We all know how expensive being a photographer can be and while there are some no-go areas for cutting costs, there are still several huge savings to be had if you look in the right places and change a few habits.
Last week, I sent photographers bank balances spiraling into the red when I wrote about the items you should always pay full price for. This week, I hope to rebalance things by talking about how to save a small fortune by shopping a bit smarter and substituting a few key items. So without any further ado, here are several areas well worth looking at to save you somewhere in the region of $15,867 to $83,900.
1. Camera Bags
Who doesn't love a good camera bag? The problem is that dedicated ones can be rather pricey and they are most definitely not all made equal. If that wasn't enough, most camera bags look, well, like camera bags and personally I'd rather not look like every other photographer. This isn't just about individuality or style either. Many camera bags broadcast to would-be thieves that the contents inside are worth stealing. If you travel a lot or shoot in questionable areas then the choice of bag you use could make a big difference. For all these reasons, I would rather get a non-photography related bag. The good news is you can get quality, affordability, and something that doesn't look like it has cameras inside by looking at military bags instead.
By shifting your sights to bags made for the army you can find some really good alternatives. Let's face it, if they were built for combat then they sure as hell should be fine for your cameras. I personally own a used army rucksack which is 100% waterproof and as rugged as they come. All the zips and straps still work perfectly and this $30 purchase has been going strong for the last 15 years and I doubt I'll need to replace it anytime soon. I'm not sure you could say the same for many camera bags of the same age. For those who still want dedicated camera compartments then the addition of a camera bag insert can solve give you the best of all worlds and still leave you with money in your pocket.
From $50 to $150
2. Hard Cases
Carrying on with the theme of camera storage, the hard carry case is somewhere you can also make huge savings. These kinds of rugged cases are not made exclusively by one company anymore and nowadays can be found in various incarnations for use in places other than the photo industry. The point to note here is that the prices vary wildly depending on which particular industry you are looking at. I bought a wheeled hard carry case which is incredibly similar to the popular Pelican Air 1531 for a fraction of the price as it was sold as a toolbox. While I have no idea if my case would survive being dropped in the ocean, it has never failed me over the last 3 years of use and having used real Pelican cases in the past I struggle to see any major differences between them except the price.
From $150 to $200
3. Equipment Cart Trolley
Some sort of trolley is a must for photographers with lots of gear who work on location quite often. Not only will these carts stop you breaking too much of a sweat while transporting all your equipment, but the truck itself can be used as a handy platform for things like your laptop and spare lenses during the shoot itself. Most of the trolleys fold down conveniently and come in various shapes and sizes. The real problem with the "official" photography ones is the price. Expect to pay anywhere from $400 right up to $1500 and beyond. Personally, I could never justify the spend so looked around to see what else was out there. Thankfully for us, the construction industry uses similar trucks and don't cost nearly as much. Quite often they will be described as hand, log, or even sack trucks although they can be found under a few different names. You also don't need to worry if they will be capable of carrying the weight of all your gear as they are designed to bear heavy loads such as concrete slabs etc. I'd actually be more confident with a truck made for the construction industry than any that were specially built for photographers.
From $200 to $1300
4. Grips, Clips, and Clamps
It doesn't matter what kind of photographer you are there will be occasions when you will need to hold something in place with the help of a clamp of some sort. Clipping clothes, clamping backgrounds in place, or using clips to keep your cables tidy are just a few of their uses while on a shoot. Due to their versatility, a wide selection of sizes is well worth having in your kit bag so you are prepared for all eventualities. I must own at least 50 in several different colors and sizes which can soon add up if pay the $2 to $4 that some camera stores charge individually. Instead, it's best to hit the hardware store again and search for "spring clamp sets" to see what offers can be had. A quick look at Walmart brought back a set of 30 mini spring clamps for a very reasonable $7.99. These smaller ones are perfect for clipping clothes or gels in place. I often see these clamps in varying sizes at the dollar store so it's always worth paying them a visit too.
From $50 to $100
5. Apple Computers
Many creatives prefer to use the Apple operating system so if the art directors, retouchers, and assistants you work with are using Apple, then it makes sense that us photographers are too. I don't need to tell you that Apple products are expensive and quite often there are better alternatives that are more powerful and cost much less. Wouldn't it be great if you could have all the convenience that comes with using Apple computers with the price points and updatability of a PC? The good news, for now, is that with some technical know-how you can if you know how to Hackintosh. In a nutshell, "Hackingtoshing" is installing the Apple operating system on a compatible PC laptop or desktop but be warned the process exists in a legal gray area as Apple doesn't technically authorize such uses of its software. I won't go into much detail here as this article explains the whole concept much better than I can. The main point I wanted to make is that with some work you really can have your cake and eat it when it comes to getting the best of both computing worlds. I have used Hackintosh laptops over the years and they can work as good if not better than the real thing. You are going to need some computer know-how but the process isn't too involved and there is a huge community of people out there to help.
From $900 to $3000
6. Gray Cards and ColorCheckers
Ensuring accurate color balance is important for photographers and by using something like a gray card or ColorChecker you remove all the guesswork out of what the colors in your pictures should be like. If you've worked in any professional studio you will often see the popular ColorChecker being used as it is somewhat of an industry standard. Unless you are taking advantage of the full ColorChecker calibration which reads the many squares of color on the card, then you can easily get accurate colors with any piece of medium gray card. You would be surprised by how many photographers I see that only use the medium gray square of the expensive version. Save yourself $40 to $80 and get yourself a cheap one for ten bucks instead. For the vast majority of photographers, the lower cost alternative will be more than adequate.
$30 to $70
7. Photography Education
Saving the biggest possible outgoing to last is the divisive topic of if a four-year bachelor's degree in photography is actually worth the money. While I personally believe any form of further education is a good thing, photography is one of those few professions where learning on the job or through other less traditional routes is quite often better than being sat in a classroom. You really don't have to look hard to find some amazing resources for would-be photographers. Online tutorials, books, intensive workshops, and assisting photographers out in the field are all great ways to understand and learn the craft. These alternative ways of learning will cost considerably less than formal education and in my opinion, give you a better foundation to start your career on.
$14,487 to $79,080
So there you have it, how photographers can potentially save somewhere in the region of $15,867 to $83,900. While I appreciate that not everyone will make all those savings, I hope there are some areas on the list where you might be able to minimize your spending. Unlike the ten items photographers should never buy cheaply which I talked about last week, there's much less risk involved in cutting the corners I mention above. Hopefully, between the two articles, people will have a better idea of which items can be bought on the cheap and the ones where it's actually a bad idea to penny-pinch. By thinking outside the box and breaking a few obvious shopping habits there really are some great savings to be had.
Over to You
Have you made any surprising photo related discoveries in the aisles while shopping? Anything you think I missed off the list? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.