In production, there are many different types of equipment that are necessary to complete specific jobs. It is almost impossible for photographers to have exactly what they need for every situation. Equipment rental houses can be an incredible resource for photographers, videographers, and anyone else in the production world, whether you need a rare cinema lens, extra strobe lights for a large shoot, or an expensive piece of gear that you’d like to try before taking the plunge of purchase.
While some rental houses offer both still and motion equipment, most specialize in one or the other because of the unique demands of shooting in either medium. For example, still photography may require more strobe lighting, while motion will need continuous lighting, among other amenities.
We really mixed and matched how much we rented versus carried. When shooting in NYC and LA, we try to avoid renting a car, so often that means trying to limit how much we have to carry. If a rental studio had Profoto D2 strobes on hand, then we would save ourselves the hassle of bringing lights. The same would apply for various pieces of heavy grip. If we could source it locally, then we’d be glad to not fly with it.
In addition to providing an online catalog of rental equipment, rental houses also provide advice on what equipment to use for specific projects. Lauren V. Allen, who specializes in food and travel photography, says:
[Rental houses] have always been great at suggesting equipment for certain styles of shoots,”
Equipment rental houses are capable of much more than just renting equipment. “Our team wears many hats on any given day,” says Kyle Tait of B3K Digital in Toronto. “Taking requests, consulting, accounting, shipping (as we do offer rentals via shipping), etc. [constitutes] a normal day.” This work comes in addition to the essential daily maintenance of the rental house – confirming orders, checking equipment in and out throughout the day, and testing products to make sure they are still in working condition when returned.
At most rental houses, the equipment can be picked up in the afternoon and returned in the morning of the agreed-upon return date. This practice ensures that rentals don’t overlap and maximizes the availability of equipment. B3K offers two different rental options – equipment can be signed out for a full day, which is noted as 24 hours, or a full weekend, from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Rentals can also be week-long, which then costs the same as either a three or four-day charge. You can check B3K’s full price list here for a better idea of what equipment rentals might cost.
In addition to renting equipment, consultations for upcoming productions have become a substantial part of Kyle’s business:
Mini-consultations make up a good portion of our time, helping photographers or even non-photographers on all sorts of various scenarios. Some are easy, [and] some are extremely challenging, but that’s what makes the whole thing rewarding. It also helps us continue to grow a library of various solutions while building relationships with clients that will last for years.
Rental houses are also a reliable resource for new equipment. To keep in touch with the newest gear in the industry, rental houses cycle through equipment at a steady clip and sell off unused items.
We sell off rental equipment frequently to bring in new products. This does a couple of things: it keeps our inventory current in terms of what’s new and keeps the gear fresh. We like to do this every chance we get but will try to do a large ‘used rentals sale’ a couple of times a year. Purchases happen as we sell gear or new products become available. We’re continually adding to our rental inventory to have the most up-to-date equipment.
Having that up-to-date equipment is vital for keeping customers, and it has effectively brought some people to use rental houses more often than buying equipment. Ian and Kelly are among these people:
We’ve found ourselves using rental houses more and more often over the years for local jobs. I think we have regretted buying equipment much more than we have ever regretted renting equipment.
As Kyle and Ian mentioned, one of the most frequently rented pieces of equipment is strobe lighting. Kyle referenced the high cost of entry as the main reason why strobes are rented so often.
Depending on the production, a client may need anywhere from 3-12 power packs along with heads. It’s rare to see a client own that level of strobe equipment; it just makes more sense to rent. With that comes grip gear — stands, rollers, scrims, modifiers, etc., as part of the mix.
Some rental houses will ship equipment to their customers. While that may seem dicey, an excellent rental house will have its customers’ back if something goes astray like it recently did for Ian.
Our shoot schedules generally don’t allow us any time for finding additional equipment. We did have an instance where a rented Profoto D2 light arrived broken to our home base in St. Louis. We originally planned to fly with it to LA the next day for a shoot. Luckily, this rental house was able to overnight a replacement to a FedEx office location near our studio in LA the next day.