Making a business investment is scary. Terrifying, if I was being honest. I really only know what investments look like in regard to my business, and my cautious approach may be boring to most people. It lacks the the pizzazz, sparkle, and slow-mo-explosion-as-I-walk-away-from-a-car-crash appeal, but I don't regret my decisions. Sometimes it's invigorating to hear how a photographer followed his heart, took a risk and invested $15,000 in gear by snagging a small business loan…but that type of behavior leads me to reach for a pink Pepto bottle.
I have no doubt my adversity to financial risk stems from growing up poor, but I also think the way I invested in my business laid a strong foundation and can do the same for others getting into the industry…especially given the economic climate and the growing market of new photographers.
So. How did I start investing in my business? I've mentioned before I started with very little, but here's the abbreviated version of what went down…
January 2006 – JD gave me the Canon 20D (bought with money from a small stash we had shortly after our wedding).
March 2006 – Bought the Canon 24-70mm, 2.8 lens because the kit lens just wasn't cutting it anymore.
April 2006 – I assisted a photographer shoot a wedding for the first time…I rented the 70-200mm IS, 2.8 and a flash.
May-July 2006 – Assisted other photographers shoot weddings and saved up to buy the 70-200mm IS, 2.8 and the Canon 550 EX Flash with the money I earned from second shooting. Once I bought this lens, I owned two lenses and rented the 16-35mm, 2.8 for weddings I was hired to second shoot.
August 2006 – A Canon 50mm, 1.4 was given to me as a gift from a friend for shooting two weddings with her.
August-September 2006 – Assisted other photographers shoot weddings and saved up to buy the 16-35mm, 2.8. Once I bought this lens, I owned four lenses.
September 2006 – I booked my first wedding…I asked JD to come along with me to help as a third shooter and rented him a Canon 20D, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, and a Canon 480 Flash. Yes, I rented everything for him…including CF cards.
We profited very little from our first wedding, but we immediately set up a savings account. The profit we made from our first few weddings and the money I made as a second shooter helped us buy my first Apple computer in the summer of 2007 (I used a 12-inch laptop and an external hard drive up until that point) and invest in my first website around that same time. As we slowly started booking weddings, the profit was used to buy a set of gear for JD (one lens at a time), then used to buy backup gear. Until we could afford what we wanted, we rented.
I think that's the point of this post: Try not to be concerned with owning the nicest gear or getting into debt to build an empire on a sandy foundation. I see new photographers jumping in the deep end (and buying a ton of gear on a credit card) with the hope that it'll work…and I believe it can, but I need to point out the importance of making smart decisions and understanding the complex relationship between creating photographs and running a business. To start a photography business, you'll need to own a basic set-up, but until you begin booking clients consistently, it may be wiser to rent lenses to practice (which I did) and when needed for a photo shoot (which I did).
I still view business purchases through a critical scope and ensure it's a wise investment…I recently purchased the Canon 5DMIII because it was time for a new camera and I couldn't be happier. I'll get more into the specifics of this camera in a future blog post, but suffice to know the purchase came after critically analyzing my needs and ensured it was a wise financial decision. I hope new photographers will view purchases in the same light as we move this industry forward.
**EDITED TO ADD : READER QUESTIONS**
Marlo Laney asked: As a Newbie Photographer…why do you need so many different types of lens? How many do you feel you need to shoot a wedding or engagement shoot? Sorry if this is a crazy question.
It's important to have a diversity of lenses for different situations, environments, and needs. My initial set up (as listed above) ranged from 16mm-200mm (for my widest needs as well as zoom necessities) and the widest aperture of a f/1.4 for low-light situations. Not a crazy question at all! 🙂
Matthew Coughlin asked: When you started out in '06, were you working full time or in school? I'm curious how you stayed a float financially while you were starting out. I am shooting a lot but still maintain a full time job to provide for my family. Thanks!
I worked part-time in 2006 (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and JD worked full time at a start up company. Money was really tight for us, but we scrimped and saved where we could. This blog post might help as well.
Dave asked: So helpful Jasmine! Hate to ask a gear related question, but if you went back to that first 24-70 lens, knowing that you shoot with primes now, would you have gone with a 35 or 50mm prime, and dealt with the lack of zoom?
I would buy the 50mm for my style of shooting, but quickly follow up with the 35mm.
Elysia asked: So you have been shooting with your 20D until now? Can you, if haven't already, do a blog post about what you think is essential for your bag for a wedding shoot. I know you already did kind of in this blog but it would be great if you elaborated and explained in detail.
Definitely! You can check out this wedding photography gear post.
Gus Dizon asked: Curious if you could expand on what you said about ” critically analyzing your needs and ensured it was a wise financial decision” means for you and your business.
Well, it's been almost two years since I bought a new camera and my accountant encouraged me to find more write-offs this year. Also, the Canon 5DMII wasn't what I had hoped for when upgrading from the 5D, in addition to knowing we needed to upgrade our backup gear. In light of these three factors (and knowing we hadn't spent more than $2,000 in gear investments last year), we knew it was time to really evaluate my gear.