Photo Gear for a Dollar

Photographers have a long history of finding things unique and affordable for their photography needs. I'm no different, and that's why I just wanted another top-of-the-year reminder. The goodness of the dollar store cannot be overestimated, because they can carry many similar items found at higher-priced outlets. It seems in the past few years, the quality of goods at the discount stores has increased. Am I correct in that assessment? 

Why Shop at the Dollar store?

Shop Local 

There are the chain versions of the discount stores and then the mom and pop versions run by small families. In my opinion, these have the best options in comparison to the known chains of dollar stores. Look around, as inventory changes quickly. 

Same Quality

As we know, so much of pricing relies on the branding. How much more quality can a pencil pouch at Target have versus the one at the dollar store? I priced both, and it's nearly triple the price at Target and Walmart. No thanks, I would rather support my local family business and pay way less.

In the video, you'll see that I recommend car sun visors and even cake sheets. Those are emergency substitutes, but some of the items recommended are the same quality. I recently went into my local camera store and found a simple white foam core board around $4-5 per board. 

I could use a few of those for my next photo shoot. Should I spend $15 or $3? You get the idea: there are items that should be purchased at a camera shop or hardware store. In this video, I'm talking about products that are used often and should be purchased at a lower cost like pencil pouches, foam core boards, tape, etc.

Will It Be "Professional Gear"?

Clearly, not everything is the same quality. The gaffers tape is superior to the imitation tape at the dollar store. The silver reflector is far better than the sun visor for your automobile. You have to make a decision based on the shoot and your budget. 

To have a successful business, every dollar counts. How you spend your money helps determine how long you stay in business. For example, imagine purchasing three boards for $15 at the camera shop or getting the same three boards for $3. What could you do with the additional $12 saved? Maybe purchase FB ads to advertise your next mini-shoot day? That's one example of how each dollar counts.

Recommended Purchases (Which Are the Same Quality as Other Places)

  • Spray bottle
  • Foam core boards for bounce, shade, or backgrounds
  • Pencil pouches to use for everything
  • Notebooks to keep everything in one place
  • Paper/three-ring binders 
  • Scissors, post-it notes, pens, and highlighters
  • Craft service items (trash bags, plates, utensils) 

Shop All the Time

I would recommend you find your local dollar/discount stores and start walking through them regularly. Yes, that puts you in danger of spending too much money, but it's important to know what's out there. I've seen items that inspired photo shoots (like little mirrors in different shapes). I've purchased bounce boards (white foam core) even when I didn't have a scheduled shoot, just to always have a fresh supply. 

Find your favorite location(s) and check regularly!

The Two Major Benefits to the Photographer

I find two major benefits to the photographer when shopping at the local dollar/discount stores. First, you save money, and when starting a new photography business, it's important to count every dollar. Actually, it will always be imperative to count your money and not have excessive spending. The money saved can go towards gear you need or advertising that would bring in more income. The other note is that not having access to the latest and greatest forces creativity. Ok, a nice round silver reflector would be great. It will shine a better light than cake sheets, but sometimes, finding makeshift materials to help you achieve the same thing is fun. It also builds creativity and lets you flex that too! In a world where everything is done for you, and there is an app for this and that, find a way to stay creative.

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Jared Carpenter's picture

+1 for dollar store tablecloth background when your kid says he wants "all the colors" for his birthday photo...

Walid Azami's picture

I like that. These stores are getting better, right?