Is amateur and professional photography possible on a small budget?

Like any specialist profession, photography is expensive. There are great savings that can make it affordable for the professional, some of which can help the hobbyist as well.

There is an unhealthy attitude among some in the industry that successful professional photographers make a lot of money and have the best of everything. This is not the case. Many photographers struggle to make a living, especially when they’re just starting out. Many talented professionals I know have second jobs; the income from their photography alone is not enough to feed their families. Nevertheless, their clients are satisfied and their photography is first class. To me, that means they are successful.

It’s a daunting task to start a business, especially to become a professional photographer. I am not telling you this to discourage you from entering the profession; it is extremely rewarding to work for yourself. But it’s not something anyone should do lightly. Many small businesses fail in the first year due to a lack of money.

Being frugal helps your bottom line, and the good news is there are ways to save that will also help streamline your business, saving you valuable time.

Cameras and Lenses

You must own the latest Canikonympusji (not a real brand), or so photography snobs tell you. Not so. There is a lot of nonsense about certain brands and formats being better than others. However, as long as you can take the quality photos you need with your camera and lens, that’s all that matters. Great photos have more to do with you than your gear.

There are great photographers in every field who use every format and every brand. Everyone has their own style which is partly influenced by the system they use. Photos taken with other brands aren’t better or worse, they’re just different. Also, your clients are not photographers. They won’t know or care if your cameras aren’t the latest model. It’s the results you provide that concern them, not the camera you use.

That said, the quality of the lens makes a big difference. If you feel compelled to upgrade your kit, upgrade the objectives first.

Buy a second hand

If you need to buy another camera, consider reliable retailers in the used camera market. After all, the Mark I version of this Canikonympusji camera was perfectly good enough a few years ago, and it hasn’t deteriorated. Yes, the new version has a few extra bells and whistles, but the old one still works.

Stay on top of the paperwork

Much of your time will have nothing to do with photography. Days will pass without taking your camera, but you will spend hours in front of a screen writing advertisements, keeping control of your finances and controlling your social networks.

Organization is important and there are admin tools that will help you manage it.

Desktop publishing programs are great for creating advertisements, flyers, and newsletters. Scribus is completely free and will probably do everything you need.

If your admin is limited to word processing, creating a spreadsheet, or making an online presentation, Google offers a free service. Once you sign up for a Google account, you get Gmail and access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, along with a very limited 15GB cloud storage space. Google are suitable and a great alternative to Microsoft Office 365. However, Microsoft also offers free cloud-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

When your needs increase, you can either upgrade to the premium version of Google Workspace with varying plans starting at $6/user/month, or Microsoft Office 365 starting at $5/user/month. Both options come with 1TB cloud storage.

There is another alternative. If you need something a little more sophisticated than the basic MS Office or Google software but can’t afford the upgrade, and if you’re happy with a program running on your computer and not on cloud computing, then there is another free option: LibreOffice, is free, open source software available for Windows, Mac OS and Linux.

Function

Free Office

Microsoft Office

Google

Word processor

Writer (Free)

Word (free cloud-based or subscription)

Docs (free or subscription)

Spreadsheet

Calc (Free)

Excel (free cloud-based or subscription)

Sheets (Free or Subscription)

Presentation

Impress (Free)

PowerPoint (free cloud-based or subscription)

Slides (free or by subscription)

Database

Base (Free)

Access (Subscription)

Charts and diagrams

Draw (Free)

Equations and formulas

Math

Chart creation

Chart

Excel (free cloud-based or subscription)

A much more in-depth comparison can be found here.

Free has its limits. As there are no cloud services, so no simultaneous document collaboration. It doesn’t have an email client, but there are alternatives to those. Similarly, there is no chat service but, again, free options exist for that as well.

Email and Websites

Ideally, in business, it’s more professional if you have an email address tied to your domain name, as opposed to a generic one, like ones ending in outlook.com or gmail.com. So it’s worth considering buying a unique domain name from a webspace provider that offers an email service, especially since you also want a website to promote your company. Choose something short, easy to remember, and relevant to your business.

Many companies register domain names, and it’s worth checking their costs before buying from them. Some big names include WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, and Ionos. These all provide simple templates for websites that may be good to start with if you just want the pages to advertise your services. However, over time you may want to create your own bespoke site, or have one built for you, with more functionality, and so access to server space may be important.

Some companies offer completely free web services, but they all have drawbacks, including limited functionality, lack of security, and slow loading time. So, I’m not going to recommend any, but this article lists a few to consider if you’re really in a rush for funds.

Another consideration is the program that handles the emails. Windows comes with the Mail app, which has its issues, and like the cloud-based Microsoft Outlook, it’s free and includes basic calendar synchronization. Many applications are available for Macs.

Look at Mozilla’s Thunderbird, which also makes the Firefox browser. It’s free and can be fully integrated with Lightning Calendar, which also has a to-do list feature. Thunderbird offers unparalleled customization with extensions and themes.

Account management

Keeping books is a hardship for most of us, and an accounting program really helps. I recently reviewed Light Blue which is a top class product and there are others on the market aimed at photographers. But for one-man-bands just starting out, it might seem expensive.

There is, however, good news. Express Accounts by NCH is a superb accounting program. For small businesses, it’s free but with limited features. The single computer perpetual license is currently discounted to around $80. This saves a huge amount of time creating invoices and emailing them to customers. It’s not as versatile and doesn’t have as many features as Light Blue, but it’s great nonetheless.

Online storage

Cloud storage can seem expensive. Having our photos backed up remotely gives us the security against loss that we wouldn’t have if everything was stored at home or in the office. Once committed to a cloud service, we are likely to stay with them for the long term.

One of the best cloud services I’ve found for still photos is Amazon Photos. You get unlimited storage space as part of Amazon Prime membership. However, if you are an MS Office subscriber, you get 1TB per person included in the package.

Online meetings

A lot of people are familiar with Zoom by now. I use it to run individual workshops remotely, but there are other options. Microsoft Teams is available for free, as is Google Meet.

Photograph cataloging, developing and editing

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to find a photo you took two or maybe three years ago. This is where a powerful asset management system comes into its own.

Lightroom Classic is an exceptional program for cataloging images, and the great thing is that even if a trial subscription has expired, the library module still works. However, this slows down your workflow as it means jumping between applications. On1 Photo Raw is available as a standalone package and its great value for money. With its latest update, the navigation module is perhaps even more powerful than Lightroom.

For raw development and editing, there are free options, but that’s one area I wouldn’t skimp on. All of the well-known premium programs produce good, albeit different, results. The free ones look clunky in comparison. If you have to choose freeware, check your camera manufacturer’s offering, with Lightzone, getpaint.net, and Gimp as possible alternatives.

Do you have any money saving tips that will help others start their photography business? What are your experiences with the apps I mentioned? It would be nice if you shared your point of view.

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