1. Short Term Use - When you have a special event, photo shoot, or vacation and you don’t have the gear you need, renting is a fabulous option. I don’t usually shoot weddings, so I don’t typically need two camera bodies with pro lenses ready at the same time, so when my cousin asked me to shoot her destination wedding (How does one turn that down?) I needed a second camera. Since I only owned a Nikon D7000 (unless you count my ancient D50) I rented a full-frame camera, the Nikon D600. That, combined with a borrowed Black Rapid dual holster do-hickey, made my life a lot easier.
2. Test Driving - If you are in the market for new gear and want to try it before you buy it, a rental company can serve as your facilitator. Photography gear is expensive, so buyers remorse is exacerbated by an empty wallet. Spending a little to rent now, to see how that new camera functions, feels in your hand, and handles your shooting needs and style can pay off. Some companies even let you buy the item you are renting if you fall in love with it.
3. Your Regular Gear is Being Repaired or Cleaned - When the shutter died within the first year of owning my D7000, I rented a D3s for a stylized shoot I was part of and thought I was in Heaven. For subsequent shoots during the time my baby was in the camera hospital, I rented other 7000s because it was less expensive, but playing with the full frame model sure was fun.
4. You Need a Backup - Photographers should never shoot without having a back up camera in their bag. When the aforementioned shutter died, I was in the middle of doing headshots. Thankfully, I had my trusty old D50 with me. Not the first choice of professional photographers, I know, but this was when I was first starting out and it certainly worked just fine for this purpose. It would have seemed completely unprofessional to say, “Ummm, sorry, my camera just broke. Going to have to reschedule.”
5. The Lens/Camera/Lighting/Gear You’re Drooling Over Is Too Costly to Own and You Want to Play - Yes, I would love to have a wide array of camera equipment available in my arsenal. Unfortunately, the camera stores won’t just GIVE them all to me when I whine. Renting allows you to use the stuff you want without driving you into bankruptcy.
6. You Don’t want to Ship or Schlep Your Own Gear to Destination Shoots - I know that when I photographed my cousin’s destination wedding, it was a pain in the keister to haul lighting stands, suitcases, and all of my gear. Thankfully my sister and brother-in-law were flying with me so they served as my Sherpas. Without them, I never would have been able to get all of my stuff from point A to point B. Rental places can ship the gear you want right to your destination. You’ll have your gear and won’t be in debt to your Sherpas. Win. Win.