The Right and Wrong Way to Buy Photo Gear

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”

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 7 comments for this article
  1. Tammy at 1:35 am

    I think people need to realize that a camera is nothing but a tool. The most important part of photography is a skilled photographer, not an expensive camera.

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  3. Ricky at 9:17 am

    Yes Tammy “The most important part of photography is a skilled photographer, not an expensive camera”: try making a living through photography using nothing but an entry-level DSLR and its kit lens. Good luck.

    • Man at 11:25 am

      And why cant we? What is the limitation of an entry level dslr and kit lens? Its obviously not going to get you the high speed 13 fps burst shot of professional sports. But can it do studio portraits? Yup. Can it do landscape? Why not. Food? Check. Simple passport photos? Yup. Events? It depends but why the hell not?

      You dont need the latest and greatest gear all the time.

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  6. Anthony at 4:27 am

    No one is wrong here, I have made money off my Sony A6000 with a kit lens though! Featured on social media photography pages as well, one time with a cellphone picture even! Having expensive gear sure makes the job easier but I believe in upgrading your skills first. Identify your needs, purchase accordingly. Creativity cannot be bought, challenge yourself.

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