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Photography on a Budget

Photography is a fun, creative hobby that is limitless in its potential for personal artistic expression. With technology becoming cheaper each year, it’s easier than ever to get started with high quality gear. There are even opportunities to make back a little – if not all — of your investment, so photography can be a surprisingly budget-friendly hobby.

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Buying Camera Equipment

Point and Shoot or DSLR: Learn the pros and cons of these two common camera types. DSLRs (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) have interchangeable lenses and usually produce higher quality images, but point and shoots are more affordable for beginners.

Ultimate Equipment List: Scroll toward the bottom of this article to get an idea of a reasonable budget for a quality Nikon starter kit.

Pro Camera Gear on a Student Budget: This pro photographer buys almost all of his equipment used through Craigslist and shares how he does it.

Mobile Photography: Believe it or not, you can add a lens to your cell phone camera to improve your photos. This can be an inexpensive and more portable alternative to DSLRs.

A Good Nikon DSLR Starter: This starter kit by Nikon is great for a low-range priced DSLR and includes a camera body and lens.

A Good Canon DSLR Starter: Any Canon Rebel is an excellent place to start for a quality camera body and a lens on a budget.

A Good Point and Shoot Starter: This inexpensive Nikon COOLPIX produces very high quality images for a point and shoot, but it does not have the manual settings of a DSLR.

Renting Camera Equipment

Borrow Lenses: You can try a wide variety of lenses and other accessories by renting them online. This can be a cost-efficient way to test out several items at once without having to put all the money out upfront.

Lens Rentals: With this company, you can have the option to buy any rented equipment that you’d like to keep.

Tips for Renting Cameras: Learn when it’s worth renting, how to save when possible, and what to check for in your rental contract.

Choosing Accessories

Inside a Hobby Photographer’s Bag: Learn what equipment an average hobbyist carries in their camera bag, like a flash, tripod mounts, an air blower and more.

Should You Buy a Light Meter?: When you buy from a retail store, they may try to throw in a light meter as part of a package price. First check if you really need one.

How to Choose a Tripod: You can put off a tripod at first, but try buying a cheap or used one to learn how to use it and whether you’ll need it for your photography style.

Learning Photography on a Budget

Creative Live: Watch live-streamed workshops taught by qualified photography instructors. You can even ask questions through a chat-based system — all for free.

Harvard Digital Photography Class: This free 10 to 15 hour course developed by Harvard gets you started in the basics of photography. You even get a certificate for completion.

5 Great Online Resources: Some of these are free, others are low-cost. All of them are great online resources for photography, editing, equipment reviews and an active forum.

Editing Software

GIMP: Here’s a free photo editing program that you can download and install on your computer. It has many of Photoshop’s popular features.

PIXLR: This is a photo editing program that can be used on- or offline and even on mobile. The “Essentials” package is free while an upgrade to Pro is $1.99 per month.

Photoshop Online Tools: The famous Adobe Photoshop program has a limited but useful selection of tools that are free to use on its website.

Buy Photoshop Cheap: See if you’re eligible for discount codes or sign up for Adobe’s monthly subscription plan. You may also consider purchasing the bare bones version called Photoshop Elements.

Tips for Photographers on a Budget

Getting a DSLR or Point and Shoot

If you can’t decide but your budget can manage it, go for the DSLR.


Point and shoots are fine for occasional use and for storing in your purse or car for unexpected photo ops. They do not have good resale value, so if you think you might upgrade to a DSLR, you’re better off just getting one from the start since you can resell it later to break even.

DSLRs produce the best quality for a serious amateur photographer. They also have the potential to become the equipment of a budding professional photographer. Their sensors are larger, which allows for better image quality. You can also interchange lenses that give you a broad range of photographic options.

Rent or Buy Equipment

When you first get started with a DSLR, it’s best to buy new equipment as a package deal. These kits usually include the camera body, a starter lens or two, lens caps, cleaning cloths, memory cards, batteries, and even tripods. A package can cost a bit upfront, so consider putting aside some money every month to save up.


If you’re really looking to save as much as possible, there are point-and-shoot cameras on the market that produce impressive photos. They can cost anywhere from 20 to 75 percent less. Try to stick with higher megapixels and (more importantly) larger sensor sizes to get that professional quality look.

If you choose to take advantage of renting, it’s usually best to start with buying your own camera body and a single lens. From there, you can rent out different lenses and accessories as needed. If you find one you rent is really working for your style, you may have the option to purchase it or one like it at a discount. Keep in mind that oftentimes purchasing and then reselling a lens works out to be cheaper than renting.

Student Discounts

Local camera shops sometimes offer discounts of 10 to 20 percent to high school and college students. Just make sure you bring in your valid student ID.

Buy Used or Refurbished

Refurbished cameras can be bought directly from the manufacturer. They are often a good deal when you consider the warranty that comes with them. Other used equipment can be a bit of a gamble, especially if you buy them from a private party. Your local camera shop may also have equipment they refurbished, but be sure to check on their warranty policy.

There are a few ways to buy used. First, you can go either public (through a company) or private (through an individual). Private sales can score you some good deals, but you aren’t likely to get a guarantee or warrantee. Public sales are usually guaranteed both online and in-person. If you buy in person, test the equipment before you complete the sale. If you buy online, test it as soon as you get it so you can take care of any problems with the seller as soon as possible.

Buy Low, Sell High

Few photographers hold onto all of their gear. As you gain experience and maybe a little money on the side, you can upgrade your equipment quite often. You can do this through trading, which will give you experience on a variety of comparable equipment. You can also do this through buying and selling.

If you’re not in love with a new lens you bought, for instance, try to sell it for as little loss as possible. Save your receipts or chart your spending in an Excel sheet so you can keep track of and minimize your losses as you swap out equipment. You can oftentimes get your full money back for the equipment if you sell it before it’s obsolete.

With DSLRs, it can take up to several years for a camera body to be replaced with an update. Once there’s a newer model, the older camera body loses value. The lenses are where you’ll be able to buy and sell relatively at the same cost without as much fear of depreciation.

Buying Camera Accessories

Some accessories are necessary while others can wait. A card reader (if your camera did not come with a cable) is necessary to upload your image files to a computer. You also want to invest in a quality padded bag to protect your gear from bumps and dust. A cheap tripod will help you get the most out of your camera so you can avoid blurry photos. You’ll probably also want a few extra memory cards.


Fun or useful things that can wait include light meters, external flashes, an external hard drive or DVDs to backup your images, color filters for your lenses, lens hoods, battery grips and more.

Become an Assistant

If you’d like to learn more on the job and possibly make a few extra bucks on the weekend, look into becoming a photographer’s assistant. You can watch how a pro interacts with subject matter, clients, and live models. This is a great way to get started in niches like food photography or weddings where you need some experience to book your first solo gig.

Sell Your Work

Even if you’re only looking to do photography as a fun weekend activity, you have the advantage of enjoying a lucrative hobby. Get some professional prints done and set up shop at a local art fair. You’d be surprised how much you can earn on your best work. Try selling landscapes, architecture, nature and still life shots to be the most marketable.

These types of fairs can also be a great place to meet potential new clients who may be interested in family, pet or engagement photography.

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About Johnson Hur

After having graduated with a degree in Finance and working for a Fortune 500 company for several years, Johnson decided to follow his passion by embarking on a path to the digital world. He has over 8 years of experience with large companies setting marketing strategy.

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