Do You Charge Rental Fees for Your Own Equipment?

Do You Charge Rental Fees for Your Own Equipment?

There’s an obvious difference between a Canon Powershot and a Hasselblad, but we all know that it’s not the equipment that makes the photographer. Should you make more money just because you have better equipment?

Or should the equipment become trivial, since your talents are what matters and that's how you set your prices? A great example from last week is the "Blood Dress" photo that was shot on an entry level DSLR and a cheap 50mm lens. 

There are two schools of thought here, setting aside charging per hour or at a fixed rate. There are also pros and cons on both sides of the fence. 

1. Renting Equipment You Already Own to Yourself

Say you’ll be shooting on your Canon 5D Mark III with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. To rent this from Brain Box in Los Angeles, it’ll cost $125 for the body and $45 for the lens — a pretty standard price. So, your equipment is worth $170, and you charge the client an extra $170 every day that you use the gear. The thinking behind this is that the equipment costs money, and it is a separate service from your photography. The client is renting the equipment and then paying you to use it. If they need you to use a wider lens, you can rent a 14mm f/2.8 for $45, but you don’t see a dime of this.

So, let's do the math.

If you do four shoots a week with a $170 camera fee, then you’ve made $680 that week. You will have paid for your equipment in about five weeks. So, in a year, you’ve made about $6,000 in profit on a $3,500 setup. It’s understandable why this method can be appealing. When a client is requesting to use your equipment, there will be wear and tear it, and you may also be paying for insurance. However, is this not the cost of running a business? This brings us to our second school of thought.

2. Offering Your Equipment for Free

The client gets quoted a flat fee for the shoot, and there is no distinction between you and your equipment. You can offer them every piece of equipment you have, and they can decide if they want it or not. Extra lights? No problem. A bigger tripod? Bring it just in case. 

This way, there is less of a limitation on your creative ideas. Imagine saying: “I would love to use a black backdrop, but that will cost you $25.” With this method, you have a greater chance of getting the perfect shot. If they need a specialized product, then sure, you’ll need to hire it and pass the cost on. Right now, I’ve got a Sony FS7 sitting beside me, because a client needs to shoot in slow motion this week. I picked it up at a rental house after the client agreed to pay for it.

The Question

Where do you stand? Maybe it changes with every job you undertake. Personally, I opt for option two; however, I’ll emphasize that my equipment is free because my flat price is inflated. Overall, it may come down to not milking the client for everything they have. A client should not be paying for every business expense you have (like the cost of your Lightroom subscription). Nobody wants to get a bill that’s inflated by made-up costs. However, if you’re shooting on a Canon 5D Mark III, you should get paid more than the amateur photographer shooting on a Canon Powershot.

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27 Comments

Lenn Long's picture

I've seen line items on photography invoices for photo equipment rental, but the thing that always pops up in my mind is that while it makes sense as a line item on a shoot that the photographer is traveling to do a shoot and doesn't want to bring gear with them on a plane. However if that photographer is shooting in his/her studio and has a line item for gear, I would wonder why they don't have it? If a carpenter is going to build me a house and I like his/her work, I expect them to own a hammer, a drill and a saw or two. Now I would expect line items for things like expendibles/misc expenses like seamless paper etc.

Stephen Kampff's picture

You've arguably hit the nail on the head there. When I was talking to freelancers for this article, two people compared it to builders and how certain items should be expected anyway. But nobody's asking a builder to supply the insulation for your house.

Lenn Long's picture

I would say an options may be a specialty lens that would be required like a super long telephoto like a 400mm, superwide fisheye or maybe a PC lens that you haven't purchased because you really don't have a need for it on a monthly basis would also be acceptable line items. Or maybe additional bodies/lenses because the client wants a static timelapse. There are always exceptions to the rule.

Anonymous's picture

When you're looking at hiring people for a job you expect they are prepared for the job. Putting this into the contractor world, if an electrician, plumber, HVAC professional told me he was charging me extra for his tools I'd find another contractor. Parts and labor, yes I understand that. But you already own your gear.

Look at it another way. You bring your car in for a repair. You are going to pay for the mechanic to repair your car - that's the labor and you pay for the new part replacing the old. But I leave with that new part. I own it now.

Think of it this way - what benefit is it to the client if they are paying you to rent equipment you already own? To me it sounds like a scam. What other service does this?

Mike Last's picture

I think it makes sense if the gear is outside of the standard kit. If a contractor needed to rent a large crane or excavator for a home build, you should expect a line item for that. I wouldn't expect a bill for a nail gun and compressor though. I also wouldn't expect a contractor to fly with a compressor in their checked luggage. As a photographer, you should have a DSLR and basic zoom lenses, but a truck load of grip and lighting kit or medium format cameras would be fair to line item if the clients vision demands their use to achieve the look. At the end of the day, the client is welcome to reject the estimates and find a different photographer.

The guy that put the new windows in my house thought he could dig in Utah soil in the winter. He ended up having to rent a mini excavator, on his dime.

Moral of the story: if you don't have the tools for the job, let the client know up front, and quote accordingly.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

When you are hiring carpenter you pay for the equipment in his rate. Successful carpenter will need to calculate how much his tools will cost, and how many contracts can he finish before he will need to buy new equipment. He will not do the job just for portfolio, or for practice, exposure etc...

Yeah... having a line item might be tough to justify, but you HAVE to know your costs and include the costs f equipment in your pricing... way too many people go broke because they just charge for their time and don't factor in all of the expenses of running a business into their pricing... your customer has to pay for everything from you camera to the ads you run in the paper, so know what your cost per shoot is, even if you don't itemize it for the customer.

Chris K.'s picture

I fall into both options: the 2nd option for photography and most video shoots, and the 1st option for video if I need to rent extra equipment.

For video I'd say 70% of my shoots I'm providing all the equipment so for the most part it varies project to project, which depends on what equipment I'm personally providing-obviously my day rate with my Red Weapon is a lot different from my fs7 rates. Any rentals is a la carte on top of that.

I don't rent anything extra for my photography so it's just a set flat fee for everything.

william mitchell's picture

I would say own what you use most of the time, and charge for renting extra equipment or for travel. Point out to client that the basic equipment package is part of the day rate.

There is a real cost to the use of your equipment and it is called depreciation. You must factor that into your cost structure when thinking of a pricing scheme. Margins are then computed against ALL your costs. This takes care of the question of a rental fee IMO.

As a unit stills photographer, I'm paid an hourly rate for my services and also a kit rental for my equipment. This is a standard arrangement in the film industry. When I'm doing headshots and portrait work or some of the other types of jobs that I do, I consider my gear like a tool box. I charge a larger fee and my tool box comes with me. I decide which tools I use to do my job.I don't look at it as renting the client equipment that I already own. Of coarse I own it, it cost me a lot of money to buy this gear and I need to pay for it and eventually upgrade it. It's no different than any other type of business. Portions of their fees cover equipment costs. That's just the way it is.

Mr Hogwallop's picture

It depends on the clients.

Hopefully those who don't charge for equipment is being compensated for it by rolling it in with the photo fee, it's called overhead..
When I worked at a rental place in LA many fashion shooters used accounts held by magazines who would cover the entire rented camera / lighting package. So some are willing to pay for rentals.
I have different kinds of clients, the higher end ones have "camera kit" as a line item on the bid sheets and if you don;t put something there, they will bounce it back until you do.
Even with my regular clients I will charge for oddball stuff that I own, just because it's sort of special (TS-Lenses, Gyro Stabilizer) but basic camera gear is paid for in the fees.
Using a program like Blink Bid makes it easy to charge for thing you may overlook.

I know a photographer who has a in house "rental company" so she invoices herself, and 2 DP who own very little gear and rent everything. But most just don;t charge extra or call it out as a line item which may invite questions.

The thing I wonder about in the example is the guy billing $500 per day working four days a week! Dude! Raise your rates you will work less and make more :)

I like this rental company idea.

Derek Yarra's picture

It depends on the market, client, and shoot. In commercial/advertising and high end magazine shoots, it's very normal to bill for equipment use, be it your own or from a rental house. It's a way to illustrate the actual production costs to the client and shows what it will take/cost to get the job done.

I don't think any client expects a photographer to own ten Profoto 8A packs and heads, and if that is the equipment needed to get the job done, the client knows that's part of their production costs. If a client requests 80mp images from a medium format camera, it is not expected for a photographer to own one and use it at no charge. A photographers fee is to cover their creative input and skills to get the job done, as well as the licensing of the images that will be used. Everything else is a production cost to the client.

Additionally, having equipment as a line item gives you wiggle room in the negotiation process. If you do own the necessary gear, you really want to be awarded the job, and the client needs your bid to come down, that leaves you wiggle room to discount or waive the fees, and get the job.

Now, in the world of retail photography (family portraits, linkedin headshots, weddings, etc.) that's a different story. The client expectations are different, the deliverables are different, and the budgets are certainly different. This is a scenario where the contractor comparison holds truth.

Burak Erzincanli's picture

exactly, that depends on the market.

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

"A client should not be paying for every business expense you have"? You will not stay in the business to long. What you have mentioned is called Cost of Doing Business. You need to charge your client for every expense your business have. Obviously you won't itemize that but you need to include it in your prices. Charge to little, compete on price, and you will be back working day job by the end of the year.

It is normal thing in the industry that you charge commercial client for the equipment necessary for the job. In this case you itemize the equipment. If client requires you to have MF you need to charge for that differently than for 35mm. etc... In addition, you are the specialist and you should know what equipment is necessary to deliver the job. If you are asking if you can use this and that tool, you are approaching it incorrectly. When you are quoting the job, list the equipment you need (or may need). This way client will know that the price is not inflated, and you are not ripping him of. If the client will try to question your (correctly prepared) list, change the client...

everything from paper clips to the coffee machine in the studio... if the customer isn't covering your costs you go broke in a hell of a hurry.

Martin Van Londen's picture

For commercial yes.. Always. For portrait work. Not really, because I have come up with packages. For internal/corporate work I do of its it the budget. If I client is on a fixed budget I'll find out what that is and then make the adjust my invoice accordingly. Some times I'll put a rental fee on and then discount it down to show the added value.

Jon Dize's picture

Depends on whether or not you are doing commercial photography/video or portraits/weddings. Commercial photography often requires production expenses over and above the photographer's fees, including crew fees, rental equipment fees, insurance fees, permit fees. The photographer is not going to pay for this out of his or her pocket, the expenses are going to be passed on to the client. A wedding or portrait photographer on the other-hand very likely has their own gear, with the exception of specialty items, which again, are rented and the fees billed to the client. For 40 years, I have always invoiced hourly or block times for the photographer rates, plus all billable expenses. Which may include assistants, grips, makeup, stylist. Depends on the assignment and THE END USE of the images. All determine the price rates being invoiced.

True, But I would observe that a lot of commercial work today is not done with agencies with whom this is common practice , but rather the end user who is already having a hard time with the idea of paying for photography anyway.
The fact is that many commercial clients today are unfamiliar with purchasing commercial work and will not understand billing for equipment the photog already owns. They will compare you with another guy who gives a simple detailed quote.

Jon Dize's picture

It's not always about pricing with many clients. I won a bid on a corporate photo shoot which involved 21 executive portraits. When the Exec. Sec. called to tell me I had been chosen to shoot the portraits, she told me they interviewed three photographers and I was chosen not because I had the cheapest price, my pricing was only slightly higher than the other two, nor was I hired because my photos were the best. One of the other photographers was very capable and did excellent work. They chose me because, though my pricing was very close to one of the other photographers and our work was comparable, she said I made the most professional presentation. Different clients have different expectations and needs.

Tony Carter's picture

"However, if you’re shooting on a Canon 5D Mark III, you should get paid more than the amateur photographer shooting on a Canon Powershot." Although I would agree more with Option 2, I would have to disagree to extent on that last statement. The photog should get paid according to the quality of their work, not the quality of their camera.

You can painfully find TONS of 5D3 or D810 shots on Flickr that would make you think that those cameras are crap, but that's only because the person behind didn't use proper photography or lighting fundamentals. On the same token, of course, are STELLAR images being made by ordinary folks with their iPhones, but at least they're exemplifying composition, perspective, and storytelling.

To keep it real, some "pro-togs" may need to realize that the reason why potential clients may balk at their pricing is because although they may be "good" at doing photography, they're not THAT good as to warrant the higher pricing when their Uncle Bob, who uses "lesser" equipment, no studio, and no business expenses, somehow tends to create eye-catching images.

However, what potential clients may fail to realize is that although Uncle Bob has an incredible Instagram page of flowers, bugs, and vacation shots, he is not well-practiced in shooting weddings, posing people, manipulating light, and being considerate of others' photography needs.

Clients need to be educated on that fact that they NEED to hire the photog who is well-practiced in the particular genre of their need. Not every photog can do every genre well. It's just how it is.

from a business point of view this is absolutely true though... if you are not charging enough to cover overhead (which includes all of the equipment you own) you are bankrupt... so, while having a better camera doesn't make better photos, if you want to have a better camera you best be able to charge enough that you can afford it, or you ain't in business.

As with everything else, it depends. If you're charging $8k a day, the expectation is different than charging $2k a day. A photo shoot where you have crew, talent, and lots of folks around to make a shot happen, you had better have 2 of everything, so having that gear on hand, even if it never gets touched is critical.

A photo shoot where you're working out of your studio space has a 'rental' fee, so why wouldn't the gear inside be itemized? Why charge a rate for packs when you only need speedlights? A lot of the 'rental' costs for owned gear cover costs associated with the studio and someone to run and maintain it.

The carpenter bit is actually a bit off, especially when you can fully outfit a carpenter for $5,000, while that's a body and 1-2 lenses in the photography world, or half the cost of a Broncolor Scoro pack.

I am 16 and I was wondering how much i should charge for my time? I have a canon t5i and this family friend wants me to take photos at their wedding its outside and low grade, and im thinking of charging $300 my mom says $500 but i dont know, ive been taking photos since i was 7. im just really scared of what to charge and lose the chance i really need help. Plus this is my first time taking photos of somebody i really dont know, its always close people.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Funnily enough, I shot a wedding when I was about that age. I believe I only charged €400.

The couple, my folks, and me, all agreed that I should have been paid more. At the end of the day I wanted to do it anyway, and I borrowed extra equipment for free that I got a kick out of using. I was happy!

I'd say go for $500. You're still the cheapest option by far, and could even push to $6-700. I understand that you're probably more than capable of turning around amazing images, but it's unfortunate that agism could mean you get paid less. However if this goes well, you can stop charging so little and move up pretty quickly I'm sure.
Also, if they say that $500 is too much, then you can go down to $400 pretty easily. You can't move up to $400 from a $300 quote.

There are plenty of amazing wedding photography tips on Fstoppers. Brush up a bit on how to make your contract, quote, invoice, delivery etc and the couple will be put at ease massively! Take it as seriously as you want to be taken.

Obviously just my two cents, hope it goes well!