NYC Manhattan skyline at sunset with a light leak filter applied. Photo by Adam Gasson /

Freelance Friday | Mistakes & Misdemeanors

I think most photographers will remember the first time they were paid to take pictures. The first time a cheque arrived* in the post for ‘photographic services’ and the feeling that, finally, you’ve made it. Before long, much like Scrooge McDuck, you’d be leaping off a high board into your vast pool of money, drying yourself off with a towel woven from soft, absorbent £50 notes. Life, you tell yourself, is tremendous. Once that cheque has cleared I’ll be straight down the camera shop and I won’t leave until my arms arm full to the brim of shiny new lenses.

This, I’m sure, is a common enough story for a lot of photographers. Some develop their business acumen quickly and realise that each pound is precious. Sensibly so I would say (with the addition of a good few years of hindsight).

Photography is a business. It’s also a passion and an extended hobby. The two don’t really mix and, too often, you’ll be lead by your heart not your head. Your heart can always find justification for a new lens, light, bag or trip. Your head can be distracted long enough to order any of the above. A rule I’ve been told a good few times is “will this make you more money?”. On the face of it a sensible guideline but I don’t follow it completely on face value. Some purchases will not, in themselves, make you more money but it could allow you to produce work that attracts new clients. So in the long run it’s a benefit, but you still need to think hard and see an appropriate path it’ll take you. Don’t be that photographer has buys all the kit just for the sake of buying all the kit.

There are a few more common mistakes that are worth pointing out –

  • Buy cheap, buy twice. We all hope the cut price version will be just as good. They rarely are. Standards are being raised all the time but still research everything before buying.
  • I’ll save tomorrow. Don’t. Save now. Savings are your holiday pay, sick pay, pension, tax and emergency “oh shit my car’s broken down” pot.
  • Fund your purchases wisely. Credit cards cost more in the long run. Leasing costs as well but has financial benefits. Price up renting. Consider your options before unleashing your dollar.
  • Prioritise. Make a list of what you need. A car is more important than three camera bodies. Two camera bodies are more important than a 600mm lens.

I write these words from experience. I’ve bought on credit cards and loans that, long term, have cost me far more. I’ve bought a 500mm, a 50-500mm, a 200mm prime (twice), a slow lens when I should’ve bought a fast one, a fast one when a slow would’ve sufficed. I sworn at countless flash triggers that never *quite* worked. Sold good lights to buy cheaper ones, only to buy good lights again down the line (and pay more for them). Ask more photographers and they’ll tell you similar stories.

Be smart with your money. Cashflow can be a serious problem for freelance photographers. And it’s easier to set habits when you start out then when you’re old and stubborn.

* the first gig I shot paid more in 2004 than you’ll get paid now. Food for thought. Although not that much food as it’s gone up since 2004.

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