Photography on a Budget: How to Make an Expensive Hobby Affordable

Photography on a Budget: How to Make an Expensive Hobby Affordable

Photography is a passion for most that pursue it, as the desire to capture something beautiful and creative – to freeze a moment in time – makes you fall in love with it. The problem is that it’s also an expensive investment. Basic cameras start in the hundreds of dollars and, as you’re looking to upgrade, they spring into the thousands quite quickly. But you can pursue photography on a budget with my favorite tips.

The photography industry creates expensive equipment that people are willing to pay for. This is part of the reason why finding it on sale is almost impossible. You have to know the secret and smart ways to making photography on a budget work for you.

As I mentioned, it won’t be on sale every other week like sports gear, video games, or dance costumes. Your hobby will cost you a bit of money, but it can also reap so much reward. With such investment, comes the opportunity to leverage your skills and quality equipment from doing small paid photography jobs to creating an entire business.

This may not be the goal for everyone, as this post is about making photography affordable as a hobby. In any case, saving money where you can is imperative and these tips will help you navigate the waters of budget photography!

Shopping Tips

I know what most of you are here for – and that’s how to actually get good deals on the equipment that is so essential to the hobby! While photography equipment is seldom on the sale rack, there are creative ways to go about squeezing out savings from the store.

Buy Used

My favorite trick to keeping photography affordable is buying used. Used cameras, used lenses, used accessories. The fact of the matter is that most people who love photography like you take care of their equipment really well. It’s expensive, so why wouldn’t they!?

This makes buying used a great option for photography on a budget. You are still getting quality equipment for a significantly lower price.

I especially buy lenses used. Lenses are the most fundamental way you can expand your kit and strengthen your abilities in photography, so to have more to play with will make you a more well-rounded photographer.

Now, of course, there are scammers online. I usually buy used from eBay or through people I know personally and always look for telltale signs if the seller is not credible. Some signs could be:

  • No reviews on their profile
  • Bad reviews on their profile
  • Use of stock images instead of the product itself

The fact of the matter is if something smells fishy, it probably is. Just be wary as you’re shopping used online – most will be honest, but go with your gut if something doesn’t seem right.

Shop Seasonal Sales & Discount Camera Shops

Photography equipment is rarely on sale. People will buy it at the original prices, so why put it on sale!?

However, the holiday season is an exception to that rule and is when you’ll see some promotional discounts from retailers.

The actual manufacturer like Canon or Nikon is rarely to ever have a site-wide sale. However, they do have sale sections! They’re typically not overflowing with products, but you could get lucky and find the lens or accessory you were looking for there!

Pro Tip: Shop local! They are few and far between but small mom and pop camera shops still exist. They’re also chock full of equipment and accessories ready to sell! Prices may be more flexible at local shops or they may accept trade ins if you’re looking to upgrade.

Utilize Student Discounts & Loyalty Card Rewards

Stores like Best Buy that carry camera equipment have student discounts and loyalty credit cards that offer extra discounts on purchases. You can sign up for student deals at Best Buy here.

Unidays is a student discount program for tons of brands across the internet. They also have discounts for B&H Photo, which carries tons of photography equipment brands!

Ideas & Principles to Keep Photography on a Budget

There are some tips I have that are meant to be guidelines for keeping photography on a budget and spending your money as wisely as possible.

Pro Tip: Start small. If you don’t have money to invest in a DSLR camera, start with implementing techniques with your phone camera. Here’s my guide to iPhone travel photography, which includes general phone photography tips and techniques you can starting experimenting with now.

Invest Where It Matters & Go Basic Where You Can

At the beginning of your photography hobby, it will be so tempting to want the best camera bag, the best tripod, etc.

The “best” option may not be the right option in terms of making photography affordable.

A lot of what has to do with photography products is the quality of the materials and the versatility of the accessory. Photographers need to prioritize keeping their equipment safe and getting the most use of it!

That’s why the best accessories will be the most expensive ones because they are built with better quality materials and have more features.

Based on the kind of photography you do, you can decide what is worth investing in for you and what products you can purchase the more basic versions of. If you don’t talk portrait photos, you might not need a $1,000 prime lens. You could opt for the nifty 50 at around $100.

I never do studio photography, so I don’t need to buy expensive lightboxes if I want to experiment with them.

Some of my favorite products are listed in my Best Budget Gifts for Photographers that covers equipment I invest in and a lot of the basic products I opt for to stay on a budget.

Get Creative

Photographers will always get an itch to want to expand their kit or experiment with new equipment. If you’re not ready to financially, then I encourage you to get creative!

Scratch that itch by doing something new – use new props, experiment with shadows and lighting, plan a quirky and unique photoshoot! There is always more we can do to scratch that itch than buy a new piece of gear.

Turn Your Hobby Into A Business

I made money with photography by doing graduate portrait sessions while I was at college!

Make that investment work for you! The great thing about photography is that people pay photographers a lot of money to capture their special moments. Your investment in your equipment and the investment of your time and energy is what people pay for.

Making photography a business covers a wide spectrum of options and ideas. You can do something as simple as selling stock photos to taking graduation portraits to operating and owning your own studio.

For more ideas on making money with photography, see my guide to photography jobs you can start doing right now.

Grow Out Your Camera Before You Upgrade

Me & my first camera could’ve had so much more time to grow together before I upgraded! It’s important to master the basics that you can then build upon with better equipment.

I have been a victim of this myself because, as I’ve mentioned, in photography you want the best equipment and you have a goal of reaching that one day.

But the easiest way to make photography affordable is to work with what you have.

I think I upgraded my first camera before I fully mastered and outgrew it. In that respect, I still had so much to learn but I was so eager to get a shiny and better new toy.

I have no regrets in upgrading besides the fact that I wish I waited a bit longer to work on mastering for instance, manual mode, and then upgraded.

Choosing the next thing to upgrade to is really intimidating too – if you’re looking into choosing your next new lens, check out my best tips here.

Final Thoughts

Photography is an ultra expensive hobby at times and the prices for equipment can be intimidating. However, with these tips and tricks, you can pursue photography on a budget.

My overall idea throughout this post is to put you in the right mindset when it comes to buying photography gear and shop smart when you’re ready to do so!

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Photography can be a passion of yours that doesn’t break the bank! I hope these secret tips and strategies allow you to get the most out of your gear and save money!




Michela is a travel writer and photographer living in northern Italy. She is passionate about helping people make the most of their travels by sharing advice gained from her personal experiences, off-the-beaten-path destinations and time-saving quick itineraries. Browse her top articles or have her help you plan your itinerary to your dream destination!

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