What Are the Wisest Investments You Can Make as a Photographer That Aren't Gear?

What Are the Wisest Investments You Can Make as a Photographer That Aren't Gear?

As with anything you wish to progress in, investing both time and money ought to be a careful process. So, what do you believe are the wisest investments you can make as a photographer?

Before I get on to my suggestions, I'll unpack my reasoning behind the title a little more. Gear is important, and where you put your money does matter. However, the discussion bores me senseless, and there's a wealth of information at your fingertips over why a carbon fiber tripod is invaluable and why filters are a waste of hard-earned cash and so on. What I'm more interested in is the ways in which photographers spend their budgets and time outside of equipment. Here, I will offer what I believe to be top three wisest.

Education

I'll be honest, for many years I believed paid education in photography to be a spectacular waste of money. That's not to say I thought it was a waste of time — I never have — but with so many free resources, I couldn't see the merit in the paid alternatives. I did a full 180-degree turn on this topic for three reasons.

The first was a free version of a paid tutorial that was sent to me. I hadn't correctly anticipated just how in-depth it was going to be, nor had I predicted the number of resources included. The second — and I promise this isn't a plug for the sake of it — was Fstoppers tutorials. Since working here, I've become intimately aware of the effort and care that goes in to the creation of these tutorials and how much value they provide. This isn't exclusive to Fstoppers, as there are a few resources of excellent quality and good value, but it helped change my mind on the issue. The third and final reason was nothing to do with photography at all; I was using Udemy to learn in other areas of my life and couldn't believe how much better and more focused tutorials on topics were when they were paid, contrasted to, say, YouTube for example.

What I will say is that you ought to do your research before you purchase any course or educational material; there are a lot of scams out there and people trying to make a quick buck for minimal effort. However, if you find a good resource, mining it thoroughly is a fantastic use of your budget for photography and one that can have a more profound impact than almost any other route.

Connecting With Others

This section isn't called "networking" for a very good reason. Networking summons images of middle-aged, jaded business folk, in a cheap hotel function room, swapping business cars and elevator pitches. Networking for networking's sake is one of my most loathed practices. What I am instead talking about is embedding yourself further into the industry with which you want to grow. This can be achieved in a number of ways and on a variety of budgets.

For example, you might pay a sizable ticket price, hotel, flights, and other expenses to go to a major photography expo. These are great for meeting professionals, companies, and like-minded people whom may prove fruitful in the future. I don't mean that in just the utilitarian approach of what you can get out of them, I mean making true friends in the industry. I have made several close friends through photography, and I can tell you this: having people around you who are great photographers pushing themselves in their careers is immeasurably more influential on your own career than not having any in your field.

I had no photographer friends for several years after I started. I knew people on the internet that I'd chat to, but no colleagues or friends that were in a similar boat to me. Now that I have plenty, I can't imagine how much poorer my experience of this industry would have been had that not have happened. So spend money not on "networking," but rather on embedding yourself into the industry and its citizens.

A Supporting Cast

In my recent article on unpopular opinions about photography (which fired up quite the discussion!) one opinion was "don't cheap out on hair and makeup artists." This wasn't my opinion, but I share it. I'd like to take it one further, in fact. If you can possibly budget for it, get as many talented people and brands involved in your projects and shoots as humanly possible. What you can achieve alone is invariably (there are of course a couple of exceptions) more limited than you can with a carefully selected team. Most talented people won't want to work for free or for exposure, so try to budget them in some how.

The obvious examples of this would be hair and makeup artists, but also wardrobe, set design, creative directors, and even assistants. Find impressive creatives and collaborate with them. The relatively small monetary investment you have to make to secure them for your project will pay dividends and also develops a working relationship with someone else on the periphery of your industry.

Conclusion

Narrowing down my suggestions on investments to just three was difficult. In truth, there are a whole host of other paths to be taken, some not quite as glamorous too, but nonetheless important. One example would be insurance, which as far as investments goes, is possibly the wisest of them all. Similarly, investing in external hard drives and cloud storage for backing up your work is tremendously important and would be a prudent outlet for your monies.

Landscape photographers I have spoken to over the years counsel newbies on investing in things like comfortable and practical clothing. Portrait photographers I know insist that paying for high-end models instead of TFP, fresh faces just starting out, is a sure-fire way to impact the quality of your portfolio and work. A commercial photographer once waxed lyrical about the profound effects of shadowing a successful photographer on his own dime.

There are many ways in which you can invest your money that will yield a good return — arguably greater than gear — and I would advise expanding your horizons for where your budget can end up.

What do you believe to be the wisest investments for photographers to make? 

Lead image courtesy of Pixabay.

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20 Comments

michaeljin's picture

Books.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Ads, marketing materials, gifts for clients.

Mike Kelley's picture

1) personal projects

stir photos's picture

controversially (i'm sure), i'm on the fence on this one- on the one hand there's paint the fence, but then you start thinking about chop sticks and you're like, "damn, oh yeah, that's right..." i know, i know- everybody's like, "but, what about wax on, wax off!) haha, sorry i joke, but really...

if i look back at where i started and how/why i got into photography in the first place and my general outlook on life, i'd say:
1. inspiration
2. pet/personal projects
3. then chop sticks
4. then paint the fence

https://giphy.com/gifs/PAYR5Ar3XpJJu/html5

YouTube tutorials are mostly shit after you've taught yourself the basics. I bought a DSLR almost on a whim so I was a complete noob who needed easy to digest tutorials. YouTube provides good content for getting up and running or understanding specific functions and menu options but after that you begin to realise the time you are investing in watching videos isn't actually teaching you much of anything any more. It is either incessant gear talk or fanboy/YouTube drama.

I have sprung for a couple of proper tutorials which cover specific topics and you can really tell the difference between YouTube amateurs and experienced photographers who have a properly structured course that has been planned out.

Liam Doran's picture

Time and energy are arguably two of the most important investments you can make....especially for people just coming into photography. You can get great shots on entry level gear...but if you dont take the time and energy to get your camera in front of amazing scenes you'll never get quality shots.

John Skinner's picture

Workshops with industry (name your genre) shooters, and time spent with those honest professional shooters -- AND, to be open to people critiquing your work for the better.

They are expensive as all-get-out to be sure. But a 3 or 4 day period with (as in my case) Peter read Miller, Dave Black, Former S.I. Photo Editor Steve Fine, Brad Smith S.I., Al Tielemans S.I. These are moments beyond monetary value -- full stop.

In those short days spent, years upon years of their knowledge is passed on to you in a side-by-side setting. Their eyes are evaluating your work. The shoot, doing post work, and then comment on how to do your craft better. NOTHING can replace that short time spent... nothing.

Mike Gillin's picture

Totally agree. Workshops like this, including what at times can be harsh critiques can be so powerful. The amount of knowledge that can be gained is amazing.

Vladimir Vcelar's picture

Knowledge: In what ever shape or form you choose, because the more you know, the more you can train yourself, and the better you'll be.

First invest your energy into finding and securing assisting work with working professionals. Even if you are just getting the coffee at first. You will get PAID to learn. Do it long enough and you will learn more than you could learn any other way. Then when you actually find yourself shooting for a client...and hiring an assistant...you will already know how it all works...and you yourself be 10 times more professional.

Lee Christiansen's picture

A decent pension scheme... for when you're not needing to earn from photography anymore... :)

Gaetan Osman's picture

It would depend on the type of photographer you are, no?
A landscape photographer would spend the bulk of his money on travel and printing expenses.
A portrait and commercial photographer would do better with better gear and a good marketing agent.

The only thing I can say from experience is that the cheapest and most rewarding investment you can make are person projects. Projects that aren't paid but where I put my heart and soul in, usually reap the biggest rewards.

Adam Chandler's picture

A really good bookkeeper has been well worth the monthly expense for me.

Andrew Swanson's picture

Bourbon

David Pavlich's picture

Ft. Gary Pale, but I get your point. :-)

Andrew Swanson's picture

Being from Kentucky, I couldn't tell you how many conversations and connections I've made with people purely based on knowing Bourbon. It's an instant conversation starter. I've actually landed jobs with companies simply based off our conversations about Bourbon.

Doc M's picture

I agree i have built multiple successful business by connecting with people over bourbon and cigars. I always made it policy to not talk business while enjoying time with people but these connection always ended up building business. To this day i still meet weekly with people for a couple of hours to share bourbon and a cigar. Over the course of years this has resulted in millions of dollars of revenue for the business. My costs? A place for people to relax in private and couple of bottles of bourbon and some cigars. Never underestimate being hospitable and being a friend to others. Dont worry about building a business rather build a reputation. If you build the correct reputation business will follow. Cheers

Rafael Cavalli's picture

I think that the best investment is education, not tutorials or workshops but BOOKS. To see the work of great photographers, understanding how they tell a story and discovering their vision can help us to find our vision about photography. Everyone can do a great portrait or landscape with training but develop an opinion in photography, put yourself and tell something in one or more pictures is not for everyone. Photography is much more than doing super sharp, colorful, technically perfect images.

Steve McDonald's picture

Website and a Professional Email Address.

Frank Hatcher's picture

Small business success classes. Local community college ...library...etc. That is...if you want to pursue photography as a business. Learn about how much to charge a client, what you actually lose with free or discounted sessions, and your value/worth. I'm shooting for fun these day (no people) and looking back.. the money I left on the table for not knowing my numbers/true costs to running a business is disturbing. :) Just my $.02 Hatch