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Photography is not a cheap hobby, but it doesn't have to be nearly as expensive as most think it is. Over the last 5 years that I've been running Improve Photography, I've been hunting down the very best cheap and inexpensive alternatives to photography, which I share in the recommended gear section of the site. Here are some of my favorite finds, all of which except for #2 I have personally tested and save money with regularly.
If you buy all these items, this article would save you $2,912. Doesn't that make this article worth sharing on social media? 🙂
Amount I saved: $350 per flash (and I have four flashes!)
Improve Photography has–for five years–recommended Yongnuo flashes instead of the far more expensive Canon/Nikon flashes. When I do our completely free photography workshops around the world, I often look around and see only Yongnuo flashes amongst the participants who read the site frequently.
Yongnuo makes very inexpensive speedlights for about $70. They are built well, reliable, and cheap enough you can buy two. If you're just starting today, I'd pick up a YN-560 IV but check out my flash recommendations page here.
The flashes that I like from Yongnuo are the all-manual flashes. They are very simple to use. If you take a picture and the flash is too bright, you simply turn the flash down. Too dim? Turn it up. It's that simple. But they also make high speed sync and ttl flashes for about $150, which are comparable to the $650 Canon/Nikon flashes.
Savings: About $260
The CamRanger is a pretty popular device that allows more advanced photographers to add functionality to their cameras to show the photos on an iPad, do intervalometers, wi-fi tethering, and lots of other cool features. We gave the CamRanger high marks in our review, but if you want similar functionality for a tiny fraction of the cost, read on.
However, you can make a device very similar to a CamRanger for next to nothing. The CamRanger is basically just a cheap TP-Link 3040 router with special firmware installed. The only significant limitation of this method is that you have to use a Canon camera and an Android device. But you could get a Nexus tablet AND this router for far less than the cost of the CamRanger. Read our full CamRanger review for more details on this hack.
I often see photographers with 6 or 7 lenses, some better than others, but none which are professional grade. Because pro lenses are soooo expensive, they buy one cheap one, then another cheap one, and then repeat. I often do the math in my head and see that if they would have waited to save up, they could have had an excellent lens.
Personally, I rarely find the need to use a lens other than a wide angle, a 24-70, or a 70-200. Three lenses that work like clockwork. The trouble is these lenses are about $2,000 each.
Fortunately, Tamron has stepped up its quality significantly in the last couple years. You can get a lens that is 95% as good as the Canon or Nikon trinity of lenses for half the cost. I highly recommend the Tamron 70-200 for those of you who are looking for the ultimate portrait lens. For all you Canonistas, be sure to check out my article on the 8 best inexpensive Canon lenses, too.
But don't wait around for lenses to go on sale. Lenses from the major manufacturers rarely go on sale, and the sales are usually somewhat small.
Travel for Photography
Amount I saved: About $2,000 per trip
This is–by far–my favorite hack on this page. Last year, on one of our completely free photography workshops, we traveled to Iceland to photography the amazing landscapes. The cost of the trip from the United States? $699 which included flights, lodging, and some meals!!! It sounded too good to be true at first, but I've gone on several of these trips now and I can assure you that it is not a scam.
How do we get such amazing deals? We travel using Living Social escapes. Here's how it works. Living Social is just like Groupon (which also has travel deals, though not quite as good). You look for deals that are only available for a few days. I regularly see trips to Iceland, Ireland, Costa Rica, and other popular photography destinations for under $1,000 including flights and lodging and sometimes a rental car. Check out their current deals here.
There are a couple limitations: trips leave from popular airports, but you have to buy airfare to get to the start point if you aren't near one. Also, rates are based on double occupancy so you'll pay a bit more if you're traveling alone. Even considering these limitations, I saved thousands of dollars off what I could find on Expedia and other sites for some of the trips I've been on.
(Many) Products on Amazon.com
Okay, I admit it. I'm an Amazon addict. I've found a little trick that has sometimes helped me to save a significant chunk of money.
If you put something in your Amazon wish list and go back to view the item a few times, suddenly the item goes on a magical sale just for you. In fact, I just looked through my wish list and found a wetsuit that I've been eyeing that Amazon is offering me for 33% off right now. Amazon sees you want the item but aren't so sure about the price, so sometimes they give you a little sale.
This does not work for all items, and I find it usually works best on items that are over $40. You won't see this work on cameras because they have a minimum advertised price restriction, but on some photography accessories I've seen this happen many times. Worth a try, right?
Also, be sure to look at the right hand side for the “Other offers” box. Often you can find Amazon Warehouse deals or deals from third parties for the same item that has been returned at savings of about 10%.
Amount I saved per battery: $33.26
I like to have a lot of batteries for my camera. I'm always on the go and sometimes forget one on the charger, or run out of battery on a shoot. The problem is that camera batteries from Nikon, and Sony often cost about $45. Canon batteries are often even more.
If you shop on Amazon, I find batteries from third-party companies that often cost a lot less. My preference for third-party batteries is Wasabi, which I've bought from quite a few times, but there are other good ones as well. These batteries are not only less expensive, they often give better battery life than the name brand battery.
Keep in mind when doing this that camera manufacturers may not honor the warranty if a third party battery is used, and it is the battery that causes the problem with the camera. This is possible, but I've purchased dozens without issues, and if you read the reviews on Amazon, there are some third-party batteries that get better reviews than the name brand battery.
Amount I saved: About $100
Flash modifiers are such a scam. It seems like I get an email twice a week from companies launching a “revolutionary new on-camera flash modifier” on Kickstarter. The truth is that the only things that make a difference in the quality of light are size and shape. So don't waste your money on the $200 softbox when you can get one for $50 on Amazon.
I've used flash systems that cost well over $4,000 and over time I've found that I prefer the cheap stuff because I don't feel bad if a light stand tips over and one breaks. The quality of light is really the same.
There certainly are some cruddy flash modifiers, but there are also some very well-built knock off light modifiers for far, far less. This Cowboy Studio small octa softbox is a particular favorite of mine. It may not have the build quality of a $200 softbox of the same size, but I'll bet you a 5d Mark III you couldn' t tell the difference between which one I'm using on my photos.
Amount I saved: $32 for a small order
One of our most popular articles is a review I did of the most popular print labs. I ordered prints from 11 popular labs and compared them on price, shipping speed, customer service, and print quality. The–very surprising–result of that test was that the most expensive lab produced the worst quality print in a blind test, and the cheapest lab produced the highest quality test. Snapfish and Shutterfly, which are both popular online print labs, received pathetic results in the test for both print quality and pricing.
Our favorite print lab was Pro DPI (and no, they don't pay me to say that). Their costs were extremely low, they shipped very fast, and they were the very cheapest for the order we placed which included several prints of different sizes. Check out the photo print lab test here.
Amount I saved: $180 for a one-year subscription
I don't read magazines very often anymore, but sometimes I like to thumb through one when I'm on an airplane. In stores, magazines often cost between $5 and $9.
However, you can get a one-year subscription to Popular Photography or several other photography magazines for only $5 on Amazon. Yep, an entire year's subscription for $5 total. That's a deal and a half!
Amount I saved: $180
I go back-and-forth about battery grips. They are really nice to have when shooting portraits, and the extra battery is handy to have in the camera so you never have to switch it out, but I don't love the weight and bulk. Either way, the Canon or Nikon battery grip costs about $220 for many cameras.
You can get battery grips from third party companies for as little as $50 like this one for the Canon 7D Mark II. I've used both and the difference is negligible. Personally, I'll save the money.
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