When Does Your Photography Become a Legal Business?

On a recent episode of a popular photography podcast, the listener asked a question about turning his photography into a legal business. He said right now he was just earning money but wanted to convert to a legal business. It’s an interesting question, and one I am sure many entrepreneurial photographers ask.

I wanted to provide my own answer to this question, based on years of freelance and business experience. Please bear in mind this answer comes from my own personal experiences in this matter. I am not a lawyer. This answer is also based on the laws of Canada, but I would expect their similar in the US and other similar countries.

There is a short answer; and a longer explanation.

Relating back to the listener’s question, he has no need to convert his business into a legal business. He’s already operating one. That’s the short answer.

Here’s the explanation as I understand it. The moment a person accepts a payment for services rendered (like photography), that money is considered by the Canada Revenue Agency as self-employment income. It must be declared on an annual personal income tax report, and you will be expected to pay all taxes due on that money earned. You are operating a legal business under your personal name. Under Canadian law, you must also collect and remit sales taxes once your gross annual revenue exceeds $30,000 in a calendar year.

If you’re a photographer and you accept money for services, you’re in business. If you receive more than $30,000 per year in revenue, you’d better be charging sales tax on your services and remitting the collected funds to the government.

So, if the listener was operating in Canada, his question is moot.

Now, let’s assume for a moment the listener was asking a slightly different question. Perhaps he is considering registering a business name for his photography and equates that with converting to a legal business. The question then becomes at what point do I register a name for my business?

The answer to this question is whenever you are ready. It’s a simple process if you only intend to operate as a sole proprietorship. This is sometimes also referred to as a trade name.

The important thing to keep in mind is when you convert from earning money in your own name to learning money under a sole proprietorship (or trade name), the status of your business doesn’t change. You’re still a self-employed individual. You’ll be required to claim all business income(or loss) on your personal income tax and you’ll be responsible to remit any taxes due at the end of the year.

Let’s look at a simplified example:

A nice guy by the name of Steve has a camera. A friend (we’ll call him Fred) takes a liking to the photographs Steve creates and asks him to pop over on Saturday to take some pictures at his kid’s birthday party. Fred offer’s Steve $100 for his time. Steve accepts.

Steve is now a business owner and has landed his first client. He’ll have to claim the $100 on his personal income tax report as self-employment income.

Notice there was no official business registration process. Steve went from ‘guy-with-a-camera’ to ‘photography business owner’ in the amount of time it took for the money to change hands.

Our story continues as other parents who met Steve at the party called to request his services at their kid’s events. Steve is building a reputation as a solid and reliable birthday party photographer. He increases his rates and adds more booking to his calendar. Steve begins to think about taking his photography business more seriously and maybe even setting up a website.

He decides to register ‘Steve’s Party Photography’ as a business name with his provincial government. Steve now has the ability to start conducting business as the sole proprietor of Steve’s Party Photography.

The important thing to keep in mind is all the profit (or loss) from ‘Steve’s Party Photography’ will need to be claimed on Steve’s personal income tax report. If you’re collecting money in return for photography services, you’re already operating a legal business. Choosing to operate under a trade name is a completely optional step, but one that most entrepreneurial photographers choose to take.

What is the Exposure Triangle and How Does It Work?

When it comes to photography, light is everything. After all, a photograph is nothing more than light captured on a medium (film or digital sensor). Controlling the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor is key to getting the right photograph. There are three camera settings related to exposure, the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Together, they form the Exposure Triangle.

When the settings are right, the correct amount of light reaches the sensor and the photograph is considered properly exposed. If too little light reaches the sensor, the resulting image will appear too dark. This is referred to as underexposed. Overexposure occurs when too much light reaches the sensor and the image appears too light.

Modern cameras usually have an automatic mode where the camera evaluates the scene and makes the proper adjustments to the camera settings for the best exposure.

This shot was taken with my Nikon D5100 in automatic mode. The camera chose an aperture of F/5.6, a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second and ISO200 for this shot. As you can see, it’s a well-exposed photograph.

Now let’s examine what happens to the same photo as we switch to manual mode and begin adjusting the same three camera settings.

Exposure Triangle: Aperture

Aperture controls the amount of light passing through the lens. The smaller the number, the wider the aperture. The wider the aperture, the more light the lens allows to reach the sensor. Aperture is measured in F-stops. Each full-stop reduction in aperture (F-number gets larger) means a 50% reduction in light. A full-stop increase in aperture (F-number gets smaller) means double the amount of light comes through. An F/4 aperture allows in double the light of an F/8. An F/16 allows 50% less light through than F/11.

I switched my D5100 to manual mode and dialed in the same settings chosen by the camera in automatic mode. I then took a sequence of photos, narrowing the lens aperture by one full-stop between shots. We went from an aperture of F/5.6 on the first frame to F/8 in the second. You can see the resulting image is darker. The aperture was one stop smaller so 50% less light reached the sensor.

Narrowing down again from F/8 to F11 resulted in even less light with another 50% drop. These resulting 50% drops in light are referred to as stops of light. So from F/5.6 to F/11, we’ve lost a total of two stops of light. Drop to F/16 and now we’ve lost three stops of light.

Quick Tip: Narrowing aperture by one stop reduces light by half. Increasing aperture by one stop doubles the light.

READ MORE: Aperture and Depth of Field

Exposure Triangle: Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is a measurement in seconds of the amount of time the camera shutter opens, exposing the sensor to the light passing through the lens. A shorter duration allows less light. This is known as a faster shutter speed. A slower shutter speed will keep the sensor exposed longer, generating a brighter image. A 1/125th-second shutter will allow more light to reach the sensor than a 1/250th second. A 1/1000th shutter will allow less light than a 1/500th.

I repeated the same process as above, but this time I left the aperture and ISO settings alone and only adjusted the shutter speeds. The 1/250th shutter speed gave us a darker image than the 1/125th, which makes sense. The shutter was open for half as long, meaning half as much light reached the sensor. Just like narrowing the aperture one stop results in a 50% reduction in light, doubling the shutter speed also results in 50% less light. Increasing from 1/500th of a second to 1/1000th of a second likewise causes a 50% reduction in light on the sensor (one stop of light).

If we look at this photo from right to left, we see slowing down the shutter from 1/250th of a second to 1/125th results in twice as much light getting through because the shutter is open twice as long. The resulting image will be brighter.

Quick Tip: Increasing shutter speed one stop reduces light by half. Decreasing shutter speed by one stop doubles the light.

READ MORE: Shutter Speed and Controlling Motion

Exposure Triangle: ISO

The third point on the exposure triangle is ISO. This is a measurement of the ‘sensitivity’ of the camera to light. If you remember buying film for a camera, you’ll remember you had to buy film that has an ISO rating that matched you shooting environment. You used an ISO200 film for outdoor shooting and ISO800 film for indoor photos.

Once again the shutter speed and aperture are dialed in to match the automatic shot. I increased the ISO one full stop between exposures and you can see the results. Each full stop increase in ISO makes the image brighter. Moving from ISO400 to ISO800 results in an image that twice as bright. Moving down from ISO400 to ISO200 means the image is 50% darker.

While ISO is an algorithm the camera uses to alter the brightness of the photo, I found it helpful to think about ISO as changing how ‘sensitive’ the camera is to light. A lower ISO means the camera is less ‘sensitive’ and a higher ISO means the camera is more ‘sensitive’.

While the actual sensitivity of the camera doesn’t change, this thinking still helped me to understand what was happening to my images as I adjust the ISO.

Quick Tip: Increasing ISO makes the camera twice as ‘sensitive’ to light. Lowering ISO makes the camera half as ‘sensitive’.

READ MORE: ISO and Noise

Dialing In the Proper Exposure

We’ve explored the effects of aperture, shutter speed and ISO on the exposure of our photographs. Moving a setting up or down one full stop has a resulting increase or decrease on the amount of light that reaches our sensor, or the sensitivity of the sensor to that light in the case of ISO.

What’s most important to note is we can compensate for the stop of light lost or gained by adjusting another setting in the opposite direction.

Let’s say we need to narrow down our aperture one stop to increase our depth of field. We’ll lose 50% of our light. We can compensate for that drop by slowing the shutter speed by one stop or by increasing the ISO by a one stop. Either one of those changes will allow us to recapture the lost light.

Without text, the image looks nearly identical to the reference image, but it is the same style compilation as the other examples. Four separate frames, each taken with different camera settings. I started with the reference settings of F/5.6, 1/125th, and ISO200; then made a drastic 3-stop change to one of the settings. The change was compensated for by an equal, but opposite, change in another setting. The result is the same proper exposure.

In the second frame, I narrowed the aperture by 3 stops, which as we know from the above example would result in a substantially darker image. However, I compensated for the loss of light by slowing the shutter speed by 3 stops. This allowed me to regain the lost light by keeping the shutter open longer and properly exposing the image.

The third frame shows the result of a 3-stop increase in shutter speed, from 1/125th to 1/1000th, and a 3-stop bump to ISO 1600 to compensate. The faster shutter reduced the light available to the sensor, but the ISO bump increased the sensitivity of the sensor to the available light.

The last frame I stop down to F/16 and increase to ISO 1600. All three frames are equally exposed, despite the drastically different settings.

Quick Tip: Boosting ISO too high will result in noise in your photos. ISO should be the last adjustment you make and only if aperture and shutter change isn’t enough.

Putting it All Together

Know that we understand how to manually dial in the exposure settings, the obvious question is why bother? If our camera can automatically detect the best settings for the situation, why learn the exposure triangle at all?

I would say because the camera might make a mistake and that may be true. But as a beginning photographer, your camera will nail the proper exposure more often than you will. It’s also a good idea to understand what your camera is doing to get the best exposure when it’s in automatic mode.

However, there’s a lot more to the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO than proper exposure. This is the real reason why you need to understand the exposure triangle. You’ll soon want to step out from the automatic mode and start creating more artistic photographs and you’re camera won’t be able to choose the proper settings. Aperture and shutter speed control different artistic elements of your photograph and your camera’s automatic setting has zero artistic ability.

Aperture controls the depth of field and determines which parts of your photograph are in focus. Shutter speed affects how motion is displayed in your photos. Adjusting both can lead to interesting artistic effects such as blurring the background of a portrait, or creating star trails at night.

Quick Tip: ISO is only for low light compensation unless you consider digital noise to be an artistic element.

For more details on each of these exposure triangle settings and their effects on your photographs, check out these articles:

5 Great Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras for 2018

We all know that Sony has broken the mold for entry-level full-frame cameras with the release of the new A7III. But even at a great price (just two dollars short of $2,000), it still might be out of reach for the savvy photography business owner on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are several other options on the market that can get you up into full-frame territory for much less than the cost of a brand new Sony A7III.

I’ve compiled a list of several entry-level full-frame cameras available. My criteria are simple; 35mm sensor and a ‘body-only’ list price below $1,500 USD. I didn’t include lenses in the price, because my thought is if you’re considering spending your hard-earned money on a full-frame camera, you already have great glass to use with it. If you don’t, I suggest your limited funds would be better spent on better lenses for your current body.

There are several models currently listed on the B&H website that meet this criterion. I picked five and ordered them by price from lowest to highest. All pricing is in USD and pulled directly from the B&H website. Prices will vary, so shop around for the best deals.

READ MORE: How Would Your Business Spend a $3,700 Gear Budget

Sony Alpha A7

The Sony Alpha A7 was a game changer when it first came to market. As the first full-frame mirrorless camera, it foreshadowed interesting things to come with it’s compact, lightweight design. Today, it’s an absolute steal at only $798 and the cheapest way to enter the world of full-frame photography.

Equipped with a 24.3-megapixel sensor, the A7 still produces excellent images. It lacks a touchscreen and there’s no 4k video, but 1080p60 is available. Battery life is the biggest knock against the A7, but given its low price, you can pick up a couple of spares for all-day shoots. It’s the smallest, lightest, cheapest path to full-frame photography…at least until you start adding lenses.

Canon 6D

Canon’s 6D is the cheapest DSLR on our list at just $999. This camera might be getting a bit long in the tooth, but it’s a lightweight option with a 20.3-megapixel sensor that produces great images. It lags behind other option for resolution and autofocus (11-point with one cross-type). Video capabilities are also weak on the Canon 6D, but it will do 1080p at 30fps, which should be fine for those of us who are primarily still photographers. Besides, if you’re shooting a lot of videos, you’re not going to buy a full-frame DSLR anyway.

I had hoped to include the upgraded Canon 6D Mark II on this list, but the body-only price came in just over my $1,500 price target by $99. It’s an option worth considering if you don’t need the rock-bottom price of the 6D. It’s video capabilities are upgraded and the auto-focus system is much better. The 6D Mark II includes Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF system. Combined with the fully-articulating touchscreen delay, the 6D Mark II is a capable video shooter, but it’s doubtful if these features make the 6D Mark II a better entry-level option than the older 6D.

READ MORE: When Does Your Photography Become a Legal Business?

Sony A7II

The mirrorless Sony A7II is perhaps the most intriguing model on this short list of entry-level full-frame cameras at $1098. The internal components and specs are similar to the original A7, but the Mark II versions come with some compelling upgrades that are worth the extra $300.

The handling characteristics are much improved, with a deeper grip and tweaked control layout. The A7II also sports 5-axis in-body image stabilization, meaning you no longer have to rely on image-stabilized lenses for steady handheld shooting. It’s got solid FullHD video capability with 1080p60 at 50Mb/s. No 4K, but it is still the most capable video shooter on this list.

At only a few hundred more than an A7 and half the price of a new A7III, the Sony A7II might be the best choice for an entry-level full-frame camera.

Nikon D610

Stepping up in price brings us to the entry-level offering in the Nikon catalog, the D610 at $1,496. It offers a 24.3-megapixel sensor and a respectable autofocus system with 39 focus points, 9 of which are cross-type. All the internal are wrapped in a weather-sealed housing making the D610 ideal for outdoor work.

The D610 is also outfitted with dual card slots, an important feature for professional photographers who benefit from the redundancy of recording to both cards simultaneously. It’s capable of basic video recording at 1080p/30fps. This would be a solid buy for an entry-level full-frame camera, but check out the next camera on the list first.

Nikon D750

I was surprised to see the Nikon D750 come up in my B&H search at exactly the same price ($1,496) as the D610. Perhaps it’s in the midst of a price adjustment (I have seen the D750 on sale recently), but a D750 for the same price as a D610 (or even a couple hundred dollars higher), is a no-brainer.

The D750 gives you an upgraded autofocus system right out of its D810 big brother. It also features a tilting rear LCD screen, built-in WiFi, and full 1080p60 video capability. It also promises a faster burst rate (6.5fps) and better battery life (1230 shots) than the D610 or the D810 for that matter. If you intend to shoot Nikon and can manage the higher price, the D750 is a superb entry-level full-frame camera.

What About a Used Camera?

I don’t want to rule out used equipment. I buy most of my gear previously-enjoyed from a local brick-and-mortar. If you don’t mind a camera with a few miles on it, there are some great deals to be had on most of the entry-level full-frame cameras on this list, which will save your business even more money.

You may also be able to find a higher-end body that falls within your budget on the used market.

For example, I recently picked up a mint Nikon D5100 with an 18-55mm kit lens for $300CDN from a local wedding photographer who moved to full-frame and was cashing in her unneeded gear. It’s not full frame, but it was a heck of a deal.

Which of These Entry-Level Full-Frame Cameras is Right for You?

Any of these models would make an ideal point to step up to full-frame for a professional photographer on a budget, assuming that’s the right move for your business.

I mentioned the lenses above, but it bears repeating, you should only be considering a full-frame body if you’ve already got the glass you need for your projects.

As an example, if you’re an event photographer and you’re using a crop-sensor body and you don’t own a 24-70mm F2.8 and/or 70-200mm F2.8, your photography business may benefit more from an investment in better glass than a larger body.

How Would Your Business Spend a $3,700 Gear Budget

An opportunity recently presented itself to expand my photography business into another market, At the moment, my photography serves as a value-add to my freelance writing projects, and while it does a great job of increasing the value of my deliverables, I’ve always had a desire to expand my photography services beyond their current situation.

The new opportunity involves one of my other business ventures and would require event photography. Mostly business networking events, conferences, training and other related professional functions. We had briefly considered hiring a photographer to work with us on this project, but I can’t pass up an opportunity. Two birds with one stone, if you catch my meaning.

This type of photography would be a considerable departure from my current projects as far as shooting environment is concerned. Right now, my work is almost entirely outdoors in natural light, but corporate event photography will move me inside, to poorly lit meeting rooms, dim networking venues and various forms of artificial light. For this project to be a success, a gear upgrade will be required.

I currently shoot with a Canon 7D (yes, the first one) and have a small selection of lenses I use for different purposes. A Sigma 10-20mm F/3.5 for interior shots of boats and RVs. A Canon 70-300mm F/4-5.6 for long shots of running boats and a 50mm F/1.8 for the occasional grip and smile shot. While this gear suits me well for my current projects, none of these lenses, except the 50mm, is well-suited to the indoor shooting I’ll be doing.

The upgrade will need to consist of a minimum of a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm lens. Both are standard fare for any event shooter. F/2.8 would be ideal, but I’m a business owner first, and a photographer second, so F/4 may be a more suitable investment. The Canon F/4 lenses are about 40-45% cheaper than their F/2.8 counterparts. Deciding which to choose, like many business decisions, comes down to a math equation.

Assuming my business has a $3,700 budget for the needed upgrades, let’s grab some prices from the B&H website:

  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens: $1,600
  • Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens: $900
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens: $2,100
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS II USM Lens: $1,300

As you can see, on the 24-70mm, opting for the F/4 version saves $700. On the 70-200mm, I hang on to $800 by foregoing the F/2.8. Choosing the F/4 over the F/2.8 will save $1,500. Seems like a no-brainer for a cash-strapped small business owner, but there’s another problem…

Both lenses are designed for a full-frame sensor. They will fit on my Canon 7D, but because it has an APS-C sensor, the focal lengths of these lenses will be increased by a factor 1.6. The 24-70mm would become a 38-112mm and the larger lens would work out at 112-320mm. Not ideal focal lengths for event photography, but passable, except for a second issue…

By losing the one stop of maximum aperture, I need to make that up at another point in the exposure triangle. I could adjust the shutter speed, but given the poor lighting conditions I may encounter, I’ll be keeping the shutter speed at the absolute slowest setting possible to avoid motion blur. Stopping it down won’t be an option very often.

The other adjustment I can get to retrieve my lost stop of aperture is to bump the ISO by an equivalent stop. For example, if I can get a proper exposure at ISO1600 with the F/2.8, I’ll need to stop up to ISO3200 to get the same exposure with the F/4 glass. I know this will produce more noise in my images, but this will likely be the only viable solution in most situations if I opt for the F/4 lenses.

So, to summarize the problem, is it worth an extra $1,500 to reduce noise in my images by one full stop?

Absolutely not! $1,500 for a single small benefit is an unwise investment for a business owner. I’m here to make a profit on my corporate event photography, not tie up valuable cash flow inexpensive assets I don’t need. I’m not shooting weddings or other intimate events that involve a lifetime of happy memories.

However, perhaps there’s a more elegant solution here. If there was a way to invest the extra $1,500 so I regain my stop of light along with some other benefits, then it would be worth considering.

What if I invested the $1,500 into a full-frame camera body to replace the aging 7D?

Stepping up to a full-frame sensor would mean cleaner images at the necessarily higher ISO setting. A newer body would also bring many other benefits that would offset the $1,500 premium.

Let’s stick with Canon for a moment for an apple to apple comparison. What if I pulled together another $100 and dropped $1,600 on a brand-new Canon 6D Mark II, or even a slightly used model if I can’t find extra $100?

What extra benefits would that net me?

I love my 7D. It has fast autofocus and takes great photos, but it does have a few shortcomings.

The biggest one I ran into was with video. I don’t shoot video often, but even with my limited need, I found the 7D inadequate for the task. It’ will do 1080p at 30fps, but it lacks any ability to autofocus during recording. If the subject is moving, like a boat (or a person at an event), I’m not going to have much luck getting usable video.

The 6D Mark II fixes this extremely well. Not only will it do 1080p at 60fps, but it’s also equipped with Canon’s Dual-Pixel AF and a Vari-Angle touchscreen. That’s a massive upgrade over the 7D.

The other disadvantage of the 7D is CompactFlash memory. That stuff is expensive and obsolete. My laptop has an SD card reader, not a CF slot. I don’t want to mess around with a card reader, or even worse, a USB cable to the 7D. The 6D Mark II would solve this issue as well.

The new body would also give us goodies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC and an upgraded 26.2-megapixel sensor adding even more value to my investment. But the biggest benefit to the new body is I would then have a capable backup in the 7D should the 6D fail during an event.

Here’s the $3,700 bottom line:

Option 1: A pair of F/2.8 lenses with a capable, but ten-year-old APS-C body?

Option 2: A pair of F/4 lenses and a brand-new full-frame body for an extra $100?

Your money and your business may lead you to a different decision, but for my business and my money, it’s F/4 lenses and a new full-frame body.

I am sure that more than one of you are disagreeing with my entire thought process and screaming that F/2.8 is the only option for a pro event shooter. You may be right. That’s why there’s a comment section down below. Agree or disagree? Sound off and let me know what choice you would make and why?

Perhaps you can change my mind!

7 Things I Look For in a Great Side Hustle

Once I decided to start this blog the first thing I did was think back to the countless side hustles I have experimented with to figure out exactly what attracted me to each hustle. As I jotted down my notes, I noticed a pattern. I realized that over the years, I have inadvertently developed a list of criteria I use to evaluate the suitability of a potential side hustle. These side hustle ‘criteria’ are also reflected in my current crop of projects.

I want to share that criteria with you.

Please understand the elements I look for in a potential side hustle may not be the same things you look for, and that should be expected. We have different values, passions, skills, and beliefs, not to mention differing goals. I am working on a series of exercises to help people identify and develop their criteria for a good side hustle, but for now, let’s look at my list.

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7 Things You Need to Know About Network Marketing

At some point in your search for the perfect side hustle, I’ll bet you stumbled into a network marketing opportunity and like most people, dismissed it out of hand. Most people do. Too much negativity among the majority of the population. Network marketing has a bad rap, but what if I told you it was one of the best side hustles you’ll ever come across?

In a previous article, I laid out my reasoning for Why Network Marketing is a Great Side Hustle. I won’t repeat too much of that information here, but I just want to fill you in on a few truths I’ve learned since taking on a network marketing opportunity as a side hustle almost five years ago.

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