10 Common Tax Deductions for Your Photography Business

10 Common Tax Deductions for Your Photography Business

Tax Day is right around the corner, and the best thing you can do before you file (if you haven’t already) is to educate yourself. The second best thing you can do is keep good records, as you can often use the tax laws to your advantage if you’ve got the documentation to back up your claims.

Before you start figuring possible tax deductions, you must decide whether you’re running a business or have a hobby for tax purposes. You make the determination, but the IRS won’t be pleased if you claim business deductions and aren’t striving to turn a profit.

In short, you’re running a business if your photography is a “for-profit endeavor”. What does this mean? The IRS says:

“An activity is presumed for profit if it makes a profit in at least three of the last five tax years, including the current year.”

Here are some questions the IRS also suggests asking yourself before claiming business expenses:

  • Do you depend on income from the activity?
  • If there are losses, are they due to circumstances beyond your control or did they occur in the start-up phase of the business?
  • Do you have the knowledge needed to carry on the activity as a successful business?
  • Does the activity make a profit in some years?
  • Do you expect to make a profit in the future from the appreciation of assets used in the activity?

If your photography is not for profit, then allowable deductions can’t exceed the gross receipts for your work. You can read more about hobby deductions under IRC 183 here, but assuming that you’re running your photography business for profit, here are 10 common tax deductions to consider when filing:

Please note that nothing here should be taken as legal advice or replace legal tax consultation. Always consult an accredited accountant or attorney before making decisions regarding your taxes.

1. Automobile expenses

You have two options here: you either can track the mileage you travel for photography purposes and deduct the government rate per mile (currently $0.565); or you can calculate what it costs to operate your vehicle for the year and apply the percentage that you use it for photography to determine your auto expense. For either method, make sure to record the starting mileage for your vehicle each year.

2. Travel expenses

If you’re traveling for the purpose of your photography business, keep receipts for airfare, car rentals, taxis, public transportation, meals, lodging, and other expenses.

3. Housing costs

If you operate your photography business out of your home, you may deduct a percentage of your housing costs (mortgage, water, electricity, insurance, etc.) based on the proportion of the house that is used solely for photography. You’ll need to know the square footage of your office space and the total square footage of your home to determine this proportion.

4. Office or studio space

You may not deduct the expenses for both an office at home and elsewhere, such as a studio. If you buy or rent a studio or office space elsewhere, this is another business expense.

5. Phone lines

You can deduct the cost of a phone line for your business as long as you also have a personal line. You also may deduct the cost of long distance calls made for your photography, so keep your phone records.

6. Education

You may be able to deduct the cost of photography seminars and workshops, so track those expenses.

7. Internet and website expenses

You may allocate a proportion of your Internet and website expenses that support your photography business. Be sure to apportion an appropriate amount for your personal use, where applicable.

8. Equipment

Equipment that lasts more than one year (cameras, computers, etc.) is considered “listed property” and are subject to different rules. Listed property must be used for more than 50% qualified business use, and depreciated over the expected life of the item – meaning that you deduct only a portion of its cost each year. Maintain a spreadsheet with the date of purchase and the depreciation schedule so that you will know the basis of the equipment if you sell it before the end of the five years.

9. Insurance

Insurance to protect your equipment or business investment is deductible. Also if you have a business license, you may deduct the cost of the license.

10. Accountant and attorney fees

You may deduct your accountant and attorney fees (including fees for registering your copyrights) that support your photography business activities, so keep copies of invoices from those professionals.

More information: Also see 7 Common Tax Mistakes Made by Photographers, featuring Matthew T. Whatley, the “Tax Ninja”.

Several of these photography business tax deductions first appeared on the Photo Attorney‘s “Tax Deductions for Your Photography” by Carolyn E. Wright in 2005. The post has been updated to reflect current laws and conditions. 
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There are 19 comments for this article
  1. Tim at 9:17 am

    Thanks for the information. I’m just getting started with making a business out of my photography and articles like these are very helpful.

  2. Taryn Sikorski at 9:20 am

    This is great! I am curious about insurance though. I’m having a tough time finding what I need. I do landscape photography and display my work in various venues. I’m about to hang some in City Hall, but can’t find any insurance to cover my art while its there. I’ve already had 2 pictures damaged at another business. Any ideas?

  3. Micah at 8:18 am

    Taryn, get some general liability insurance, not photography-based insurance. I go through the APA, or American Photographic Artists. You do not need to be a member to qualify, and they will hook you up with a company (Mine is CNA) that will insure you. Usually there is a separate provision for artwork in a gallery. Of course, I have equipment insurance and an indemnity trust on top of general liability, too.

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  5. Randy S at 12:14 pm

    As a model photographer, are the models that I hire considered outside contractors? I am assuming they are and that if I pay over $600 to any one person, I must file a 1099.

  6. Fat at 11:59 pm

    Travel expenses needs more elaboration I think… The government gives you a per diem rate for meals and lodging. Usually (not always), that rate is higher than what you actually spend on the trip. As long as you can prove you were there working (your photos are your proof), then you don’t need receipts. If you stay at a friend’s house and buy groceries while on a trip, you can still deduct upwards of $250 a day for food and lodging. Talk to your CPA!

  7. Aaron at 2:04 pm

    I am an amateur but I got an income statement from Getty due to a small amount of stock photo sales (less than $200). Shouldn’t I be able to deduct my expenses if I am expected to pay income tax on this?

    • LA at 8:45 am

      From my research, yes, but it would be under Hobby. For a hobby, your deductions cannot exceed your income. You would report this on schedule C for the IRS. If property changed hands (photo, cd, flash drive) you would also owe state sales tax.

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  9. Stef at 11:28 am

    BE Careful, the IRS DOES require receipts or bank/creditcard statements for the LODGING. You can also deduct the entire amount of your meals IF you can prove the business purpose and you have the receipts (MEALS can be tricky). On travel trips you may have to prove that there was a business purpose for the trip (not just showing your pics) and not just vacation. Although you can have a few vacations days during the trip. Talk to your accountant about that because the # of days depends on how long your trip is.

  10. Maria at 3:45 pm

    I do not have an inside studio, but use my outdoor property (trees, landscape, etc) for my portraits? How and is this deductible?

  11. Sarah at 10:36 am

    Just started with photography. Haven’t been paid yet just been trying to create a facebook page and get name out there. Spent a lot of time, business cards, software and recently donated my time for toys for tots pictures with santa. Can I write off the things I have purchased and gas? And then for toys for tots that would be a donation? Thank you

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