Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The real costs

As this is not a professional website, I am not afraid to show cellphone images.  This is just a simple image and shows you everything that I am about with photography and life in general. Value and economy. This is my electricity bill for September 2011. My bills are rarely more than $28 in the summer and $40 in the winter.
How on Earth do I get my bills so low? Simple - I turn everything off when it's not in use. The only things left powered constantly are the fridge, microwave and my router. My lighting is a mixture of compact florescent and LED lighting. I turn a lamp off when I leave the room. I don't have a TV guzzling electricity on standby. 

How about the rest of my expenses? They're low too. No food gets thrown out because it has gone off because it's eaten before it goes off. 

I am applying this philosophy to my camera gear. I had a ton of expensive professional gear that I just didn't want or need. That's all being sold off and replaced by cameras that I will use. The problem with professional grade equipment is that it's expensive and you're afraid of damaging it so it rarely leaves the storage unit. Out go the professional stuff that I used for my book on high-speed imaging and in comes a lower-cost, smaller size system. Instead of two cameras I will have just one. Instead of several lenses, just one or two. 

As I have said before - something that is used is more valuable than something expensive that sits unused in a cupboard. This is what happens with expensive gear. It is kept locked away. I want to get out and take photos. I don't want to be afraid of using my equipment. So, was getting sold (as I wrote this) and and will soon be replaced by a secondhand Nikon 1 system which will comprise initially of one body and one lens. 

There are major advantages with both macro photography and high-speed photography with a smaller sensor because of the depth of field. It's much easier to get a really good depth and consequently a wider aperture and more light on the subject. 

Just because I am switching now to a small system does not mean that I won't ever have a larger system again. I feel at the moment that the smaller format is the way forward. I don't forsee another Pronea debacle this time around.

I had a professional photography business at one time. I'd been persuaded to get a business license for a business that I really didn't think would ever make a profit. I reckoned on possibly making a few dollars here and there as I did when I was in Britain. I knew one fellow in Britain who spent a quarter of his life making money from photography and three quarters supported by welfare. I started it and tried advertising and got a couple of bites here and there from which I did get money. It was annoying having to keep completing tax forms online every month, filing zero just about every month. There was no real benefit to that.  Certainly it was possible to claim portions of my electricity and my internet bill as expenses - which they genuinely were as well as Yellow Page advertising etc. The fact is though that advertising a worthless business like photography just ended up costing me money rather than getting money and the deductions didn't cover everything. As I have said before, it's better just to suck it up and pay taxes than to mess about trying to get blood out of a stone.

The money I make from photography is twofold. First, people click on adverts on my blogs which makes me a few cents each time. Secondly, people buy the books I have written. Those are the sole ways in which photography produces any income. The big bonus with those methods is that I don't need a business license. I just file the income from them as personal income. I don't sell anything - other people do my selling for me. No business license is needed - life is simple.

This is the kicker - for websites and books, it doesn't matter what camera is used. The pictures have to look decent (not brilliant) and that is all. They are most emphatically not there to be demonstrations of photographic excellence. They are there to illustrate a point and that is all. For the vast majority of images, it doesn't even matter if a cellphone is used for the photo - especially on a website. Look at the illustration of my electric bill. Does it matter that it was shot with a cellphone? No - it does not.

My prediction is that as photography becomes increasingly utilitarian, the more expensive equipment will decline. Already I see a great decline in photography as a hobby. Gone are the days of articles on how to DIY so many aspects. Now it is a case of articles on which items to buy. I did see somebody making so-called flash modifiers out of foamboard and straws but it looked like a lot of work for no real gain.

I am in complete agreement with one fellow whose website I forget that stated that he considered that the professional photographer would decline so much that a professional photographer was more of an anomaly than anything else. I know many local photographers and absolutely none of them make more than a small part of their income from photography. One who was a professional wedding photographer went bankrupt, one who has a booth in a mall has another job to finance her hobby. Another does photo restoration rather than photography and another couple work retail to finance their hobby businesses.

Given that photography is a hobby or at best a hobby business, it makes sense to think small in terms of costs. Just like I keep my electricity bill small, it makes sense to keep equipment to a minimum. A gadget to do this or that will soon run away with money. As an experiment when I went to Key West, I took one body and one lens. I quickly regretted the bulk of the body and the lens which is where my desire for the Nikon 1 series started. I found it no hardship to be there with one lens and one body and no flash either.

While these could probably stand a little straightening, it does illustrate the strength of the photography one can do with a single lens. In this instance, it was an 8 megapixel Canon XT and a Tamron 17-35 non stabilized lens. While the Nikon 1 probably costs more than the XT and Tamron 17-35 do now, the advantage is portability. Taking the XT and one lens out is a major mission. I can simply throw a Nikon 1 in my pocket. Big difference. Of course if one were to get the Nikon 1 J1 then that plus two lenses can be had for $250 secondhand.

The crux of saving money is to get secondhand. I allowed myself to be persuaded to buy everything new and hence I have dropped a ton of money on it all. The XT for example was about $800 new. Now it's worth possibly $80 secondhand. It's just so bulky though that I put it up for sale. Hang the loss of money, I want something smaller and more practical. I don't want to have to carry a huge bulk of stuff around. I am not a slave to my equipment. It is also noticeable that the more fun I am having, the better my pictures look. Remembering the happiest time I had with a camera, it was when I was in my parents garden in Wales, photographing insects and flowers with my Nikon 995 zoom compact that I'd paid a massive $600 for. It was only 3 megapixels and the photos were phenomenal and they still are.

As I reclaim photography as a hobby rather than as a business, I seem to be gaining only upsides - lower costs, less stress, better camera, more depth of field etc. Finally, it doesn't matter what camera is used to take a photo - the successful photo is the one that sells. The highest grossing photo of the 1990s was one taken with a disposable camera that was in all the newspapers.

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