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.

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.

Read more7 Things I Look For in a Great Side Hustle

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.

Read more7 Things You Need to Know About Network Marketing