Is renting unprofessional?

Started 1 week ago | Questions thread
Jacques Cornell
Jacques Cornell Veteran Member • Posts: 9,571
No, but...

Elite83 wrote:

I'm in the process of forming a small business on the side--giving the photography business a valid shot to see if I can make something of it.

As you can see from my gear list I certainly do not own what anyone would consider "professional" equipment so for the 2 most recent, and non "backyard" weddings I shot, I decided to rent.

I simply considered this a business expense and deducted it from my profit. I know that the gear I own right now isn't "bad" but I also know that it is not going to deliver the kind of quality that I want to sell to my clients.

Moving forward, until I have the funds to actually purchase my own gear, is renting camera equipment "unprofessional"? In other words: if I tell a client that I rent, or list it on their invoice, do you think this paints a picture of my business as somehow being lower end, or charging them for something that is "unnecessary" in their eyes?

To elaborate my psychological assessment of the situation:

I think it is no secret that clients who know little about running a photography business tend to place low-value on photos as a service (as compared to say, buying a wedding cake), and also do not consider equipment cost/depreciation when they think about hiring a photog. I get the impression that most people think that: "you own a camera--that's free, I'm just paying for your time to shoot." Which I think plays into the equation why many people think professional photography services are "overpriced" when they do not consider the thousands of dollars of equipment used during a shoot.

But I digress. What are your thoughts?

There's nothing unprofessional, per se, about renting. I've rented tons of big lighting equipment that I simply didn't need often enough to justify a purchase. Many pros, especially in big cities, do this for jobs with requirements that lie beyond the usual. However, renting basic gear that most pros in your market would be expected to own poses a few issues. First, you'll have to eat the cost, as charging a client for the rental is hard to justify. Second, the client may perceive you as a weekend warrior. Third, it's hard to develop the level of familiarity and mastery with rented gear you use only occasionally that you would with gear you own and use regularly. Finally, rental charges add up fast. If it's something you need often, you're financially better off by getting a loan to purchase what you need on a regular basis. If the business doesn't work out, you can always sell the gear and take a smaller loss than you would have by renting.

Finally, a word about purchase decisions. Running a business entails a very different set of choices than the chasing of the "best" shiny object that many well-heeled amateurs around here indulge in. I've worked with dozens of pros over the past two decades, and none of them are obsessed with the latest and greatest. They work with old workhorses like 5D MkIIs and D700s and 1Ds MkIIIs and let their skills do the talking. They produce amazing work that weekend warriors with a7RIIIs and D850s can only dream of. If they're so great, why don't they own the latest gear? Because they've got kids to feed and rent or mortgages to pay.

I suggest you take a hard look at exactly what your clients really need and demand. Will a wedding client see any difference in a two-page album spread between a D700 and a D850? I strongly doubt it. Figure out the maximum IQ you really need, then get a camera that's responsive, quick, and works the way you work so that you can master it and make using it second nature.

I don't know what your business is, but I think my example may be instructive. I shoot corporate events and portraits, and occasional weddings, with Micro Four Thirds cameras. Yeah, those "dinky little sensors" that some pooh pooh as not "professional". Why do I do it? First, I like them. Second, they're affordable. Third, they're lightweight, which matters when I work a week of 10-hour days. And fourth, they deliver better IQ than I got from my 1Ds MkII just a few years ago, which was already overkill for my clients' uses (largely social media and in-house publications). With 20 years of professional experience, mostly with far less capable cameras, I know how to get the most out of a "modest" sensor, and my work allows me to use on- and off-camera lighting setups to deal with low-light situations.

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"No matter where you go, there you are." - Buckaroo Banzai

 Jacques Cornell's gear list:Jacques Cornell's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F4 ASPH Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm F1.8 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12mm 1:2 Panasonic 12-35mm F2.8 +29 more
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