Tax Prep for Photographers & Filmmakers

Kate stepping in here to give you a bit of info from the business side of photography & filmmaking, this time about taxes.

Yes, it is that time of year again. If you’re in the ol’ USA and didn’t already know it, the due date for 2010 US Federal taxes has been extended to April 18, 2011.  That may be really great news to anyone scurrying around to finish up taxes at the last minute.  Now, you’ll have all weekend to wrap them up.

As you finalize your return, make sure that you’ve taken advantage of all possible tax deductible expenses, especially those that are a bit esoteric.  Since I am no tax professional, please do not consider this tax advice and check with a tax professional to learn about specific rules and exceptions that will affect your eligibility. However, this list may be a good way to start that conversation:

Tax deductible expenses specific to photographers and filmmakers:

Some deductions are very standard for all small businesses, including business insurance, office supplies, software costs, and even tax preparation fees.  In the world of photography and filmmaking, there are some expenses that are more specific to the industry.  To name a few…. 

Gear Related

  • Camera and lighting equipment
  • Memory cards, hard drives and digital storage
  • Film (if you are old school) and processing fees
  • Repairs and rentals

Business Related

  • Website costs
  • Professional memberships, such as ASMP or ASPP
  • Reference materials – books, magazines
  • Contest entry fees
  • Continuing education courses
  • Copyright registration fees

Production Costs

  • Contractors, including stylists, assistants, models, location scouts, editors
  • Wardrobe and props
  • Permits, location fees or studio rental fees
  • Travel expenses
  • Music licensing fees

Additionally, here are some helpful ideas regarding taxes and tax prep:

  • Think you are due a refund?  File as soon as possible.  The IRS does not pay interest on the money it owes you.
  • Some libraries offer FREE tax form preparation!  Make sure you have all of your paperwork together before you head in for assistance.  This help is usually offered on a first come, first served basis and is only good through the official tax due date.
  • Make use of the FREE resources available to you through the government:  IRS website,  call the IRS toll-free number for assistance or visit an IRS Taxpayer Assistance Center.
  • Just need more time to finish?  You can file for an extension but that does NOT give you any extension on paying your tax liability.  That means, you still need to estimate how much you owe and you MUST pay Uncle Sam by Monday.  Then, you can use your six-month extension to prepare your 2010 federal tax return.
  • Any 2010 contributions to retirement funds must be postmarked April 18… no extensions, so make your contributions if you are able.
  • Start organizing your 2011 tax paperwork NOW, and save yourself from any big headaches next year.

Good luck getting those tax returns out!  Here’s hoping that you have a big fat refund check heading your way this year!

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I’ve done about $10k in free work this month for various non-profits. Can I get a deduction from that?

@ A Photog. That is very generous of you! While you cannot deduct your time, you can deduct any out of pocket expenses and mileage (at the lower charity rate of 14 cents/mile for 2011). Not much help on the tax front, but you do get to feel really good about helping out so much! :)

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What happens if you ended up working on an event for a corporation (aka not a non-profit situation) but it’s not for pay. It’s a weird situation and I was doing someone a favor. But basically I drove to Tennessee (very far from Massachusetts). Can I only write the mileage off at the lower 14 cents/mile rate?

Nick Girard says:

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fas says:

This is awesome to promote photography. Hope other governments adopt it too.

Thanks for the post. If you’re interested, here’s the link to a blog I just did on business structure as it relates to photographers:

bimal nair says:

thanks for such an informative post. Such posts from you on the business sides of photography are always so much useful. Thankyou!

Just did my taxes and posted my breakdown of photography expenses and revenue and would be curious how they compare to others. Kind of wish I bought more equipment actually :)

Laurie says:

Thanks Kate, you saved me some $$$.

Adam Coss says:

Awesome post!

Also the Home Office Credit gave me an extra $600 … if you have a home studio or office where you do your editing that counts as part of your business.. a lot of people miss that. Just because its in your home doesn’t mean you cant claim it as a business expense.

-Adam Coss

@Adam. Good one! Just make sure you know the rules around this deduction. From the irs, “In order to claim a deduction for that part of a home used for business, taxpayers must use that part of the home:

* Exclusively and regularly as their principal place of business, as a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of their business, or in connection with their trade or business where there is a separate structure not attached to the home; or

* On a regular basis for certain storage use such as inventory or product samples, as rental property, or as a home daycare facility.

Generally, the amount of the deduction depends on the percentage of the home that is used for business.

These requirements are discussed in greater detail in Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home.”

Thank you, Kate! The fields you have in bold… ‘Gear, Business Related, Production’… are those the three main categories that you use in your accounting or do you break it down into further specifics?

@Nancy. You are very welcome.

The bold categories in my post are not the ones I use in our accounting. They are there to help organize the post visually. The items below each bold heading are some examples of expense categories specific to photographers/filmmakers. This list is not comprehensive and we do have more categories.

Mike Folden says:

Also, keep in mind the DOR is saying we need to charge sales tax. That was a surprise to me. They have been really helpful whenever I’ve phoned in.

Great post Kate! I forgot about web memberships and what not.

Chase says:

This is what im talking about when I ask the photog world at large for business posts/videos when you ask what topics we want covered. Yes, how to interact with a subject or lighting this and that are great, but these business posts are wonderful. Thank you.

Comforted to know that I haven’t missed anything. Just wished I could have spent my refund on camera gear. :(

Dan Bailey says:

Great advice Kate.

I’d like to reiterate that photographers with questions should definitely consider calling the IRS help line. Although the IRS always gets a bad rap, I’ve used the toll free number a few times during my career, and every time I call, the people on the other line are always incredibly helpful, courteous and friendly. You’re already paying for that resource, so you might as well take advantage of it if you need help filling out some of the forms.

mel haynes says:

Thanks for that insight, Dan. I would always assume the people on the other end were…well not easy to work with. Your response gives me hope. I may try it this year.

Joel says:

I’ll second this… my wife is American and is in process of moving to Canada. Definitely an atypical tax situation. The IRS were stymied by some questions but STILL very helpful. Wait times vary, but they are INCREDIBLY helpful.

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