The Costs of Starting Out as a Stock Photographer

If you love photography, there is a good chance that at some point you have considered working as a photographer, perhaps part time to begin with.

There are lots of things to consider when changing career, or even choosing your first one, but the truth is, photography usually chooses you, rather than you choose it.

So, if you have the passion to become a photographer, there are various things to take in to account:

  1. The financial costs of equipment
  2. The financial costs of quitting your existing employment
  3. Whether you are committed to long hours of travelling, shooting, editing, learning and marketing

This blog post considers the first item on this list - the cost of new equipment.  What are the basic costs for someone wishing to enter the world of stock photography on location (as opposed to shooting in a studio)?

A generic professional kit, with estimated costs for mid range equipment, would be as follows:

2 x Camera bodies (£3000-4000)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon, sample Fuji from Wex)

2 x Camera grips that have vertical shutter buttons (£450-600)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon)

1 x Wide angle lens (£1500)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon, sample Fuji)

1 x Standard zoom lens (£1300)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon, sample Fuji)

1 x Telephoto lens (£1600)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon, sample Fuji)

2 x Flash guns (£800)
(sample Nikon, sample Canon)

1 x Tripod (£300)
(sample Manfrotto with head, from Wex)

2 x Camera bags (spread the weight over both shoulders) (£300)
(sample Billingham from Wex)

4 x fast memory cards (£200)
(sample Lexar professioal 32GB card from Amazon)

2 x Extra batteries (£70)

1 x Public liability insurance (approx. £50 per year)

1 x Computer (a fast Apple iMac is £2000)
(Various iMacs at Wex)

1 x Backup hard drives (£200)
(Sample Seagate external 5GB hard drive at Amazon)

1 x Editing software (£100)
(Adobe Lightroom)

1 x Graphics tablet (optional) (£250)
(Sample Wacom Medium Graphics Tablet)

1 x Image delivery system (such as Photoshelter or PhotoDeck, in order to let your clients download your photography). (£240 per year)
(Sample of Photodeck system, 50% off first month using code: YG@USJQOQ)

1 x Website (£120)
(The Photodeck system mentioned above is very good, as are alternatives, like Squarespace)

Its quite a list, and a conservative cost for these would be around £12,360, approximately $17,450 (assuming you already have a car, and that you don’t require a studio).

Then you have the little extras for the niche areas of photography - a portrait photographer might like an 85mm lens and a set of studio flashes, a sports photographer would usually require a 300mm, 400mm or even a 500mm lens to capture close ups of action. All these extras mount up to an extra several thousand pounds.

Some people will risk having one camera body - I knew a press photographer who used a single digital camera for five years, and never had a problem - I couldn’t do that, nor could most other photographers, for the obvious reason of avoiding risk. If you are keen to cut down on the expense, then there are some perfectly good lenses produced that don't have such wide apertures (e.g. starting at f4, instead of f2.8), and despite having the obvious restriction of not letting so much light in, they can be suitable in many situations. 

Realistically, if you are at the stage of considering a career in photography, you will almost certainly have many of the above items, and therefore have a head start on your shopping list.

While the costs may seem high, if you compare them with many professions, the initial investment is actually quite low. You couldn’t buy much of a business franchise for these costs, or open a cafe for instance.  For this reason, many people with either a love for photography, or those who may have found themselves ready to change career, consider the many fields of photography. Of these niche areas, stock photography has less risk involved than many others - mainly due to the fact you can work at it part time, whilst engaged in another career - once the earnings increase, you can make the switch to full time.

Once committed to working as a stock photographer, gaining skills and continual practice will go a long way to ensuring you have a viable business for many years to come.

Equipment: Header image shot on Fuji X100, edited in Adobe Lightroom.