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FO2 Stage | Mahesh Bhatia

by Team FO2, 22 Jun 2023

I have been in the field of photography for over 40 years now. It was immediately after my graduation in 1979 that I learned photography. I didn't have the funds to undergo a proper certified course so I learned it privately from a local professor. Post that, I started a studio and ran it for around 5-6 years. My first camera was a Yashica 124G. At that time, we used to develop, print, and touch up the photos ourselves. Initially, we worked on a 120 mm film format. Soon enough, 35 mm format came in and we had to immediately adapt to the same. Then Video format came in. Video Cameras used to be 3.5+ Kgs each and we had to carry VCRs as well when we went on shoots. We adapted to VHS and then camcorders as soon as they were launched. We were among the first to use small-sized camcorders in the city. Post that, I switched to industrial photography and worked at RRCAT for 16 years. For the next 14 odd years, I got into buying and selling 2nd hand gears. While I used to sell my second-hand gears, a lot remained with me. This helped me accumulate a lot of stuff and very soon I had a huge camera collection I always loved updating my gears and kept buying a lot of stuff over the 35 odd years of my photography career. As age increased I was looking at something to retire with, but also wanted to remain associated with this profession. Sure enough, I decided to set up a camera rental shop.

The objective of setting up a rental studio was also to provide, both budding and professional photographers, a chance to experiment with gears without actually having to buy them. When I started the rental business, there were limited professionals in this field and the only product they wanted to rent out, was studio lights. I used to go with these huge lights at shoot locations 30-40 km away, for a 4-hour work shift for just Rs.800/-. However, it would inevitably get converted into 8+ hours and would still get paid the same amount. But there were no complaints as I got to meet and learn from so many people. Slowly, my children started helping me in the business and they learned photography and cinematography, without undergoing any formal training in this field. Gradually, the number of photographers and filmmakers increased, and people started renting all kinds of equipment from me.

Similar to other businesses, there are varied risks in a camera rental business. From equipment damage to stolen gears, we have faced it all. There have been some setbacks but we have continued with grit and passion. My aim was not to make money from this and that’s what kept me going. It’s been 6+ years and my love for the business is only growing. I am proud and happy to be probably amongst the select few who can boast of having one of the biggest private camera collections in the Country. I have some cameras that even photographers of my age would have not seen, forget having used them.

One of the challenges in this business has been to remain updated with the latest gears. Most brands today keep launching newer and newer cameras every few months. Once the newer product is introduced, the older one starts becoming obsolete and out of demand. Sometimes, it is difficult to even recover the cost of the product as a newer version gets introduced too soon. There are some gears I have, that were never rented by anyone even for a single time. That is the reason why we look for an overall rental income from all these gadgets rather than every individual one. The Internet has been a big boon and thanks to my sons, we keep looking for newer launches and keep updating ourselves, online. Since we operate in a tier 2 city, we also do not invest in much high-end equipment because the audience, knowing and using such specialized equipment, is limited and it is not quite enough to even recover the investment amount. But we kept investing and buying newer and upgraded equipment. Our efforts have been rewarded with a fruitful business. While there would have been some financial constraints while buying new gears and hence we would have picked them up on small-term installment loans but we have never defaulted on any installments even in the toughest of times. Even in this pandemic, when the business was zero for a period of almost 9 months, we did not default on any of our commitments.

These days, as the number of online platforms is increasing, the number of photographers and filmmakers are also increasing. Also, the no of genres in this field is also expanding. Not everyone is capable of buying every upgraded gear that is required to suit multiple genres and hence there is a huge scope for rental businesses now, and more so in the future.

Many respected photographers took cameras from us when they were just starting, as they couldn’t invest in high-end gear right after they stepped into this field. Even today, they thank me for providing them an opportunity to work with gears that they otherwise would have never been able to. That makes me happy and gives me a sense of fulfillment of being in this business.

I have spent my whole life in photography and I love having all these gears with me but I am planning to retire very soon. My wife took care of all of us for so many decades. She loved gardening and had a small garden. She is not with us anymore. I want to keep all her plants alive and prettier than ever and am therefore planning to get into full-time gardening. My elder son is a Software Engineer and working in Bengaluru while my younger one is just about to complete his college and get into a Management college. While both love photography and cinematography, they will probably choose careers in other fields. It is going to be heart-wrenching for me to wrap up and hence I am looking at how I can keep my legacy alive.
Most photographers today are in a hurry. They do not learn the nuances of the trade. They are only interested in the no of followers. They need to upgrade their knowledge about the art, as well as the trade. Only when they know about diff gears available is when they will know what is the best that is suited for them and their projects. I recommend that they should experiment with newer gears. Buy, borrow or rent, if required, but experiment they must, as that will widen their scope as well as skills. All the best to them.

- Mahesh Bhatia

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