You Don’t Need a Camera to be a Professional Photographer

21 06 2012

Obviously you need a camera to take photographs professionally, but you don’t need to own a camera. If you are trying to break into photography as something more than a hobby, don’t rush out and buy a lot of expensive gear (sorry, gear manufacturers). You can rent everything necessary for your photo shoot. Unless you are shooting all the time and getting paid for it, the return on investment for a $5,000 lens and $6,000 body could be many years, or never.

If, for example, you shoot street photography most of the time with your SLR, rangefinder, point-and-shoot camera or even your phone camera, it doesn’t make sense to have a $20,000 medium format camera in your closet for the handful of product shots you do on the side. If you get a job that you need specific equipment to shoot, include the rental price of the equipment into your job quote. Clients who hire photographers regularly are used to having rental line items on their invoices. The are presumably hiring you for your photographic vision and skill rather than your equipment inventory. It is unrealistic for a client to expect a photographer to have every piece of camera equipment that might one day be needed. Use this to your advantage. If you rent the gear and charge the client for the rental:

  • You can use the latest and best cameras, lenses, lights, etc. essentially for free
  • Your money is not tied up in assets that are collecting dust and you have better cash flow
  • You get a chance to “try before you buy” so you don’t make expensive mistakes
  • You can fulfill your photographic vision for the client without the excuse of having the wrong, or not enough equipment
  • If something happens to the equipment, it is covered by cheap damage waivers instead of increasing your insurance premiums

Most likely, you have a camera. Use it as much as possible. Even if you don’t use your own camera for jobs, the skills developed simply by using any camera are transferrable. The more solid your base skills are, the quicker and easier it will be to transition to equipment that you rent. 

Be sure to arrange for the rental gear to arrive a day or two early so that you have an opportunity to familiarize yourself with it before you are under the pressure of the actual job. Clients may not care if you rent gear, but they don’t want to pay for your time fumbling with camera settings you can’t figure out.

I rent my gear from Lensrentals.com and fully recommend them. They have a great website that is easy to use and very informative. Their customer service is impeccable, and their equipment is in top shape. There are plenty of other places to rent like Borrowlenses.com. If you live in a larger city, you probably have local rental options as well. Calumet and Helix are two available here in Chicago.

Save yourself a bundle and improve your odds for making it as a pro photographer by renting your gear. You will figure out (using your most objective inner voice) which gear it really makes sense to own, and you can make a more informed decision about your purchases if you have rented the gear previously.

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