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.
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.
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.