Is Amateur and Professional Photography Possible on a Low Budget? – Fstoppers

Like any specialist occupation, photography is an expensive one. There are big savings that can make it affordable for the professional, some of which can help the amateur too.

There’s an unhealthy attitude by some in the industry that successful professional photographers make a lot of money and have the best of everything. That isn’t the case. Many photographers struggle to make a living, especially when they start out. Several talented professionals I know have second jobs; the income from their photography alone isn’t enough to feed their families. Nevertheless, their clients are happy, and their photography is first-class. To me, that means they are successful.

It’s a daunting thing setting up any business, especially becoming a professional photographer. I’m not telling you this to discourage you from joining the profession; it’s hugely rewarding working for yourself. But it isn’t something anyone should do lightly. Many small businesses fail in the first year because of a lack of money.

Being frugal helps your bottom line, and the good news is that there are ways you can 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 the photography snobs tell you. Not so. There’s a lot of nonsense spouted about certain brands and formats being better than others. However, so long as you can take the photos of the quality you need with your camera and lens combination, then that is all that matters. Great photos have more to do with you than your gear.

There are superb photographers in every field that use every format and every brand. Each has their own style that is partially influenced by the system they are using. Photos shot with other brands are not better or worse, they are just different. Furthermore, your clients are not photographers. They won’t know or care if your cameras are not the very latest model. The results you deliver are what concern them, not the camera you are using.

Saying that, lens quality does make a big difference. If you feel compelled to upgrade your kit, then upgrade the lenses first.

Buying Second Hand

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

Keeping on Top of the Paperwork

A big chunk of your time will have nothing to do with photography. Days will go by when you don’t pick up your camera, but you’ll spend hours in front of a screen writing ads, keeping on top of your finances, and being in control of your social media.

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

Desktop publishing programs are great for creating advertisements, fliers, 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 doing a presentation online, then Google offers a free service. Once you have signed up to a Google account, you get Gmail and access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, plus a very limited 15 GB of cloud storage. For many people, the free Google apps are fine, and a great alternative to Microsoft Office 365. However, Microsoft also offers free cloud-based versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

When your needs grow, you can either upgrade to the premium Google Workspace with packages varying from $6/user/month, or Microsoft Office 365 from $5/user/month. Both options come with 1 TB cloud storage.

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

Function

Libre 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 Subscription)

Database

Base (Free)

Access (Subscription)

Graphics 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.

Libre has its limitations. As there are no cloud services, so no simultaneous document collaboration. It doesn’t have an email client, but there are alternatives to those. Likewise, there is no chat service but, once again, free options exist for that too.

Email and Websites

Ideally, in business, it’s most professional if you have an email address tied to your domain name, as opposed to a generic one, such as those 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 as you are going to want a website to promote your business too. Pick something short, easy to remember, and relevant to your business.

Lots of companies register domain names, and it is 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 adequate to begin with if you just want pages to advertise your services. However, in time, you might want to build 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 do completely free web services, but they all have drawbacks including limited functionality, lack of security, and slow loading time. So, I am not going to recommend any, but this article lists a few to consider if you are really pushed for funds. 

Another consideration is the program that handles emails. Windows is bundled with the Mail App, which has its issues, and like the cloud-based Microsoft Outlook, is free and includes a basic calendar synchronization. There are plenty of apps available for Macs.

Do look at Thunderbird by Mozilla, who also makes the Firefox browser. It’s free and can be fully integrated with the Lightning Calendar, which also has a tasks list function. Thunderbird offers unrivaled customization with extensions and themes.

Accounts Management

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

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

Cloud Storage

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

One of the best value cloud services I’ve found for still photos is Amazon Photos. You get unlimited storage space as part of Amazon Prime membership. Nevertheless, if you have subscribed to MS Office, you do get 1TB per person included in the package.

Online Meetings

Many people are familiar with Zoom now. I use it for delivering remote one-to-one workshops, but there are other options. Microsoft Teams is available for free, as is Google Meet.

Cataloging, Developing, and Editing Photographs

There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to find a photo that you shot 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, even if a trial subscription has expired, the library module still works. However, that does slow down your workflow as it means jumping between apps. On1 Photo Raw is available as a stand-alone package, and it’s superb value. With its latest update, the browse module is possibly even more powerful than Lightroom.

For raw development and editing, there are free options, but this is an area I would not scrimp on. All the well-known premium programs produce good, if differing, results. Free ones seem clunky in comparison. If you must choose free software, then look at your camera manufacturer’s own offering, with Lightzone, getpaint.net, and Gimp as possible alternatives.

Have you got any money-saving tips that will help others get their photography business rolling? What are your experiences with the apps I have mentioned? It would be good of you to share your views.

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