Comparing the Best Accounting Software for Photographers

Written by a former accountant turned full-time photographer, check out this comparison of the best accounting software for photographers.

Why I decided to write this post

Of all my photography friends and clients, not very many people know that I am actually a former accountant. My degree is in accounting, and I spent a little over 10 years working in accounting and finance before making the switch to doing photography full time.

Having this background, I have a lot of sympathy for photographers and small business owners in general who are just trying to do their best keeping up in this area (that is, with taxes and accounting).

For most business owners, these areas are a real struggle. That’s why it’s so important to have the right tools and software to make these things as easy on yourself as possible.

Don’t get me wrong–it takes time to learn a new software and figure out a new workflow. But once you invest this time upfront and get everything in place, it makes everything else go so much smoother down the road.

Why you need accounting software

There are a couple of main reasons why you need to have proper accounting for your photography business (and thus, why you need accounting software).

First, accounting helps you manage and run your business from a more well-informed standpoint. Your accounting reports can help you see how much revenue (income) you are making, where your expenses are going to, and what’s leftover (a.k.a. your profit).

These numbers should be driving a lot of decisions for your, like how much you can invest in education or new gear next year, how much you can pay yourself, and lots more.

But even if none of that sounds interesting to you, the second and biggest reason that you need accounting for your photography business is to make sure you don’t get in trouble with and end up owing money to the IRS.

To take a step back–when you make money through your photography, that is considered income by the IRS and you need to pay taxes on it, regardless of whether or not it is your full time job.

You want to accurately track your income and expenses so that you pay the right amount of taxes, but not more than what you really owe.

That tracking process starts with bookkeeping and accurately recording income and expenses. Accounting software, although it takes time to learn how to use it, makes that a lot easier on you.

And by the way, if all this talk of accounting makes your head hurt, you DO have the option to outsource any or all of it. It’s going to cost more than doing it yourself obviously, but that’s no different than outsourcing anything else. I’ve included some options for outsourcing in this article as well–namely Quickbooks Live and Bench (learn more below).

Can I just use my CRM for accounting?

CRMs (which stands for Customer Relationship Management systems) are an important tool for a photography business, or any other business for that matter. Popular photographer CRMs include Dubsado, Honeybook, Tave, Sprout Studio, 17Hats, etc.

CRMs are great for helping you track your leads and clients, organize workflows for your clients, using email templates, tracking meetings, and lots more. Many of them even offer some reporting tools for helping you assess your revenues coming in from your clients, and some even allow you to track expenses in certain ways.

That said, it’s important to understand that even though your CRM has some tools for analyzing your financials, these are absolutely NOT a substitute for accounting/bookkeeping software.

As an example, CRMs cannot help you with things like reconciling your bank account, tracking fixed asset purchases (such as new camera bodies or lenses), sales taxes, 1099s for anyone you hire (like second shooters), tracking your mileage, etc. These are just a few ways that CRMs fall short.

However, it is important to note that depending on which CRM you have and which accounting software you choose, you may be able to integrate the two platforms and save yourself the trouble of entering information twice–and that’s a win! More on that in later sections.

What does a photographer need out of their accounting software?

Of course all accounting software will give you the ability to track basic income and expenses. However, when comparing the top accounting software systems out there, there were a few distinguishing factors I kept in mind, as these are typically important or useful for photographers:

  • Mileage trackers – Many photographers travel to different locations as part of our work, so having a mobile app that can track your mileage is extremely helpful for photographers
  • 1099s – Many photographers hire contract workers for things like second shooters, associate shooters, hair and makeup artists, and more. The IRS currently requires you to issue a 1099 to anyone you hire and pay more than $600 per year. So being able to process 1099s directly within the accounting software (rather than having to export data to a different software) is extremely helpful.
  • Capturing photos of receipts as expenses – Another important features for us on-the-go photographers is being able to take a photo of our receipts using our phone and import them easily as expenses
  • Integrations with other platforms – Being able to integrate your accounting software with other software you use (such as CRM platforms, PayPal, or tax software like TurboTax) means less work you have to do! If you spend a little extra time getting everything coordinated and integrated on the front end, it will pay off for years down the road.
  • Online tutorials – Finally, one of the factors I wanted to consider in comparing accounting software is that availability of online tutorials, in addition to people you can hire to help you one-on-one. The more popular platforms will naturally have more information online that can help you learn and understand how to use the software. Since most photographers are not accountants, this can be very important!

Comparing the best accounting software

Although there are a lot of accounting programs out there, the ones I’ve listed here are the best options for creatives and small business owners. I’ve included my review of each one here in this post.

Quickbooks

Overall review

To put it briefly, Quickbooks is by far my top recommendation for accounting software for photographers, and it is the accounting software that I use. Quickbooks is the number one accounting software used by small business owners for good reasons.

Get started with Quickbooks here and use this link to get a discount on your first 3 months

Here are a few reasons I think Quickbooks is the best option for photographers:

  • After thoroughly comparing all the options, Quickbooks had all the features I would want as a photographer and was the best price for those features. All the other options either were missing one or more important features (such as the ability to process 1099s, software integrations, etc.) and/or they were more expensive. You can check out the features tables in each section to see what is available for each software.
  • One reason why Quickbooks is great is because so many professional accountants use Quickbooks and are familiar with the software. If you want to hire some help with getting set up, or if you do your own bookkeeping but pay someone to do your taxes for you each year, it helps when your tax accountant already knows the software.
  • The popularity of Quickbooks also comes in handy when it comes to online tutorials. There are tons and tons of videos or articles to answer any question you could have about using Quickbooks. Think of it this way–when you buy photography equipment that is very well known and widely used, it’s very easy to find YouTube videos or other articles to help you learn how to use that equipment. If you buy something that is not well known, helpful information online is much harder to come by. Of course this also applies to software, including accounting software.
  • Quickbooks is the only provider that offers either the accounting software for you to use OR live accounting/bookkeeping services (although Bench, which I talk more about later, does offer just bookkeeping services). If you don’t want to do the accounting yourself, or if you’ve gotten in over your head and are worried that you’ve messed your books up beyond something you can fix yourself, this is a great option, as they can get you sorted out.
  • Quickbooks has more integration options than any other accounting software by far. I won’t cover all of them here, but this does include several popular CRM platforms, including Dubsado, Honeybook, 17 Hats, Studio Ninja, and ShootQ. The only other accounting software that has native CRM integrations is Xero. The others require the use of an additional third party software, like Zapier, in order to integrate your CRM.

Side note: If you don’t yet have a CRM, or want to move to a CRM that integrates with Quickbooks, I recommend Dubsado, which is the CRM that I use. You can find a more in depth review of Dubsado here or I do have this promo code that you can use to get 20% off your first year of Dubsado (or month if you pay monthly).

  • You can also integrate Quickbooks with TurboTax very easily if you want to do your taxes yourself. Quickbooks and TurboTax are both made by the same company (Intuit), so the integration is pretty seamless.

Which version should I get?

Quickbooks has many different versions that can accommodate a variety of needs.

For photographers, I strongly recommend getting Quickbooks Online. I believe they have actually phased out all of the desktop software versions so that you can no longer purchase the desktop version from Quickbooks. Quickbooks Online is compatible with Mac so you don’t have to worry about that issue anymore either, which is helpful since many photographers use Macs.

I recommend either getting the Simple Start plan or the Essentials plan, but most photographers shouldn’t need higher tier plans than this.

I do NOT recommend getting the Self Employed version because it doesn’t have a number of things that photographers are likely to need such as 1099s, sales tax functionality, and integrations with any other software (such as Paypal, CRMs, etc).

All that said, the Quickbooks website makes it easy to compare features and pricing for their different options, so you can determine what fits your needs best.

Features for Photographers

FeatureIncluded?
Mileage Tracker AppYes
1099 ProcessingYes
Photographing receipts to track expensesYes
Native CRM integrationsYes
Option for live helpYes
Quickbooks Online Features for Photographers

Get started with Quickbooks here

Get started with Quickbooks here and use this link to get a discount on your first 3 months

Freshbooks

Overall review

Freshbooks is probably the second most popular accounting software for small business owners behind Quickbooks. Although it may work for some photographers, I feel that it falls short in some areas.

Freshbooks’ strong suit is its time tracking ability (that is, tracking the amount of time you spend on each client or project), which isn’t necessarily useful or important for photographers.

Some of the pros of Freshbooks for photographers include the ability to track mileage from a smartphone app and the fact that it has a user-friendly mobile app that allows you to do your accounting on the go. You can also take photos of receipts to upload as expenses.

Also the fact that Freshbooks is growing in popularity means that there are an increasing number of tutorials and information out there about how to use this software. As I mentioned in the sections above, having tutorials is important for photographers because most photographers find themselves with questions about accounting very often!

On the other hand, the areas where Freshbooks falls short for photographers include the ability to process 1099s and the lack of ability to integrate with your CRM without using a third party software like Zapier.

Which version should I get?

Most photographers will need the Plus version, or possibly the Premium version if you want some of those additional features. In my opinion, the Lite (lowest tier) version will not provide everything you need, and on the flip side, the Select plan (the highest tier) is more than most photographers would need.

Features for Photographers

FeatureIncluded?
Mileage Tracker AppYes
1099 ProcessingNo
Photographing receipts to track expensesYes
Native CRM integrationsNo
Option for live helpNo
Freshbooks Features for Photographers

Get started with Freshbooks here

Get started with Freshbooks here

Xero

Overall review

Although Xero is not as popular with small businesses as Quickbooks and Freshbooks, it actually is a pretty solid choice for photographers, with the ability to track miles, photograph receipts, and much more.

It meets all the needs of photographers when it comes to accounting software features, including the ability to process 1099s.

A couple of downsides compared to Quickbooks is that the plan you would likely need is a bit more expensive than Quickbooks (at the time this post was written, $34 per month for Xero compared to $25 per month for Quickbooks, for regular pricing after promotions end).

In addition, the only CRMs I could find that integrated with Xero were Dubsado and Studio Ninja. All other CRMs would need a third party application like Zapier to have the possibility of integration.

Which version should I get?

I believe most photographers would need the Growing Plan (which is the middle tier). The Early plan might work for some but is limited. The Established Plan is probably more than most photographers need.

Features for Photographers

FeatureIncluded?
Mileage Tracker AppYes
1099 ProcessingYes
Photographing receipts to track expensesYes
Native CRM integrationsYes (limited)
Option for live helpNo
Xero Features for Photographers

Get started with Xero here

Get started with Xero here

Sage Business Cloud Accounting

Overall review

Sage Business Cloud Accounting was definitely my least favorite option for photographers, because it is missing so many important features, but I did want to include at least one more option in this list to consider.

Although it does have the ability to take photo receipts for expenses, it does not have a mileage tracker, the ability to process 1099s, or any CRM integrations.

Which version should I get?

Sage’s website is not the most clear when it comes to what features are available in each of their different tiers. That said, there are only two options and I do believe most photographers would want the higher tier. However, pricing for the higher tier is comparable to the other software providers on this list.

Features for Photographers

FeatureIncluded?
Mileage Tracker AppNo
1099 ProcessingNo
Photographing receipts to track expensesYes
Native CRM integrationsNo
Option for live helpNo
Sage Features for Photographers

Bench

Although Bench does not offer accounting software for you to do your own accounting, they offer bookkeeping services to do the accounting for you.

I know a lot of photographers feel that doing their own accounting is a headache, and they would rather not touch it with a ten foot pole. So in addition to the option of Quickbooks Live, I wanted to include another great option for outsourcing your bookkeeping.

Bench offers a basic bookkeeping package or a bookkeeping and tax package. If you do just the bookkeeping package, you’d have to find a different tax preparation provider but your financials would be tax ready, so the process should be fairly seamless.

Get started with Bench here and use this link to get a discount on your first 3 months

Dubsado, Honeybook, ShootQ, & Other CRMs

I’m including this section with CRMs like Dubsado, ShootQ, etc. because I saw so many “Best Accounting Software for Photographers” posts online that included these types of software in their lists.

Perhaps the writers of these posts don’t know any better, but in my opinion, these posts are poorly researched or written because as I’ve mentioned a few times in this post, a CRM is absolutely not a substitute for accounting software.

I think including these CRMs in accounting software lists can cause confusion for photographers, who are not typically accounting experts and wouldn’t know the difference.

Although CRMs are great for organizing and managing your client tasks, and even for invoicing clients, I definitely recommend using one of the other software programs listed in this post for bookkeeping and accounting purposes.

Bookkeeping software FAQ

Is Quickbooks good for photographers?

Yes! Quickbooks is the #1 small business accounting software and has all the features that a photographer would need to do accounting for their small business.

How do I track my photography costs?

Just using your CRM, such as Dubsado or Honeybook is generally not enough. The best way to track your photography costs is to use an accounting software, such as Quickbooks or Xero.

What is the most commonly used accounting software?

When it comes to small businesses (including photography), the most commonly used accounting software is Quickbooks.

Do you have a favorite accounting software that you love?

Do you have another favorite accounting software that you love that I didn’t list here? Or other questions you want answered about accounting software for photographers?

Leave a comment below!

Elopement Photographer Kim from Wild and Found Photography

Hi I’m Kim, a Denver, Colorado based photographer specializing in Adventure Elopements in Colorado and worldwide! Photographing couples on the most special day of their lives is a true honor for me. But I’ve made it my mission to take it one step further than that. When you work with me, you’re getting more than just a photographer. I’m here to help you with all of the planning resources you need to have the most amazing elopement day ever! That includes everything from assistance with location ideas, timeline planning, and lots more free resources. So you can forget the work, and focus on having fun!

Post may contain affiliate links. While I may receive a small amount through affiliate links, it is always at no cost to you and all opinions are entirely my own.

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