Tax Tips for Photographers

IRS 1040 Tax Form Being Filled Out

The photography tax man cometh! Okay, there’s not really a photography tax…the same dude takes all our taxes. But the end is near! Well, you’re almost out of time to pay your taxes, anyway.

In a previous post, I touched on some tax considerations for photographers. Now I want to give you a working illustration and a quick and easy way to give Uncle Same his due.

As always, please remember I am not an accountant. I sought help from a certified public accountant and I suggest you do the same; especially if you’re just starting out.

So here’s my deal: I have enough coin to buy that shiny new 5D MKIII. Sweet, huh? Not so fast. I’ll have to work a little harder and wait a little longer. You see, I owe taxes on everything I’ve made this quarter. I add up all my profits, subtract my expenses and calculate 38.3% of that to come up with my estimated tax payment for the first quarter of 2012. Keep in mind that not all expenses can be taken at 100%. The IRS calculates depreciation for equipment. But that’s why it’s called an estimated payment. I may end up owing the government more money at the end of the year, or I might get money back. Read the previous post to find out why it’s 38.3% for me. Your mileage may vary.

Taxes are due April 15, June 15, September 15 and January 15. This year April 15 falls on a Sunday, so we get an extra day. The fastest way to pre-pay your estimated tax is to go to  Click the “enrollment” link and follow the registration instructions. Basically, you enter some personal info (social security, address, etc.)  and link a bank account. You then request a PIN which comes to you in the mail within 7 days. Use that PIN to complete the registration and you’re all set.

Why pre-pay my taxes every quarter? ‘Cause I don’t want to get hit with a big tax bill at the end of the year. I would rather pay it in chunks throughout the year. I know it’s not fun, but I don’t imagine getting audited is fun either! And hey, maybe next quarter I’ll be able to deduct that 5D MKIII!


Black Friday/Cyber Monday Deals for Photographers

screenshot of Adobe Black Friday ad

I haven’t seen too many Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals of interest for photographers recently. So on this Thanksgiving-eve, I thought I’d pass along a couple of items.

First up, I got an email from Adobe offering deals on its software titles until November 29. I’m always a little skeptical because I can usually find better prices on Amazon; but this is actually a good one. You can buy the full version of Photoshop CS5 for $549. The best price I found on Amazon was $610. Lightroom 3 is $199 which is about 3-dollars less than the price on Amazon. The fine print says you have to click the “buy” button and the discount will be applied when you add it to your cart. Click the image above for the link.

This may not be breaking news, but did you know you can subscribe to Adobe titles instead of paying the full price? In the screen where you select the version, platform etc.; click the drop down menu for “version” and select “subscription”. For Photoshop CS5, for example, you can pay $49 every month or $35 a month with a yearly plan. Excluding the deal mentioned above, it could save you money over buying the full version; not to mention having to pay the upgrade price when a new version comes out.

Speaking of which, Scott Kelby recently wrote Adobe a letter regarding their upgrade policy. You can read it over at his blog.

That leads me to the next Cyber Monday deal: UPDATE 11/29/11: The following offer from NAPP and Kelby Training have been extended through Tuesday.

NAPP Black Friday Deals

The folks over at NAPP and are offering some pretty sweet deals on Monday. NOTE: I did read on Facebook that these deals are active now, so you don’t have to wait; but I haven’t tested it myself. Some of the deals include 6-months added to your NAPP subscription, $50 off one year of KelbyTraining or get one year of both NAPP and KelbyTraining for $199. If you’ve never heard of it, KelbyTraining is a great educational resource with online courses covering photography and software training. I credit it with teaching me Photoshop. Check out NAPP, if for nothing else, the discounts they offer on products and services photographers use. The discounts I got from Adobe and Apple  more than paid for my membership fee.

That’s it for now. If you see any deals out there, let me know. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving and happy shopping!

Save Your Pennies for That New DSLR

If you are saving your pennies for that shiny lens or DSLR, there’s an easy way to do it and keep your eye on the prize.

I saw this on the PetaPixel site over the weekend…

 DSLR Coin Bank

The coin bank looks like a Canon 350D with a 24-105mm L lens.

It reminded me of this USB drive I wrote about in a previous post:Camera USB Drive

 Or this miniature camera:


 They make good stocking stuffers for photographers. But you better hurry, only 4 shopping days left!

Photograph a Cheer and Dance Competition? Bring It!

So  I tried something new last weekend. I’ve never shot a sporting event nor have I ever shot a concert. Now I know what both feel like! 

My girlfriend’s cousin, Jordan, was competing in the Cheerleaders of America (COA) “Ultimate National Championship” at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, FL. If you’ve ever caught a glimpse of a cheer competition on TV, let me tell you, you have no idea what it’s like to actually be there. 

Cheerleading Competition

click for larger image

The hotel grounds were teeming with teams of tweens…sorry, couldn’t help myself! But seriously, how else would you describe hundreds (maybe thousands) of pre-teen girls wearing WAY too much make-up and cheerleading uniforms? I’m guessing the heavy make-up is meant for the judges to see from where they’re sitting…if they happen to be sitting on the planet Mars. 

Cheerleading Competition

click for larger image

But let me cut to the chase. Jordan’s team, Top Gun, was on; so I enter the competition room. It was dark and loud. Let me emphasize the word LOUD. If you like dark rooms with loud techno/dance music blaring, you would feel right at home…glow sticks optional. When I got in, the team before Top Gun was wrapping up. So I took this time to figure out my exposure. But it wasn’t long before I had to head to the front when Jordan’s team came in. 

I was shooting with my 70-200 f/2.8 lens. I like to shoot in manual mode, so I dialed in f/2.8, at 250th of a second and ISO about 800. I don’t like shooting at high ISO, but even with the stage lights, I needed it. I also didn’t want to shoot at f/2.8 because I knew I could run into a depth of field problem if I wanted more than one part of the image in focus; but I needed the large aperture to let in more light. 

Things moved so fast…and I don’t just mean the cheerleaders. I mentioned concert photography earlier because it’s similar in a couple respects: you have stage lights, but you only have about 3 minutes to get the shot. I didn’t have a whole lot of time to look at my LCD and evaluate the shot. I was shooting on burst mode; 6.5 frames per second and focusing mostly on Jordan. At one point I switched to shutter priority and was around 350th of a second. I was really trying to capture the flipping sequences. 

Cheerleading Competition

click for larger image

Cheerleading Competition

click for larger image

Looking at some of the frames, they’re still not tack sharp. If I get to do it again, I’d shoot at a minimum of 350th, boost the ISO to maybe 1600 and a narrower f-stop. 

About 3 minutes later it was all over. The Top Gun teams (there are different classes) took the All Stars Level, 2,3 and 5 Grand Champion titles. See this link for the full results, if you’re interested. We took the rest of the afternoon to walk around the hotel and enjoy the pool. If you’ve never been to Gaylord Palms, I recommend going just to see the inside. It is massive. They have a tropical atrium complete with alligators and turtles. Click the link above to see a picture on their home page. 

All in all, I’m glad I got to try something new; it was definitely a learning experience that tested me while pushing me outside my comfort level.

Ironclad Protection For Your Images At Rock Bottom Prices!

The Copyright

The moment you take a picture, it’s yours. You created it. You own the copyright. Copyright means just that: you have the right to copy it. So how do you protect your rights?

You can watermark your images (more on that later). You can post a disclaimer on your Facebook page. You can have a verbal agreement (this is about as good as a nod and a wink). But if someone really wants to use a picture you took, in a manner or for a purpose that you did not consent to, there’s not much stopping them.

The only way to protect your images in a court of law is to register the copyright.

Hey wait, come back! Yeah, I know; it’s not sexy. It’s not even fun. I mean I get it. As photographers we want to spend our time…uh…taking pictures! Who wants to edit? Learn about taxes and limited liability corporations? Booooring.

What’s really at stake here is money. You took the picture. If someone wants to use it for advertising or promotion, they should pay you for it. This is called “licensing” (more on that later too).

To quote the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP): “You do not have to register your work with the Copyright Office to acquire your copyright. However, the legal protections available to you are limited if the photographs are not registered. Those limitations can translate into lost income.”

Worth More Than A Thousand Words

Let me cut to the chase and then I’ll circle around again. It costs $35.

Hey wait, come back!

I know, I know. We’re saving every penny for that fast super-zoom lens! But first, you should know it’s not $35 per image. It’s $35 for a batch. As many as you can register during a one-hour session. Now think about it; how many pieces of photographic gear do you own that costs less than $35? I can think of two and one does nothing but blow air.

Now those 35-dollars can mean hundreds, thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars for you if someone infringes on your copyright. And it’s good for 70 years after you die!

So let’s say you copyright an image today. You die at age 100. Sixty-nine years later your great-great-great grandson discovers a picture you took being used in a Nike ad. Because you left your estate to your heirs…CHA CHING! Your great-great-great-great grandson can now go to college!

This scenario may seemed a little far-fetched. But only a little….

I first opened my eyes to the process of copyrighting through I highly recommend the subscription, but you can watch the first three lessons of each course for free. Over there, Jack Reznicki and Ed Greenberg have a course on the topic and they walk you through the process of registering your work online. They tell the story of the late Stuart Gross who, in 1987, took a routine picture of 6-year old Lisa Steinberg . The little girl died 9 days later at the hands of her mother’s boyfriend. The story made national headlines. The picture became evidence in court and was licensed to specific media outlets under specific conditions.

Greenberg says 22 years later the picture is still being infringed and he’s brought more than a dozen claims against some of the top media outlets  in the country, including CBS News.

The photographer is dead. The picture lives on. And so does his copyright.

Go watch the course (at least the first 3 lessons) HERE.

gavel on top of laptop


No, not the eco-system. The eCO system. That’s the electronic copyright office. I’m going to cop-out here because I really cannot walk you through the process better than Carolyn Wright over at the Photo Attorney blog.

The entire article with step-by-step instructions is here:

If you prefer the video tutorial see the link above.


Chances are if someone is using your image, it isn’t malicious. They probably didn’t “steal” it. They’re probably just a little ignorant. If you find someone who infringed your copyright, don’t go calling the attorney just yet.  In fact, a lawsuit is probably the last step. There are ways to deal with it. But try walking into an attorney’s office with your story and the first thing he or she will ask you is “Did you copyright it?”.  If you didn’t, they probably won’t even take your case.

The first thing you should do is have a contract. Always. If you put someone in front of your lens, hand them a contract before you press the shutter. Shooting your best friend’s wedding? Shooting your neighbors newborn baby?  Get a contract! What if that picture ended up in a bridal magazine ad or the cutest baby in the world billboard with NO compensation or credit to you? Get a contract and specify the use and terms. When Stuart Gross took that picture of the little girl, he never imagined it would become such a huge story, or that the image would be used 22 years later, even after his death.

Next, add your contact and copyright info to your metadata. If it’s in the metadata, someone can’t later say that they had no way of contacting you.

Disable “right-click” on your website so no one can right-click and “save” the image.

None of these options is fail-safe. Like I said if someone really wants your image, they’re gonna get it. But a combination of these methods will help protect you.


Let’s clear something up here. When someone pays you for a picture you are not selling the picture. You are not selling your copyright. You are selling a license for that person to use your picture in a specific way.  Unless, it’s specified in a contract, or you are a work-for-hire photographer (that’s another blog for another day), you retain the copyright.  Now a photographer can sell their copyright; but that will net him much more money than a license.


I use watermarks sparingly. I think they distract from the image. But something David Hobby wrote in 2007 has always stuck with me:

“The first thing I would do would be to lose the arty signatures embedded within the photos. Very “Buck’s County Arts and Crafts Show,” IMO. You want to be aiming higher than that. If you feel you must stick your name into the image area, make it very small, in a bottom corner, with a “©” symbol (created with an option “g”).”

Actually, the copyright symbol doesn’t even have to appear on your image to be protected. (source: ASMP Copyright Primer; link below)

‘Nuff said.

I know this has been a long blog post. But it’s important. I’m not an attorney, so take this advice as a starting point only. And please check out the helpful links below. Those links have links within them that you should follow.

Look, you spent thousands of dollars on gear and all your free time taking and editing pictures. Why not protect them?



The eCO System

ASMP Copyright Primer

Pro Imaging


The Copyright Zone (Reznicki and Greenberg)

Photo Attorney (Carolyn Wright)


Help, I’ve Been Infringed!

I’m Gonna Sue!

The Blue in the Face List Pt.1

The Blue in the Face List Pt.2

Life After Death


Business and Legal Forms for Photographers

Best Business Practices for Photographers

Tango in Toronto

You know the expression “it’s a small world”. And we all know how the World Wide Web makes it even smaller. Well a funny thing happened not too long ago. But the story starts in 2007. That’s when I took a trip to NYC, Toronto and Niagara Falls. Step by step…inch by inch…sorry, obscure reference for some. 

Aaannnyway…While in Toronto I spotted a couple dancing the tango in an open air market called St. Lawrence Market. I snapped a few pics with my point and shoot Canon 800IS. 

A couple dancing the tango

click for larger image

Almost two years later, I uploaded the photo to Flickr and about a month after that I get an email: 

Hello Harry,  

I came across your picture during a search, and it was a VERY nice surprise. It nicely captured the essence of Argentine Tango – living in the moment; a dialogue without words. 

That’s my back facing your camera in this pic. 🙂 

No other dancer showed up that day, so I had all afternoon to dance with that girl and got to know her better. She was in Toronto for some studies and has since gone home. 

I am wondering if you can send me a hi-res version of the picture just for my personal use.
Thank you in advance.

I was blown away! The picture was captured in a brief moment, in passing, two years prior…in another country! And the guy in the picture finds it and contacts me! 

I exchanged a couple of emails with him just to make sure he was who he said he was and gladly sent him the images. 

I took this experience to reinforce something I had just learned and I would like to pass it along to my photographer friends using Flickr. The possibility exists that a publisher or editor is looking for a particular image. They could search through stock agencies, but some also search Flickr. Your image stands a better chance of being found if it is properly titled and filled in with a description. Afterall, who searches for “IMG_1003” or “DSC_009”? Because I titled and labeled my picture, it was found. No, it didn’t lead to a client or a financial payoff….yet!