Updated: Aug 23, 2021
This blog represents my personal opinion. Do not, I repeat, do not mistake it for official tax advice. Please consult your accountant.
There is a scene I love from Schitt's Creek where David buys a bunch of stuff. When his father, Johnny, questions him on why he is buying all this stuff, David responds that he will just "write it off." As a tax accountant, this scene made me smile. I have had more than my fair share of clients trying to "write-off" random expenses where I ended up having to go through the same conversation that Johnny had with his son.
So that brings us to the question of … "Can I write off my photoshoot"?
And the answer to that question is...it depends.
Let's go back to the Schitt's Creek scene. Johnny goes into further questioning of David about how he is supposed to write it off. David, in a slight panic, "guesses" that the government just gives you money back for what you spent. Johnny then explains that a write-off is supposed to be a deduction to reduce your taxable income. David responds with, "Well, why don't they just call it a tax write-off," which Johnny responds by saying that's precisely what a write-off is.
Johnny's response that a write-off is a deduction to your taxable income is a really great start. But I think we can slightly tighten that definition a bit more by adding to the end, “only if it applies to your business.” A more official response from Johnny could have been that a write-off is a deduction for your active trade or business which reduces your business income.
I know you are thinking, "Great, Evan! But can we get to the point of whether my photoshoot is a write-off?". My response again is IT DEPENDS. But we can surely simplify it by asking if the photoshoot is for business purposes. Basically, if you need to file a Schedule C, Form 1065, or a Form 1120 and the photoshoot relates to that business, it "should" qualify as a write-off.
Let's say you own a hotel, and you want new professional headshots for all of your staff and photos of your hotel for your website. When you hire your photographer, that would be a write-off for your business. There is nothing extraordinary about a write-off. It is an ordinary business expense that you incur for operating your business. The photographer comes in, takes all the photos, gives your business an invoice for the services. You pay the invoice, and ta-da, there is your business write-off. Write-offs are just deductions for your business; it's an expense. You would hopefully record the expense in some type of system and record it as a marketing expense. At the end of the year, your tax accountant (or you) would report it as such on the appropriate return.
Now let's say you are an employee of this hotel and you wanted to get new headshots of yourself since you want to update your LinkedIn profile. That would NOT be a write-off. The reason being is that it is not related to your business. The photoshoot itself would be personal in nature and not associated with a business. However, you could suggest to your boss that having updated headshots for all the employees and new photos of the rooms would be great for the website and drive business for the hotel. If you sell your boss on this idea, you don't have to worry about paying for a new headshot since the company will likely cover it. You appear as the hero for this great marketing idea. Now, the hotel gets a deduction.
What about if you are an Instagram influencer? It depends if you are running your account as an active trade or business. If you have an account based on fashion and you get paid to wear and take photos with different clothes, then you have an opportunity to write off a photoshoot—the only caveat being that the photoshoot needs to be related to your Instagram account.
What about those in theater, dancers, and performing artists? Do they get to write off their photoshoots? Again, it all goes back to the "it depends" answer. If you are receiving a W-2 with withholdings from those jobs, then no. But... if you get paid with a check and receive a 1099 at the end of the year for the work you did, then you for sure could write off a photographer. What would happen is that you would (most likely) report your 1099-NEC income on Schedule C. You could show the photographer as a business expense assuming, again, that the shoot was business-related.
I could go on about different combinations possible. But since I am a CPA, I would be more than happy to answer your question regarding if your photoshoot with me will qualify as a “write-off”. Please feel free to contact me and ask away!
Now, putting taxes aside, nothing should stop you from getting amazing photos of yourself and your loved ones.