When you’re just starting out, you may have a good camera body with a growing number of lenses and filters. Beyond a remote shutter release and a decent tripod, how can you afford to be a gear-ready photography student with all the right stuff—without going over your budget?

Photography students are eager to get their hands on good equipment to learn new techniques. They’re ready to take portfolio-ready photos—or they’ve been taking photos and they want to get the best equipment to get the best shots. Many think that the best equipment is key. It isn’t.

When I was a student, I bought an umbrella lighting kit, a two-light kit and other wonderful technology for indoor photo sessions. Since those studio lighting courses and a few choice model and food shots for my portfolio, I’ve rarely used this gear. It sits in my studio storage while I’m out taking lifestyle family photos. If only I knew I wouldn’t use much of it beyond the class.

If you choose to photograph fashion, food, animals or sports, it’s no question you’ll eventually need highly specialized equipment. You don’t need the expense before you have your diploma. My advice to you is this: borrow, rent or buy used equipment for your student photography needs. That way you can try it out, capture the shots you need and determine whether or not you want to pursue a still life specialization of commercial photography or engagement photos.

Can you borrow gear? You probably don’t know an experienced photographer with shelves full of equipment to share. School-based photography programs and societies and membership-based photo clubs sometimes have equipment to loan out. Local meet ups, such as the Victoria Camera Traders on Vancouver Island, sometimes host the chance to trade gear with other photographers. If borrowing seems impossible, consider renting needed photographic supplies.

Where is the best place to rent? That’s a tough question because there are so many options. If I needed specialized equipment for a one-off project, I would likely prefer a local, trusted camera shop. Here in the Vancouver area, there are numerous options. Vancouver students have reviewed a few places, namely Flashpoint Photographic Rentals, Gearhouse Camera Solutions and Beau Photo Supplies. I encourage you to check out the camera shop reviews on Yelp.com.

How do you buy inexpensive photography equipment? There are a number of ways to find used equipment. Savvy photographer Michael Zhang writes on PetaPixel.com that he has assembled a choice list of highly specialized photographic equipment from keeping an eye on Craigslist.org listings. Local camera shops, such as Kerrisdale Cameras—once my go-to place for miscellaneous camera maintenance and repairs—has used photographic equipment for sale.

Once you’re using free or discount equipment, you’ll quickly learn if this is a photographic niche that you want to continue to practice. If it isn’t, you’ll end up saving thousands of dollars.

If you have any questions about student photography, reach out to me on my Facebook page.