When I launched the CameraLends peer-to-peer camera rental community in early 2013, I was the only lender. While we have thousands of members today renting across the country everyday, I've still got more rentals under my belt than any other member. What's my secret to earning over $5000 lending out my modest collection? I'll show you!
By the numbers
I've rented 23 distinct items across 150 rentals, including: camera bodies, lenses, memory cards, tripods, flashes, chargers, drones, and GoPros. Each item does not rent equally — far from it! A full quarter of my rentals have just been for my Canon 5D Mark II, and two-thirds of my rentals can be attributed to that Mark II, Canon 60D, GoPro, and Phantom 2 Vision+. Also, another third of my listings have not been rented once. The 150 rentals were the result of 300 requests from renters, meaning that about 50% of requests work out.
Buy high-end gear
The 5D Mark II is the most professional piece of gear that I have, so it makes sense that it's the most rented. For starters, it's an amazing device that can make even a mediocre photographer appear to know what they're doing. As I often like to point out, the sixth season finale of House was filmed exclusively on 5D Mark IIs!
But beyond that, it's more of a gold standard: both photography and videography professionals are very familiar with this model. That makes it a no-brainer for a wedding photographer to rent as a second camera.
When I started CameraLends, I was shooting exclusively with my Canon 60D. Which, in its own right is a fantastic camera. But it's not the *best*. And that makes all the difference in renting. While your 1957 Yashica TLR is an awesome camera, it's not going to be in high demand for rentals.
My 5D Mark II renters tend to be: wedding photographers, concert photographers, event photographers, studio photographers, and KickStarter videographers (which, it turns out, is big enough to be a category of its own!). By comparison, my 60D is rented by vacation-goers or amateur photographers interested to see what the next level up is.
In fact, I would argue that if you plan to rent out your gear, you can justify buying better than what you need. The Mark II was certainly more than I needed for vacations, but by lending it I've been able to earn back 85% of its cost. When you look at it in that light, the total cost of ownership has actually been less than that of my 60D (which had a sticker price of half the 5D!)
I used to include memory cards with all of my camera rentals. But being the undisciplined post-processor I am, that sometimes meant I had to scramble to dump pictures off my card in time for the rental to start. So I decided to make memory cards a $5 add-on for camera rentals. Five bucks was enough that I wouldn't complain about the extra work, or the renter would use their own card and I wouldn't have to futz with clearing off my card.
Do the work coordinating your rentals, but also hedge your bets!
Becoming a successful lender hinges upon you making life as easy as possible for your renter. Suggest multiple locations (typically: home and work) and let your renter know approximate times of day that work for you. If the rental was booked more than a day in advance, text your renter the day of the rental to make sure you're still on the same page. Ask your renter to over-communicate; have them text you when they leave, when they're 30 minutes away, as soon as they realize they will
be late, etc.
That last point is important. Your renter *might* be running late picking up or dropping off gear. Traffic happens. Cell phones die. And cars break down. I've made it a point to tell my renters that I care much less about the extra hour if I know about it and can plan around it. It sucks to sit waiting at Starbucks for 30 minutes while someone is late, without any status updates. I ask my renters to let me know as soon possible if they're going to be late so I can plan around it.
With that being said, if you're planning on your camera coming back at 5pm so you can use it for a shoot at 6pm… Maybe you should pass on the rental. The $50 you earn renting out your camera is a wash if you can't shoot an event for $300. And in the case of damage (which CameraLends fully covers you against), we still can't get you a replacement faster than we can physically get your replacement. If I *need* my Phantom 2 Vision+ for an event, I won't lend it out for 3-4 days ahead of time, so that if a renter crashes it I can have my replacement delivered in time.
In addition to requests that come straight from CameraLends, I re-post my most popular gear to Craigslist every 2 weeks. When someone emails with interest, I send them my CameraLends link and ask them to book through us. It's increased my rentals by about 20-40%, so I highly recommend it! Craigslist is generally considered a little less trustworthy/wild west, but pushing them onto CameraLends means we verify their identity and protect you in the case of fraud.
Educate your renters
I'd estimate that about half my renters have prior experience with the gear that they're renting. For the other half, I try to take 5-10 minutes to go over how the gear works because it's much easier to help in person than over the phone. If they're new to the Mark II, I ask them to take a picture in front of me. This policy is a direct result of myself leaving my camera in 2-second delay mode and a renter struggling to get it back to continuous mode minutes before an event. With my Phantom 2, I encourage the renter to leave time for a 20-minute walkthrough.
Wear and tear
All this lending means that my gear has seen a lot more use than it normally does. I've needed to clean the sensor on my 5D Mark II twice, but it's an easy job (canned air, $15 sensor cleaner) and something I would have had to do anyway. In general, renters are extremely careful with my gear; most first time camera renters mention in their request that they're a professional and will be super careful and treat it like their own.
Building a relationship
Repeat renters are the best. For that second rental, you already have phone numbers, have coordinated once before, and have the confidence of a successful rental that's already happened. I've got about a half dozen renters who have rented from me multiple times, and I'm always most excited about renting out to them. It's exciting to follow their careers (what are you shooting tonight?) and there's more of a personal connection the second time.
That warm, fuzzy feeling
My renters have had job uses across the board: music videos, weddings, precision measurements, crowd size estimates, vacations, real estate aerial photography — and the list goes on! I'd have to say, the most rewarding rentals are the ones where I'm helping someone out who's in a bind. I had one renter who was on his way to the airport from 2 hours away and realized he forgot his Phantom 2 charger. My place was on the way to the airport, and I was able to lend him one of my extra chargers.
Overall, I've had a very positive experience lending my gear. I've earned good extra money, met a bunch of cool photographers/videographers, and have learned a lot from working with them.
Adam Derewecki is the founder of CameraLends and actively lends in San Francisco.
(cover photo credit: snap from CameraLends)