Four of the Biggest Photography Rip-Offs to Avoid

Unfortunately, photography is an expensive passion, but what do you really need to spend your money on? In this video, Marc Newton looks at four of the biggest photography rip-offs you should avoid at all costs, and he doesn't hold back.

There are some things in photography that you will need to spend money on, such as bodies and lenses. There's no getting around that, and the higher you go in quality, the more you'll have to pay. But by and large, you tend to get what you pay for. However, there are other parts of the photography industry that are much more open to debate regarding their use, efficacy, and value. In this outspoken video, The School of Photography's Marc Newton runs through four of them:

  1. Lightroom presets: Newton says you should never pay for them because they will never be exact matches for your particular photos, they take creativity away from you, and Lightroom has loads of native presets you can get for free.
  2. 90 percent off deals: In a way that's sure to gather quite the response from online vendors, Newton says there're only two reasons anything is 90 percent off: it was overpriced in the first place or it's a blatantly crap product that isn't selling.
  3. Facebook ads for local photographers: While not saying that Facebook Ads are entirely pointless, he says photographers advertising locally are wasting their money. That's because most of the people (in his opinion) clicking on the ads are other photographers who aren't going to buy the product and because you, as the advertiser, have to pay for those clicks. 
  4. Education from questionable institutes. Adding letters to your name from any kind of institute that doesn't give you a formal B.A, M.A, or Ph.D is an utter waste of money, according to Newton, and does nothing to help you succeed as a photographer.

One thing I like about Newton's approach, regardless of whether I agree with him or not, is that he looks at the problem and explains why it exists, but also offers his own views on how to solve the issue or avoid it in the first place.

What do you think? Firstly, let me know about the four rip-offs listed here and also about any other rip-offs in the photography industry that people should avoid. I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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34 Comments

Johnny Rico's picture

"...90 percent off: it was overpriced in the first place or it's a blatantly crap product that isn't selling."

But how do you really feel when Fstoppers runs those massive deal tutorial packs

Juan carlos Chu Zhang's picture

fstoppers are guilty of that

I don't know about all of them, but I think the one that happened recently was a fundraiser for a charity.

William Howell's picture

I think, potentially, that going to college to study photography is a waste of time. There are just to many educational resources available, high quality, on the internet. I’m a subscriber to Lynda.com and Karl Taylor. And I have subscribed to Kelby. I would subscribe to Fstoppers in a New York second, if they would only offer a subscription service.

Another potential ripoff is when you finally get ready to move up to studio strobes. I agonized for year as to which system to go with, I finally went with Buff system.
I wanted to be able to have my lights serviced and I wanted dependability and Buff fit the bill. I was going to go with Speedotron, but I wanted to the ability to have asymmetrical control, not just ratios.

I'm currently studying photography at City College of San Francisco. It's inexpensive and gives me access to a darkroom, a studio with strobes, large format view cameras, technical cameras, medium format digital cameras (Phase One XF), and a Canon Pro-4000 printer (only charged for the cost of paper and ink). This is in addition to excellent instruction. You think this is a waste of time?

William Howell's picture

No, no, no, I said potentially, i’m Thinking along the line of, ‘running up a massive debt” to be paid back, that could be financially crippling. I would love to be doing what you are doing, you aren’t wasting time at all, quiet the contrary.

Sorry, you did say potentially. I'm a bit sensitive about this because virtually no one talks about taking photography classes at a college in positive terms. People I know take weekend seminars on photography that cost roughly the same as I pay for two classes that last for four months. At least in California, two year public colleges are an incredible bargain. The only down side, if you want to call it that, is having to make a major time commitment.

Mihael Julius's picture

I took Photography in college and nowhere else would I have had access to all kinds of gear, printers, print shops, professional studios, all with professionals right there by my side. Then, after I completed my program, I had that department, and all of my old instructors, there to support me afterwards. I can still to this day, or until the program doesn't exist anymore (and considering it's been running since 1968 I'm pretty sure it's going to be around for a while) pop in for a favour or mentor-ship. I was also able to learn all aspects of photography disciplines and lighting techniques to make me a more rounded photographer. What I learned, and experienced, over the two year program would have taken me 10 doing it myself. The debt is worth it if you have the conviction to follow through.

yes I agree that if you're absolutely certain that you want to pursue a career in photography or the arts then formal education (from a reputable institution whether 2 year or 4 year etc) is absolutely worth it. Same goes for any career really.

William Howell's picture

Absolutely agree, now don’t think I’m dissing college for photography, I’m not. The way you went to photography studies is what I would’ve like to have done.
One of my sons-in-law went to DeVry for IT and racked up a goodly sized debt, that he is still paying back ten years later. I believe he has it paid up now, but that is what I meant, you know the big loan, then not getting a good return on your investment.

Mihael Julius's picture

Yes. You definitely have to think it through and be pretty certain it's what you want to do. I've seen so many first year students drop out because they thought it was going to be easy, and all fun and games. I had a wedding photographer, selling me a speedlight, laugh and mock me for wasting my time and money taking photography. The thing is...all he can do is weddings. Not that that's a bad thing. ;)

Mark James's picture

Nice job. I totally agree with the FB ads. I tried it a couple of times and saw similar results. All of my work was from word of mouth, or just posting on my page. I disagree on the last one. There are no letters you can put after your name that mean anything to me. Schools hand out PHD's to celebs, rich people or just about anyone they think will give them money. Titles of any kind mean very little now days.

Jeff McCollough's picture

FB ads works wonders for me.

Mark James's picture

I'm glad. They make a lot of money, so I hope it helps a lot of people. I lived in an isolated community, and got more work than I could handle with word of mouth. Spent maybe $200 on ads and didn't get a hit, so I saw no reason to pursue it. Add to that, that I hate ads in general and it was a no brainer. I block every ad FB throws at me and now only see 1 or 2 a day.

What genre of photography are you in?

Jeff McCollough's picture

Travel photography/portraits.

Lorretta Clarke's picture

I agree about not going to college to study photography is right but that goes for many qualifications nowdays as well. One of the biggest rackets is putting your kid through 4 or 5 years of school and burdened with debt only to find that the degree they took is outdated.

Studio 403's picture

Gee, I just bought 5 ProFoto B2, and the vendor gives $300 if I would take them off his hand. I told him I needed $500 to take them. Never heard back. He wanted to sell me Golden Bridge too. But he wanted over $2,000.00. Toll much I said.

Love Facebook ads for marketing to potential clients and gaining leads. If you have a great system setup you can easily turn a few hundred in ad spend into tens of thousands in revenue.

What genre of photography arr you in?

Luke Adams's picture

Disagree with 1 and 3. Mastin Labs presets really opened my eyes to what was possible for my images, and give a very consistent starting point. Big time saver. Also, as a photographer who went from hobby to business in the last year, Facebook ads were a huge driver for getting new clients.

Juan carlos Chu Zhang's picture

you can archieve the same results as mastin labs with vsco presets for cheap .
social media ads dont get you good potential clients. you must create your own website portfolio, have a good estructure and base . rely only on ig you only get clients who pay you with exposure

Luke Adams's picture

Social media ads have indeed gotten me a lot of good clients. It’s a fact.

I would qualify the FB ads one by saying that FB ads can be extremely successful if the person placing the ad knows what they’re doing. Creating custom audiences, targeting, retargeting with Facebook pixel, using compelling copy are all skills that are needed for any kind of marketing.

Unfortunately, most small local biz people have sero idea about any of those things and then just throw $100 on a campaign and use “photography” as their keyword and hope for the best....

Daniel Medley's picture

He's so spot on vis a vis Facebook. The same applies to Instagram. The way that those two platforms work the best--generally--is to augment the old tried and true word of mouth approach which is almost always locally based.

The Lightroom presets is an oddity to me, too. I've never understood the value of them. I don't bemoan photographers who sell them, though, because they don't force people to buy them. But it really is a colossal waste of money.

The one thing he didn't bring up which really needed to be brought up is the absolute absurdity of spending huge amounts of money on lighting with all the other less expensive options available. Remember, this is for newbies. If you're an established photographer and you've spent years and thousands of dollars wedding yourself to the Profoto ecosystem, yeah, I can sort of get it. But if you're starting out as a photography business, spending money on Profoto lights is basically an indication of more money than business sense. In my opinion.

Yes I completely agree. Some of the prices for lighting gear out there is jaw-dropping. I mean I get that you can’t always use natural light but $1,000s upon $1,000s for alternative lighting has always left me shaking my head

Jeff McCollough's picture

His point about FB ads makes no sense at all. He really doesn't know how marketing works. Businesses and companies pay for ads all the time in all different formats. YES the competition will see them. So what? Just because other photographers will see your ads doesn't mean that you shouldn't run ads.

user-206386's picture

Re: Going to school. Not every photographer is a freelancer who learned from the internet. There are many photography jobs that actually require a degree - usually a Master's. I would agree, even though I didn't watch, if it's not an accredited school with an actual degree, I would steer clear. So many poor habits and workflows picked up from Youtube and so on. I've always found that those who think an MFA is worthless don't have one.

Jordan McChesney's picture

I’ve never understood why people would buy presets if they want to improve their skills. It’s basically paying to admit you just want to copy someone’s look without any effort.

I understand that they can be used as a basis to understand adjustments were made, but there are so many better ways and free tutorials out there. To me buying presets and checking what adjustments were made to improve as a photographer would be like buying a microwave dinner and reading the ingredients to become a better chef, it’s not impossible, but there are so many better ways.

I don’t hold it against the photographer, because they need to put food on the table, and I can respect that. However, it also comes down to how they promote them and try to sell them. I remember Peter McKinnon made a video titled something along the lines of ‘make your photos incredible with just one click’ and it was 10 minute ad for his presets. That was the day that my desire to support a fellow Canadian was overpowered by complete and utter contempt for his content... I’m sure he’s a nice guy though.

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