, to shoot more, and to travel (if that’s your thing).
- Take a workshop or rent a studio for a week and work on your project.
- Spend it on a printer or on getting prints made so you can finally hold your work in your hands.
- Spend it on books of great photographs and study them.
Be as intentional about your money as you are about your photographs and you’ll have more opportunities to make those photographs—and if you’re wise about where you spend it, you’ll become a stronger photographer at the same time.
For the Love of the Photograph,