QOTD: Do You Co-op Gear?

I am gonna turn it around to you guys with a question today: Is anyone participating in a formal (or informal) gear co-op program?

It seems like a logical choice as a compromise for gear you cannot rationalize owning.

Obviously, renting is an option for those who live in NYC or LA (and, increasingly, secondary markets). But it seems to me that the idea could easily be applicable to lighting gear. For instance, a group of weekend enthusiasts or a camera club could pool money for a monobloc kit.

There have always been informal arrangements between photogs in a given local area for spotting each other little-used gear. It's a lifesaver -- especially on assignments that require extra equipment. And some photographers even rent the stuff to other shooters, the cost of which is usually passed onto the client.

Personally, I have been jonesing for a Phase One back on a medium format body. But I cannot rationalize the cost.

Okay, let me rephrase that. I cannot rationalize the cost to my wife. I can rationalize anything to myself.

At The Sun, we had a pool of gear that was available to be used when needed by the staffers. Just seems to me that there must be civilian versions of this. And I'll bet someone reading this site has done it.

Hit us in the comments.



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Blogger JYB said...

Yes, I'm a part of the Mnpls Photo Center which is a co-op. We share a large studio space as well as equipment.

March 04, 2010 12:07 AM  
Blogger Neuffy said...

I am not currently part of a gear co-op, although I live in a housing co-op. I'm looking at a couple things that could work well this way, but nothing as of yet. I've had a couple equipment co-ops almost start, but then I've just gone out and bought the equipment myself.

In my city rentals are essentially nonexistent. This means that the barrier to entry is higher, due to the requirement to own any equipment one wishes to use. Starting up a significant rental house might be difficult, since nearly everybody established already owns all these things that a rental shop might have. It's really quite a nasty catch-22.

What I do in order to justify gear (and what I must, seeing as I'm extremely gear-heavy given my relatively recent entry into photography) is rent my equipment out. I run a large format print business, since that is the only way to justify a full-on large format print setup. As I'm doing all this already, it is viable to have a credit card processing machine, which makes taking pre-authorizations quick and painless for equipment deposit.

I also follow John Harrington's advice to bill clients for specialized gear similarly to how a rental would be. If it would have cost $250 to rent for the job, and it is equipment that it is not "reasonable" to own, then I will indeed bill the client $250 - as this expense would be the same to them either way.

Determining which equipment is "standard photographer equipment" and which is sufficiently exotic to warrant additional equipment usage fees is something that there will definitely be disputes about, but it is a wonderful solution for justifying ownership.

March 04, 2010 12:13 AM  
Blogger David Getsfrid said...

I've considered trying to set up something along those lines, but am absolutely terrified of the legal issues that would become involved if someone broke something or lost something, or worse still stole something. Proving ownership, recouping losses, or even just what happens if someone moves away. It seems like unless you implicitly trust the people you're doing this with, it could be very dangerous. Maybe I'm just paranoid though.

-David Getsfrid

March 04, 2010 12:41 AM  
Blogger Darren Whitley said...

It's important to make sure you have confidence in the people you share equipment with. If they don't have the same investment in their overall kit, it's probably best not to let them borrow your equipment. I had a macro come back damaged because my friend was just too inexperienced and burned up the AF motor. I also don't recommend loaning umbrellas or other modifiers. Rent the lights, but the umbrellas should be the other shooters responsibility. They're just too fragile.

March 04, 2010 12:51 AM  
Blogger gwppk said...

For clarification, when you co-oped gear, was this stuff that the company owned, or stuff that the photographers themselves pitched in and bought in common?

What sort of items? Lenses? Lights? Bodies?

Now you've got my gears spinning...

March 04, 2010 12:57 AM  
Blogger jeremy blaine said...

I work as an assistant(second) and can use/borrow gear including bodies and SB's, does that count?

March 04, 2010 1:07 AM  
Blogger Conrad Erb said...

Good idea. I'm all for it. The trouble is that a lot of photographers only want to think about co-op'ing gear when they need it, and the rest of the time, they want to forget about it!

Instead of cooping, I realized that there's a lot of value to be had in renting out gear at reasonable rates, so I do a bit of a side business here in Philadelphia doing Canon rentals.

It's not a coop, but the photographers who come to me appreciate it value than the typical rental places (and I know a lot about these lenses). If you want to check it out - www.phillylenslibrary.com.

March 04, 2010 1:10 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

Wow, this is a great idea and, to be honest, one I hadn't considered. I would love to see this in Phoenix. I look forward to reading the comments.

March 04, 2010 1:15 AM  
Blogger Lou said...

Okay, let me rephrase that. I cannot rationalize the cost to my wife. I can rationalize anything to myself.

For the win, David, for the win. :D

Meanwhile, back in On-Topic-ville, I don't know if there's anything going on like that around here in Sacramento. I know there's some community-ish studios, but it's usually one dude/company who's offering their space/gear to others.

Honestly, I don't know if I can justify putting money towards gear I don't own and someone else could plausibly walk away with my cash, so to speak. If I knew the group really well, yeah I'd do it. Between me and some of my close friends? Probably so. But that'd be the limit, and even there I know that it could end poorly between friends.

But hey, when you're looking at an investment such as a Phase One back (even if you already HAVE the Hass or Mamiya), it makes more sense hehe.

March 04, 2010 1:48 AM  
Blogger Myles said...

As a student, yes, we pool on gear.
I'm in LA, so between renting, and borrowing from friends, you can get just about whatever. Although, I've never been a part of guys buying a body, or lenses with the concept to share -- I can't see that working all that well.

I'm about to invest in either the d1 airs or 600RX, and i know the thought of: "who do I know, and what are they shooting." came to mind early -- the d1 lost that easy.

After all, It's way easier to "borrow" than "rent." And as bass ackwards as it sounds, that's playing a role in my choice.

March 04, 2010 2:26 AM  
Blogger Graham said...

I've considered trying to set something like this up locally, but I'm in the irritating position of being just far enough out of town for it to be impractical for me to a) set up and b) use.

That said, I think that in areas where there's a large Strobist community (where I live isn't one of them, sadly) people are more willing to share gear. I went to a workshop with Bert Stephani in London last year and everyone was happy for everyone else to use what they needed to use, so I was using others' flashes and SunBounces, they were using my PWs and so on. Very satisfactory for all involved.

March 04, 2010 2:43 AM  
Blogger Nightwhisper said...

yeah the problem is always with the wife :D I prefer to work with my gear because I tend to stress it much so I prefer less responsability!

March 04, 2010 2:46 AM  
Blogger Per said...

Yep, we're doing that o'er here.

The photo enthusiasts at my workplace have created a "photo club", and us members share free access to the club equipment. This includes a small studio w/backgrounds and lights, a portable monoblock kit with modifiers, backgrounds and reflectors, a monitor calibrator, and other shareable stuff.

Financing is done partly by small monthly contributions from each member, with some additional funding from the company.

Works quite well and was, at least for me, an easy way to become introduced to this type of equipment some years ago.

March 04, 2010 4:27 AM  
Blogger Karl said...

Sharing of gear was a factor that determined my choice of manufacturer when I recently entered the world of DSLR. Since a number of my friends already shot Canon it made sense to me to purchase the same with an aim to sharing of gear...and that has become quite the lifesaver.

This week alone I have loaned out my flashes and lightstands to a friend and will be repayed by borrowing his camera and wideangle lens for a weekend event.

So its less a case (for us) of renting the gear between us for money as it is our own version of a gear pool. Has definitely come in handy in the past and I'm sure it will continue to be a benefit in the future!

March 04, 2010 5:04 AM  
Blogger Raul Kling said...

Hi David,
The idea has been crossing my mind for a while. I can't rent, since I live in Arad, Romania, so "borrowing" is the way to go. I figured that others are doing it, maybe on a much higher level (like the Phase One stuff). As far as I'm concerned, I'm thinking of working with a vendor that would allow me to use their D3x body for different assignments in exchange for credits and links when it comes to using the images or posting them online. Sounds good in theory, but I guess I don't know exactly how to approach them. So, a few tips would be much appreciated. Thanks.

March 04, 2010 5:25 AM  
Blogger t-jack said...

Well, as I reat this post, I realize, that I'm the local source of equipment for my friends (ie - more than half of photo population right here). But I don't take any money, "thank you" is enough ;)

March 04, 2010 5:40 AM  
Blogger auhopu said...

It makes sense for an agency to own a pool of (expensive) equipment and hand it over to its people to use in assignments which this same agency needs fulfilled.

Imagine now that 10 individuals (professionals and/or enthusiasts) chip in 4k each to buy a 40k medium format digital back. Who gets to use it and when? What happens when 2 or more of them need it the same time? Ask the same questions if 100 people contribute 400$ for the same cause.

Maybe gear pooling could work better in "many-to-many" scenarios instead of "many-to-one"; and when the equipment is not so expensive.

For example a photo club of 100 amateurs could invest in a pool of 30 lightstands.

Similar kind of overbooking occurs every day; from counters-to-customers in grocery stores to timeslots-to-users in cellular networks.

In normal circumstances, it works great. In exceptional cases it doesn't. If an earthquake happens and everybody needs to use their phone, the timeslots will not be enough and the users will hear "network busy". From the operator's side overbooking means savings in the investment. From the users' perspective it means cheaper plans.

Just my thoughts...

March 04, 2010 5:44 AM  
Blogger Kevin Blackburn Photography said...

Great post and Yes and No, Here we have a number of us that often co-op gear so to speak lenses, lights etc. but nothing on a phase one scale mostly Big lenses or large studio lights. What we are doing is CO-OP ing our entire studio I share a space with one of my best friends and in the last few years we have made it bigger and bigger and are now in a 2000sq ft studio with a 1400sq ft camera room with drive in bay. The reality is by co-oping with each other has made both our businesses grow. And we are hoping to bring more photogs into the fold the best part is the creative collaboration and push you get from each other

March 04, 2010 5:59 AM  
Blogger contact said...

I have a decent collection of studio lights, softboxes, light-modifiers, etc., and a number of higher-end lenses (35L, 45 TS-E, 85L, etc.) and bodies that I hardly have time to use anymore (the problem with being your own boss). I wouldn't mind someone getting some use out of them -- the problem is that it fills me with horror to imagine someone mistreating something like an 85L (it's not even the price ... it's just such a beautiful lense). If you're a rental house, you simply add this risk into the price and take out insurance, but as a private party the risk is all your own and you really need to trust the people you're working with. If you're pooling to buy a new item, at least everyone feels somewhat responsible for the items, though, since it's their money that paid for it. I'd love to make some of my neglected gear available to competent people ... I'm just afraid that goodwill can easily turn into an ill feeling in my stomach later on.

March 04, 2010 6:10 AM  
Blogger GeoDesigner said...

Me and about 5 college buddies do this. I live near the university, and I have a studio-garage where we store communal gear and shoot. Beast thing we ever did, we're so broke we could never afford anything by ourselves. We have about 20 lenses and a hell lot of lighting gear right now. Whenever we score a paid gig, we reserve like 1/4 of the income to buy more stuff for the garage. Simple as that, and very effective.

March 04, 2010 6:57 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I'd timeshare a Phase One with a group of people... That'd pretty sweet infact... I'm not sure how much fun it'd be to get 1/52nd of it's use - but that'd be roughly what the pricing point would come to :)

Neat idea - I'd love to have some L glass rolling around when I need it - not just collecting dust

March 04, 2010 7:02 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Sadly no.
I live in the Netherlands and back here where I live there isn't really a big community of photogs (or at least I haven't found them yet). The few I do know shoot Sony and thus use incompatible equipment to my Nikon. But, hey, maybe some day I'll meet some guys/gals who so the same thing as I do. Or maybe someone will start an equipment library of sorts.

March 04, 2010 7:18 AM  
Blogger Teemu said...

We have full studio as similar use, there are five members and we also rent it out to reduce costs. Works quite ok, but it needs always more work than you were thinking in the first place.

March 04, 2010 7:18 AM  
Blogger Richard B said...

What have you forgoten to bring to Dubai / GPP ?
What do you need to borrow ?

In theory the WWW etc and other internet "freinds" would be a great source for gear but in practice who'd you trust.

Richard B.
(in the Dubai Sandpit too)

March 04, 2010 7:26 AM  
Blogger Davidikus said...

You are making an interesting point on equipment. IMVHO, most photographers are over-equipped these days. Think that Willy Ronis only had three cameras in his life! Cartier-Bresson more or less took all his pictures with a Leica and a 50mm. (I always teach my students to be able to get good pictures with the minimum equipment, in case everything fails, equipment is lost etc.)

So I tend to have as little equipment as possible: only one body for personal day-to-day work (things I publish on my blog: http://davidikus.blogspot.com/), one body for paid work (the daily body being used as a back up). I only use the same manual focus 28mm, 50mm and 135mm on both bodies (plus an AF zoom that was given to me for free but which only fits the day-to-day body).

As a result, I tend to rely on friends' equipment for paid assignments, on the rare cases (5 times a year?) my equipment is not enough (typically, I may need to borrow a flash, light, or an AF zoom for event photography). I usually pay the friends back by helping a shoot or 'teaching' them something.

I should think that this kind of informal pooling of resources (all equipment + knowledge) is quite common, at least in Paris or London.

March 04, 2010 7:28 AM  
Blogger Marc Durocher said...

I am just starting out building my gear inventory and although I don't have any formal arrangements, there are a couple other enthusiasts in town that are more than willing to share a lens or extra flash if I needed it for a big shoot.

March 04, 2010 8:15 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Ive been trying to get a local group together myself to co-op rent a studio space. We all would have access and share the rent. Retail/commercial space is getting crazy around here with empty spaces sitting for years. Thats one idea.

Another place local to me is having its grand opening... its a public print studio/darkroom. You can become a member for reduced rates or just pay as you go for materials. Bring your own paper or buy theirs and pay for ink by area used. They have color and B&W darkrooms, chemicals, enlargers etc...

March 04, 2010 8:20 AM  
Blogger Makyn Images said...

I think this is a great idea David especially for some one like myself and many other Jamaican Photographers who find it extremely difficult to get lighting equipment due to the long time it usually takes to ship here so thanks will make suggestion to other Photog's and see how best we can all come together.
As we would say in Jamaica Respect.

March 04, 2010 8:30 AM  
Blogger MSPStrober said...

After I lugged and shipped a bunch of gear out to Hawaii from Florida last summer on vacation, I found Josh at Hawaii Photo Rental, who rents both Nikon & Canon bodies and lenses, as well as lighting gear from Profoto & Alien Bees to Nikon & Canon speedlights. I could have rented all the equipment I used for less than half of what it cost me to ship it. FYI, Josh will ship rental equipment anywhere you need it as well! (Just wish he were a little closer to Florida!)

March 04, 2010 8:36 AM  
Blogger bubuli said...

"Okay, let me rephrase that. I cannot rationalize the cost to my wife."


After being married for 14 years, I cannot agree with this more...there's a workaround to that, though...if you can only pony up the same amount for a kitchen renovation...or about 10 pairs of Manolos...you might be able to procure one...

March 04, 2010 8:46 AM  
Blogger glenn kaupert said...

David - good thought about pooling gear. Like you, I had resources @ the Chicago Tribune, but away from the office I also had colleagues who were stringers with specialty gear that was always available for outside jobs. Saved a bit of money in rental fees from Calumet and Helix in Chicago. Now away from the madness, we still share gear and these colleagues are also backup shooters with assignments in the event of scheduling problems.

March 04, 2010 9:03 AM  
Blogger contact said...

I don't usually borrow gear from my friends, but I'm the only guy in the circle of photographer's that I'm friendly with that owns studio lights, guess who gets to loan them out? I should start renting, haha.

March 04, 2010 9:07 AM  
Blogger rob said...

I've actually been doing this for around 5 years now... I host a workshop group of photographers who pay a small monthly fee for access to my studio and equipment when I'm not shooting, as well as meeting regularly to share critiques, insights and lively discussions.
I also have a 24" printer co-op group, where members paid into the purchase price, then they purchase their own paper and pay for ink usage.
This system of co-op sharing has been a great benefit for all involved! I believe than any resources should be in use as much as possible, and this has allowed me to put that belief into action, while providing opportunities for photographers to grow and develop their skills. Definitely a win/win!
I hope this can inspire others to try similar arrangements.

March 04, 2010 9:25 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Most of the studios in my area that are for rent have an enormous selection of lighting gear and modifiers that comes with it. However it does me no good on location when I need something else. We have several rental places here in Dallas for gear, BUT you have to be able to swipe a CC for the replacement amount as a deposit. I can do this for low end stuff, but when you start talking about a $7,ooo lens, or $25k digital med format rig, it puts me out of the game.

I have found an online rental house that is great, doesnt require the full amount charged until item is returned etc. The drawback is they have just a slightly better selection than a chain electronics store would for camera gear. I rented a vagabond 2, and shipping was $40 when the rental was only $28, so paying for fed ex 2-day on some items doesnt make it worthwhile. 4 or 5 rentals and I could have bought a Vagabond outright.

March 04, 2010 9:33 AM  
Blogger Zach said...

I have a few friends in which we let each other borrow each others' strobes for certain events that we might need, for instance I was on a shoot a few weeks ago where I borrowed 1 alienbee with vagabond, 1 vivitar 285HV and 2 pocket wizards, came in very handy and helped me perform much better in the shoot.

March 04, 2010 9:37 AM  
Blogger RobinS said...


I think the problem is with a co-op on gear as delicate as digital backs and MF camera's is on of trust and maintenance.

When I say trust I am saying can I rely on the photog that used it before me treated this thing well. We had this problem in school, despite the best efforts of the lab staff, it never failed that I spent part of my time trouble shooting the gear or waiting to have the back's sensor cleaned all because the person that used it before me failed to take care of the equipment.
Despite the claims by Leaf and PhaseOne their backs require far more care that one would expect. The sensor is way to exposed! Sorry for ranting.

The other issue for coops would be sharing the cost of maintenance, these things aren't cheap to have repaired. It's akin to joing a aero club where the fee to join is exorbitant and to rent the equipment isn't much better.

I honestly think you'd get more for your money if you buy refurbed gear play with it and pass it on.


March 04, 2010 9:45 AM  
Blogger John said...

How would you report it as an expense/depreciatation and of course tax time?

March 04, 2010 9:47 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm part of a photography group at my local church. We meet once a week and we share gear all the time. We've shared revenue from sales of photos before and we continue to think of ways to help budding fotogs learn more about the craft.

March 04, 2010 9:53 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I'm part of a group of photography peeps through my church (lifechurch.tv) and we share gear all the time. We plan to continue that practice and expand it as we raise "scholarship-style" funds for the newbies.

March 04, 2010 9:56 AM  
Blogger John Lewis Photography said...

Hi David, my self and six other photographers rent a small studio in Northern Ireland. We each have some gear and between us we have a great collection of lights and modifiers and stands etc. We use an online calender (hotmail) which we all have access to which we use to book studio time on a first come basis. The arrangements has worked well for about three years. It has allowed me to learn about lighting in a way that would not otherwise have been possible.


March 04, 2010 9:56 AM  
Blogger eip said...

I am not aware of anything like that around here (Richmond, VA) but I've had pretty good luck the likes of www.borrowlenses.com

March 04, 2010 9:58 AM  
Blogger Ryan said...

I nearly laughed coffee out my nose when I read your rephrase of why you can't rationalize... Ah, the truth stings. Well, I do have a couple of buddies whom I share equipment with-- bought collectively. So far it's worked great-- no one has needed anything at the same time. However, I notice for me, I tend not to use it very often unless it's already at my house. And we didn't exactly think of what to do if one of us moves, I just realized. So far, it's working out. (:

March 04, 2010 10:18 AM  
Blogger Darwin said...

I think that's a great idea. I'd love to find out the best way to start something like that in my area. My modest lighting equipment usually just sits in the closet. I remember renting from Calumet Photo but they rent out more gear than you need so I ended up getting my own but I don't use it as much as I thought. How do you folks feel about other people using your gear?

March 04, 2010 10:18 AM  
Blogger Darren Phillip Jones said...

With the time spent on average at a location, I don't see this happening without complications. Most people are moving at least once a year, if not once every 5 years. I personally wouldn't want to argue over equipment splitting etc if I had to relocate.

My girlfriend and I do this though because we have been together for some time and when we buy something, we buy it with our own money and basically share it. If we split ways we each have equipment that each has paid for so there would be no confusion of who takes what.

Imagine you buy a P1 back and the person you buy it with moves and wants to keep it. But now that the price has dropped because it is new, he only wants to offer you a reduced price for a buy out. that's just the begining.

March 04, 2010 10:21 AM  
Blogger Tiberiu said...

Hi David! Me and my photog friends from Bucharest pool gear all the time. I constantly find myself lending my SB-600's, my strobe gells, my umbrellas. And we swap lenses all the time. Today I have a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 on my D90 for which I "paid" with my sigma 10-20; we'll swap back by the end of the week. We know the value of gear very well since we pretty much have to buy it from US sites and wait for someone who works/studies in the US to bring it for us (here it sometimes costs as much as double the price), so we try to make the best out of it. And this is true both for casual photo trips and paid assignments (I for one do highschool yearbooks and related stuff).

March 04, 2010 10:36 AM  
Blogger RKPhoto said...

Well once you figure out that whole "wife" rational thing, please by all means let me know.

Since I'm still having to buy diapers for the little one now, that kinda trumps any new gear purchases! ha!

March 04, 2010 10:45 AM  
Blogger Amos Terry said...

I think we all lust after a high MP back on a medium format, but being working stiffs and students, who can justify 10-20 thousand?

Working for and with studios that have extensive gear closets is always good. I had the pleasure of playing with a digital back on a Contax 6x4.5 while I was interning in San Francisco. Now, being a student at Boston Universities Center For Digital Imaging arts, while attending school, and as an alumni, I have access to the schools equipment room for free. Just about anything I can imagine (except for digital backs...).


March 04, 2010 10:51 AM  
Blogger adriancollier said...

Sure do, in Seattle we call it Seattle Photography Associates (www.seattlephoto.org). Sharing's not limited to lighting gear however, we also share modifiers, studio space, models, make up artists, hair stylists, wardrobe stylists and the list goes on and on. You name it and we most likely have it.

It's great and all sharing gear but that's only the beginning. The best part about SPA is the community it creates with like minded individuals all striving for the same goal, that of photography. SPA's all about team work and mentoring so if you put any effort in your bound to get tons of it back.

March 04, 2010 10:56 AM  
Blogger Frozen Forever Photography said...

When I lived in Washington I had several photographers that I would trade with. Those guys were more like my best friends so there was trust involved and that fine line was never crossed. However, buying anything over a few hundred with several people doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I believe that any business partner is never a good idea.

Sorry I'm not on board with this idea.

March 04, 2010 11:01 AM  
Blogger Frank said...

I own a couple higher end lenses that a group of fellow photographers know they can borrow - and in exchange I get to use them as VALS on shoots - no money, just trading time for gear. Works great.

March 04, 2010 11:14 AM  
Blogger Andy T said...

Me and my pals have formed a little club mainly aimed at feeding off our combined creativity. A nice side effect has been that we do borrow gear from each other on quite a regular basis.

Often it is pocket wizards, Manfrotto magic arms, and lenses changing hands. Sometimes it'll be a 1D body or a 300 2.8 lens. Or we may actually borrow a person for assisting.

Works great and it really helps to see how other people work and use all the expensive kit we've bought.

March 04, 2010 11:24 AM  
Blogger Tom said...

My family all shoots Nikon gear so we can pool our equipemnt. There are 4 of us that shoot, and we have a nice pool of gear ranging from older Nikkormat equipment to studio gear.

March 04, 2010 11:42 AM  
Blogger google said...

First of all. Love the site. It's improved my photography 10 fold.

I'm a bit anal about my gear. I treat it like a Faberge Egg so don't like to see others handling it.

However, I've used www.lensrentals.com for lenses and I see that they are now offering a whole range of lighting gear too. Definitely worth checking out although their prices seem to have gone up recently.

March 04, 2010 11:52 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

I would occasionally use pool equipment during my years at the Chicago Tribune, but it was always hard to trust others to return gear in functional condition. I received more than one last-minute assignment that called for extra gear only to find that what I needed wasn't working - or that the portable DynaLite Uni flash kit I needed had been returned with a completely flat battery. That said, pool equipment may be a good idea IF you know and trust the people you're sharing it with - and if they can say the same about you. I've always thought, for example, that a wide-format printer would be perfect for sharing if the purchase price and the costs of ink and paper could be divided among several people.

March 04, 2010 12:01 PM  
Blogger Konstantin said...

I would love to rent out my Profoto and Hasselblad when I'm not using it to help recoup the purchase price, but I'm reticent to hand out 40k worth of gear to people I don't know.

Even if the shooter provides a certificate of insurance, sometimes damage is invisible at first glance, or even upon close inspection.

March 04, 2010 12:27 PM  
Blogger Jeremy C. Plummer said...

I love the gear pooling idea, but find that I am more often the share-er than the share-ee.

I would LOVE to find a few people to share some studio space with in Indianapolis, though. There have to be more people in the community who want real space, but can't quite afford it all for themselves. And let's be honest... how much time would each ameture or even semi-pro really need, anyway?

You have to be careful about who you align yourself with, but I think that the goodwill of sharing always pays itself back in one way or another. I like Dave Ramsey's rule of thumb on this one: "Never lend what you can't afford to give away."

March 04, 2010 1:20 PM  
Blogger johnw said...

Regarding financial legalities of using a pool of equipment, consider the fact that I can go to my local aero club and rent one of three quite expensive airplanes for an hourly rate much lower that the local flight rental operation.
The thirty or so members have worked it out financially. And aero clubs have been around for years. I think the concept of pooling high-end equipment and a well equipped studio could follow the same legal principles.

March 04, 2010 1:41 PM  
Blogger Skel said...

Great post, as always.

Here in London, UK, we have no problem renting, there are loads of places allowing you to do so. And an 85 F/1.2 costs about £35 - so very affordable.

But when it comes to medium format back and the like, co-op and rentals are just not practical at all. And I think it is just because the gear is too expensive in the fist place.

ex: To rent: a basic Hasselblad + phase one back and a lens will cost at least £600!

And to buy, well, you know, around £30k or so... So how many people would need to chip in to afford it?

And even then, if say 52 ppl buy it (like someone mentioned), it'll be about £600 each, and each person will be able to use it a week a year...

And even worse, If one of the people wants out, what happens with the gear and/or money put into it?

I personally share ALL my gear with 2 other canon shooter and 1 Nikon. We all understand that helping each other is much less costly then having to rent stuff out at all time.

I also borrow medium format (film) mamyia cameras/lenses from the 2 photographers I assist... And it even replaces payments sometimes.

anyway, that's my 2 cents.

March 04, 2010 1:51 PM  
Blogger Diane Schafer said...

Yes, recently I co-oped a purchase of the Q-flash lighting kit with my wedding assistant. We both wanted to use the Q-flash for location and wedding work, but couldn't justify the price, so we split the cost and share the equipment... it has worked out GREAT!!! Trusting the person you share equipment and expenses is important. And if something breaks... we split the repair.

March 04, 2010 2:12 PM  
OpenID danachatz said...

I used to run a rental house, and I can tell you right now that you would need a full time person to check gear out, check it in and make sure it's all still in working order.

The coop thing would be a nightmare.

March 04, 2010 4:36 PM  
Blogger David said...

I live in Roanoke, Virginia... a small town halfway between Washington DC and Charlotte, NC. This town, like so many others, doesn't even have a retail camera store, much less a rental house.

I do loan and rent pieces of gear to fellow photogs (whom I know well and have confidence they could repair or replace whatever gets damaged).

But what really works out for me is renting and loaning out my studio, lights and all. If you are any kind of photographer, you should have your own gear. Space comes with time and experience. That is why I share, 'cause there were a few guys along the way who gave me a hand.

March 04, 2010 4:54 PM  
Blogger sunny said...

We are two amateurs to co-op. Wouldn't be opposed to share with more people.

Neither your region nor your league though.

> let me rephrase that

*laugh* As a friend just pointed out to me: I am lucky: I _am_ "the wife" ;-)

Phase one rental (as you surely know):

March 04, 2010 4:56 PM  
OpenID jerseystylephotography said...

What an interesting discussion. Nothing like this that I know of where I am (Central NJ), though I don't know what I don't know.

Great post.

March 04, 2010 4:56 PM  
Blogger IsaacMTSU said...

I have always wanted to this with a few of my friends, just pool up and buy some cool stuff to split!

March 04, 2010 5:07 PM  
Blogger Evan said...

www.borrowlenses.com - ships nationwide, however they're local to the SF Bay Area. I've used them numerous times, and can generally pick up anything I want, 2 blocks from my office, on a next day basis. Very happy with them!

March 04, 2010 5:35 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

When I lived in Ca I worked with 3 other photographers and the 4 of us shared lenses, lights, and other gear. We were just far enough not to cross paths with customers and we would back each other up on larger jobs. For example if one of us had a large wedding we would do second chair for the main guy. Each of us has been shooting a really long time so we all have a decent amount of gear. I have hot lights and mono lights, another guy has studio strobes. We all have a collections of specialty lenses. Important to note is that we were all friends first, then coop partners. Sure it did not always work out that we could borrow what we wanted at certain times but most of the time it worked.

We trusted and knew going into it how we treated our gear and were all professionals to begin with. There was no paperwork or contracts, just a group of like minded friends who choose to help each other out.

Once a year or so we would also take trips together without family to do a big out door nature shoot. You know a week in Yosemite, or someplace like that. We would shoot nearly around the clock and get in sleep when we had too. No kids or spouses to be with we could just shoot and enjoy each others work and friendships. I miss those days and wish I could find friends like that again. I do go to meetup groups but sometimes they are too entry level or sometimes too nude bordering on porn for my tastes and since I don't know them well enough I am not likely to loan out gear ro ask to borrow any.

March 04, 2010 6:31 PM  
Blogger Kevin Camp Photography said...

I often collab with other photogs and we pool gear. We teach each other things we have learned as well.

March 04, 2010 7:16 PM  
Blogger Joey B said...

Currently this is the kind of setup that my girlfriend and I have. We pool our resources together and share the gear. Helps in the justification when we're BOTH photographers, though. Although lately I've been the one doing the purchasing and she's the one using the new equipment... but hey, it's all good. Heh!

March 04, 2010 9:01 PM  
Blogger Studio Rental, Classes, Photography, Gallery, Framing said...

I tried for years to open a coop space, coop-ing gear, etc., but as a coop I just couldn't find a way to give it wings.

Then I finally opened my own business, theSOPHA.com, in Manchester, NH doing just that - but in a membership-community format. We run classes, which provides the backbone of our income, but renting studio space and gear (to members only) is what we are all about.

I have had varying degrees of success - depending on how one chooses to measure. But at the end of the day, it is the community we have built around our photography that is far more important to us.

Oh, and yes, we have a metric ton of "strobist" style gear - 17 speedlights last I counted.

March 04, 2010 9:41 PM  
Blogger MTBtrials said...

Sorry if this has been repeated, but I jumped ahead when I read a similar comment 5 times in a row about the legal problems.

Every time I have rented something I have had to put the full value of the equipment on my credit card, then when I return it I am refunded the full amount minus whatever the rental fee is.

For instance, if it was $1500 to purchase the lens, and I rented it for a week for $100, I would get $1400 back on my credit card. If I broke it I would get to keep it, and the camera shop gets to keep my money!!!!


March 04, 2010 11:38 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I used to be the assistant manager in the "gear cage" at the college I went to, and I can attest to the challenges that are ultimately faced when people borrow photo gear. I honestly don't know how we would have been able to provide people with equipment if we didn't have the boss we did. The guy was amazing at fixing things, squeezing the most out of a meager budget and making sure things found there way "back to where they live".

But there is always someone who thinks it's a good idea to duct tape a 4 x 5 to a motorcycle...

Renting gear is a way of life here in Los Angeles, and PIX is the best rental house in town. They will ship gear to you, provided you set up an account with them, and have a fed-x number. It might also be helpful to know that 3 days = a week with them, so if you pay for a 3 day rental, you get it for the whole week.

This would probably work out pretty well for lenses and smaller stuff.


March 05, 2010 12:28 AM  
Blogger NoPain said...

How would members of the club agree on time and length of keeping the co-oped gears? Anyone has a clue on this issue?

March 05, 2010 12:53 AM  
Blogger FaBBius said...

Since my photoamateur's beginnings, I've been part of a local photoclub. There I met my currently "fellow photographers": a group of 5 Nikonists that (more or less) regularly carries out assignments and photographic activities. We all share a passion for photography in general, and lighting for portraiture, fashion and product shots, in particular.

We have always been borrowing each other lenses (not a coincidence we are all Nikonists ;) ), flashes, stands, reflectors, modifiers and so on, covering the gaps in each other's "small lights" gear. Recently, we have set up a studio and we have been dividing the costs for the "big" gear: Bowens 1000 W monoblocs, 1.5 m octobox, strip banks and soft boxes for the full human height, all the stands and boom capable of firmly support those gear, etc.

I feel myself very lucky to share all this with my friends and fellow photographers, both for the social aspect of the deal and beacause gear cooperation allows us to take on assignments (or "artistic" personal projects) not otherwise possible.

David: every posts of yours amazes me: not only continuously providing valuable technical infos, but also looking at photography from its many sides. Congratulation! ;)

March 05, 2010 4:03 AM  
Blogger restoration_rake said...

We do something similar. We're in Manhattan (Chelsea) and have have made a huge investment in space, a cyclorama, a full Profoto track and pantograph system, and multiple Hasselblads with Phase backs. We offer memberships, $500 per month for two full shooting days per month, all equipment use included. It's actually less expensive than equipment rental (for the user), it helps us even out income between big shoots, and we like to think we're being good neighbors to our fellow photographers.

March 05, 2010 9:43 AM  
OpenID musewanted said...

Has anyone used online rentals? I haven't myself, but it seems like a good option for those who don't have a local rental.

This place seems pretty reasonable: http://www.lensrentals.com

March 05, 2010 10:47 AM  
Blogger Todd said...

I would love to be able to form a coop for studio space. My idea is to lease the space and split the cost per each "owner" then when an individual has booked the space, there would be a small hourly fee that would be used for purchasing things like backdrop stands and light stands. The space would have to have room for locking cages that would accommodate our personal gear and if you wanted to share that with another member, then that's your prerogative. When the space is idle from the owner/members it could be used by the public for a competitive fee and, again, those proceeds would be put to use to either offset the lease costs, or to improve the space or to buy shared gear. I'm in Kansas City, Missouri if anyone is interested!!

March 05, 2010 1:02 PM  
Blogger Steve said...


I'd love to see a post or two talking about the specifics of achieving low-key and high-key lighting effects on a budget, including what kinds of things can be used as a backdrop and how to get enough light or control the light well enough to pull it off. I've been going through your Lighting 102 and it looks like some of the best photos fall into one of these categories. Any help you might have in this area would be greatly appreciated!

March 05, 2010 1:17 PM  
Blogger Andy said...

There are three of us here in the northwest Columbia, SC area and we do share quite a lot of Nikon equipment. Equipment is so expensive, and we all do something a little different, so if a flash or body is "resting" we put it to work. We also often back one-another up at a large wedding or social function. Currently not enough business to warrant an expensive purchase for something we don't use a lot. We don't co-op the cost of the equipment just share what we have. Got to help the other guys and gals out there. Stobist is the best, tremendous source of info for us. Thanks for all you do.
Rush L. Workman
Prosperity, SC

March 05, 2010 4:41 PM  
Blogger Jason Anderson said...

I'd also add Denver to the list of cities with decent rental outfits. Although not nearly as big as NYC or LA, there are a few stores around the metro area that rent gear out including CamRen, Mike's Camera, and a few others...

March 05, 2010 10:53 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

I always found it easy to rent in San Francisco and Atlanta. Used to be true about Las Vegas too but I have not rented there in a long time.

March 06, 2010 12:37 AM  
Blogger FH Photo said...

In Australia, there are several rental places which does "overnight shipping" for equipments. Its probably easier doing this than having a "pool" of gear with other individuals, the rental company can take care of the legal and paperwork.

March 06, 2010 8:09 AM  
Blogger Brendan O'Hara said...

We have a small pool of gear at my local paper, though it's all pretty second rate stuff. I've taken to lending out glass, and occasionally AB's to more trusted staffers as I far and away have the biggest kit. In exchange they'll get me a few drinks or a cover a meal. It's a real grey area.

Hopefully one day I'll run into a friend with greater means than me so he can pay it forward. Read: 400 and up teles, MF digital. Until then I'll do my best to be a good friend and boss - it typically elevates the quality of their work substantially.

March 07, 2010 11:04 PM  
Blogger Stephen Hunton said...

I rent lenses when specific projects require a lens I don't have in my bag (such as the 70-200 2.8 or a fisheye for fun...). When it comes to lights, I love shooting with my flashes off-camera, but for bigger projects, I "rent" from a friend who's got a few Alienbees. He used to just let me borrow 'em, but I decided I should throw him some cash when I use 'em... just in case I do something bad...like drop one. :).

After all, for bigger projects, it's easy enough to just line-item the rental into my bid, so it's not really coming out of my pocket anyway.

March 08, 2010 3:44 PM  
Blogger Marry this! said...

What!? Owning things, together? Isn't that... Socialism!! What is going on over in the states? First you elect a president that wants health care to be available for everyone, and now you want to share photo gear!? Maybe there is hope for the world after all?

I live in Sweden, and share a studio and equipment with four other photographers.

March 09, 2010 11:05 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

I don't think I have an official co-op with anyone. More informal. My dad has a bunch of gear and has let me borrow a few lenses, camera body, etc. Offered to let me use his flashes too. I bought my canon just because all his gear is canon. I can also play with his gear at his house anytime and he borrows my stuff sometimes too. Right now its a miter saw, next week it might be my new macro lens.

March 09, 2010 6:59 PM  
OpenID motivateandmove said...

I am a beginner photographer in Baltimore and an idea like this would be grand for someone starting out and trying to take a range of shots in various situations and venues.

March 10, 2010 6:27 PM  
Blogger brownphotographic said...


I think this national community based photo rental scheme absolutely hits the nail on the head:


You should get in touch with them - great bunch of people in Boston.

March 14, 2010 6:46 PM  

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