Photography may be a fun and creative job, but it’s important that photographers continuously remind themselves that it’s also a business. Buying a new camera, lens, or light may appear to expand your business opportunities, but it may actually be damaging your business.
“I see a lot of photographers who lose all their money because they get gear-happy,” said Matthew T. Whatley, a San Francisco-based tax expert and attorney better known as “The Tax Ninja.”
“They just see things that they want, they think ‘oh this is going to be awesome,’ they shoot with it, but it turns out that they really use the same 3 lenses all the time,” he said. “That’s really all they needed, and that’s what they should have spent the money on.”
Whatley’s advice is featured throughout the new report “Starting A Photography Business” created by the PhotoShelter Research Team. The report, a free download, shares advice from experts (like Whatley) and recent College Photographers of the Year.
I interviewed Whatley via Skype (video below) and asked him if it was better, from a tax standpoint to take out a loan, or use credit cards to purchase camera gear.
“Incurring credit card debt is usually a really stupid thing to do to put on any kind of small business,” he said. “This is because you may pay interest rates of 10%, 15%, 20%, 25%. 25% interest is not going to be a sustainable business practice.”
“If you need to incur these costs, and you need to take out a loan for them, a much better interest rate can be obtained by going through the Small Business Administration (SBA). Who will allow you to personally guarantee a loan (up to $25,000) and at the same time, and pay a much lower interest rate on it (closer to 8-10%.)”
Whatley said that, on average, photographers spend $10,000-$15,000 in equipment expenses every 2 years, and it’s all tax deductible in the first year. This can create a nice savings on your taxes, assuming you have enough income to offset the purchases.
“If you don’t have any income to offset when you buy the equipment, the question then becomes, “If it’s not going to save you a lot of money on your taxes NOW, can you afford to wait until you have more income [before you] purchase the equipment?”
In this situation, it may be better business decision to rent the gear, and factor it into each job as a fixed cost.
Whatley’s bottom line warning for “gear-happy” photographers:
“If it would be nice to shoot with this lens, but it’s not necessary for you to earn the money, it would be much better to upgrade your skill to be able to not have to use it then to buy things that you don’t actually need.”
Learn more by downloading our free guide “Starting a Photo Business”