Two closely related business topics in this post – Equipment and Insurance.
For tax purposes, photographic equipment that you own or purchase, can be considered a business asset and therefore the value of it can be taken off your turnover to reduce your tax bill. The specifics of “capital equipment” as it’s officially known, change from year to year, and are not suitable for a brief introductory guide such as this. Your accountant will offer you advice on how best to list this equipment, and may even suggest the most tax effective way to buy more. The definition of “listing” is a bit hard for a non-accountant like me to impart, but essentially something is listed if you used business assets (i.e. your profits) to buy it, and you use it to generate revenue.
One thing to bear in mind is that if a camera or similar is listed as a business asset, you may be forced to sell it if your business runs into trouble and you have to pay your suppliers. Once again your accountant can give you the best advice. Personally speaking I’ve had everything listed in the business from day one, and as I’ve bought new gear in, that’s been listed too. You are also allowed something called “depreciation” against the value of the equipment. Put simply this an allowance each year for the decreasing value of equipment, it will be a percentage of the total amount which then gets deducted from your profits to further reduce your tax bill. The details of this change annually, so once again, your accountant is the best person to turn to. Sorry I can’t be more helpful, but this really is one of those areas that require technical knowledge!
It’s never the first thing on people’s minds, but as a practising professional photographer, and to a lesser extent an assistant photographer, you should think very seriously about insurance. At one level it’s comforting to have all your camera gear, computers and portfolio etc covered in case of loss or damage, but more importantly you should look into public liability insurance. Public liability basically means that should an accident occur involving a member of the public as a result of your actions, you shouldn’t end up paying huge costs (compensation, legal bills etc). This is presuming you didn’t cause the accident by negligence or twatting them round the head with a tripod. Most insurers offer a policy for around £50 a year that provides you with about £1 000 000 of cover, but as always it pays to read the small print. Almost all of them are unlikely to pay out if it can be proved that you were negligent/stupid (say for example you left an unsecured power cable running across the pavement) and there will certainly be an excess to pay and other conditions to be met.
Likewise check any conditions relating to the cover of your equipment, the most notorious being theft from parked cars. There was a famous case (possibly an urban myth – an old lecturer was always quoting it!) of a group of photographers attending a conference or similar, on returning to their cars they found that a very thorough thief had made of with the lions share of their collective equipment. Although slightly distraught, they all presumed they were covered by their insurance, only to find that under specifics of the policy, the equipment was only covered if kept locked in the boot of a saloon car. Hatchbacks, estates etc, or any equipment left on display were not covered and collectively they lost thousands. The moral of the story is be careful in the first place and don’t presume that the insurance will cover everything.
As a guide to prices, for approximately £15 000 worth of camera and computer equipment (UK and 45 days worldwide), portfolio cover, goods in transit up to £10 000 (covers you if you lose clothes for a fashion shoot, or objects for a still life) public liability up to £2 000 000 and professional indemnity (for legal disputes), and Employer’s liability I’m paying around £750 per year. The Association of Photographers often have deals whereby you can get bits of the insurance you need, but not bits you don’t, and they can often be considerably cheaper than the high st.