The Way You Spend Money Determines What Kind of Portfolio You Will Have

The Way You Spend Money Determines What Kind of Portfolio You Will Have

Everyone has projects they dream of and clients they would like to work with. Dream projects don't put food on the table alone. They have to be paid for, right? How do you manage to get both and be satisfied with the results?

The Usual Story

There is a story happening nowadays that is not only seen often, but it is slowly taking the form of a norm for any business. People invest in their business with money they don't have and then mostly work for paying off their debt. That's probably food on the table minus the artist's satisfaction.

What's the Problem With That?

Every payment is like the chiming of the bell of a clock. It strikes without caring if you have the money or not. It strikes without asking you if you have been delighted in your work this month that earned this money. It doesn't care if you eat beans and bread or gourmet courses. It is like the voice of the examiner that tells you, ready or not, you have to put your pen down and submit your papers.

Art today is not that well paid unless you have good work, good marketing skills, and have found your niche. Going into debt as an artist will not make the situation any better. On the contrary, you have to start working on anything that brings you income as long as you keep the financial institution happy. This is not an environment creativity is best developed in. Eventually, if you have any free time from working for your monthly payment, you can work on things you love, unless, of course, your clients are paying you for projects you dream of.

Portfolio as a Personal Image

Your portfolio will determine what types of clients will hire you. If you show weddings, there's a slim chance you will be hired to do a products catalog. If you want to work on certain projects, you have to show your affinity towards these projects by displaying a portfolio predominating with visuals in that field. If you work on projects you don't want, but you have to, because of your debt, you can't stay with a blank portfolio. You have to put something there. If you don't have the time to spend extra effort on personal projects you love, you will probably have to put up work you don't like. Little by little, you will get a name for being good at something you don't like. Switching away from that kind of portfolio will be similar to starting from zero, which will require you to turn away a multitude of potential clients who want to hire you for what you're already known for.

But You Still Need Money for Basic Needs

You can work on personal projects and wait for those dream clients, but you have to put food on your table after all. If you don't make enough yet, you can still work on something that can cover your basic expenses, but you will have the time to build your dream portfolio and business without any financial institution chasing you for a monthly payment. Piece of mind is an essential fuel for creativity and smart business decisions.

Is It Worth It?

Is it better to spend a year or two on paying off and then starting all over in another area of the visual arts and throwing away the imagery and name that you have built? When you pay off a debt, you always give more than you've been given. This means that for that period, you could have saved money that would have bought you that type of gear and even more.

Is it better to be known as someone who turns away projects they are known for instead of starting as a nobody with freedom to build a dream portfolio and attract clients who would pay for such work?

Do you actually need a type of gear you can't afford? Isn't something cheaper going to work too? Do you not want cheap because it's cheap or because it won't suit the type of work you do? Cheap is not always expensive, as they say. There can be a smart and cheap investment as well.

Do you actually need to buy gear at all?

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10 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

I mean, as for the last question... if you want to be a photographer, then... yeah. You need to buy gear.

Could be a $250 Panasonic point and shoot. Could be a Pentax K1000 and some film. You're gonna need something.

However, this is an important point: "Do you not want cheap because it's cheap or because it won't suit the type of work you do?"

With the proliferation of photography sites, testing and scores given to cameras and lenses... there is, I think, a proclivity for some people to seek that lens that scored a 44 in sharpness on DXO because their current one is only a 38. I used to do the same thing. Until I understood what my sufficiency threshold was. Also, turns out that cheap gear isn't always poor quality. A lot of kit lenses these days, particularly Panasonic's, Fuji's, and the Nikon AF-P DX kit lenses, are not just good for their price, they're legitimately just good. Build quality is usually the difference, but optically they are pretty stunning. The Nikon AF-P 70-300 DX VR is incredibly good - and insanely *excellent* for its price. It also has a plastic mount. The Panasonic 12-32 kit lens is also very very good.

Find your sufficiency threshold and then learn to love cheap gear sometimes. It's actually really damn fun.

Yup, I carry Canon's 18-55 and 55-250 STMs with me when hiking. Relatively small, lightweight, and very inexpensive, but can be sharp corner to corner when used properly. Never disappointed by a landscape shot from either one.

Matt Williams's picture

The 40/2.8 is a remarkable little lens - small and cheap. I wish Nikon had a lens like it.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

The last question was for those who don't have any gear yet and decide to "go professional" diving straight into debt or those who have gear that can earn them some profit, but they're very hasty and want new gear right away.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

I think a lot depends on the market available to you. For example, I lived in NY but that was over 20 years ago, and anything like fashion is out of question for me unless I want to travel and I have no interest in being in the top 10 photographers in the USA.
My market is fairly small but extends to nearby states and I work a lot for the industry that's near by. However, I have learned when to price NYC fees if the client is based there and need my services locally or regionally. But that can be tricky too, depends on what it is.
Smaller town may actually require more gear than very large cities because you can't necessarily rely exclusively on one genre of photography all the time. A little more flexibility and more gear may actually open more doors. Reliable, flexible would be my priorities. I don't believe in extensive amount of lenses, but I see a lot of photographers who don't make a living out of photography with way more lenses than I even own and it's weird at time to see how it's all shiny and look brand new. My gear has scratches and doesn't stay shiny for long.
When I started, I went strong on purchasing lights, build a nice inventory. I don't buy cameras too often and seldom any new lens. My latest large expenses were on new battery powered lights that have absolutely and brilliantly filled a gap in my lights inventory and a camera before that.

Tihomir Lazarov's picture

All you said can be done without living on credit. It will just take time. Probably less time than you'd pay the debt off.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Especially if you purchase used top quality lights that may be a little older but can last 20-30 years when you start.

Stuart Carver's picture

Gearheads will massively disagree that anything cheap can be any good. They obviously never tried a Samyang lens or the Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX.

Jordan McChesney's picture

Buying second hand from a trustworthy shop is always a good way to go. The only reason I was able to upgrade to my Nikkor lenses and D850 is because I got them used (and I was double lucky, because the D850 was also on sale). I only had to drop around 410,000 yen for the camera and two lenses (both slightly older lens models). I know that’s not exactly “cheap” but they would have cost me closer to 750,000 yen to buy everything brand new at other shops.

So if you can’t afford it new stuff, go with used and upgrade at a reasonable pace.