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KitKarma is the AirBnB for photography equipment

Delhi-based architecture photographer, Niveditaa Gupta, was on holiday in Bengaluru, when she got an impromptu assignment. While searching for reliable gear in a pinch, a friend suggested online portal KitKarma (KK). “Through their site, I was able to ask for equipment (including a special tilt shift lens), and procure it in no time,” she recalls, adding, “I was also able to find a monitor to my exact specifications for editing.” The next time she was in Chennai for a shoot, she was prepared — by renting the gadgets she needed here.

I’ve experienced that journey of not being able to afford equipment, to collecting more than I can use Subramanian PV, founder, KitKarma

She is just one of hundreds of photographers who have found a way to ease their luggage woes while travelling for shoots within the country. The website, launched in 2017 (by invite only), and opened to the public last November, is a peer-to-peer equipment sharing platform. It creates a network of photographers, who, over the years, have amassed a wide range of cameras, lenses and other accessories, and are not averse to lending them (for a price).

More than a hobby

After over 30 years of being a photographer, KK founder Subramanian PV had found that he too fell into this category. That, coupled with the fact that two decades in the IT/ITES industry was getting quite monotonous, spurred him to start the site. “I’ve experienced that journey of not being able to afford equipment, of collecting more than I can use. Although I first had apprehensions about whether I’d actually give my stuff to someone else, I thought, ‘why not?’,” he says. The city-agnostic site, which started off from Chennai and Bengaluru, now has lenders from Mumbai, Bhopal and Coimbatore, among others.

Chennai’s travelling studio

While a lot of the lenders are in their 30s and 40s, there are a number of youngsters as well. Subramanian says, “A lot of them take out loans to buy expensive cameras and lenses. Renting helps make some of that money back.”

Safety first

The platform itself is simple: sign up with a government ID, which will be verified, and pick the equipment you require. If it’s available, the lender and borrower can chat on an inbuilt messaging platform. The first transaction is free, following which there are annual and monthly unlimited subscription plans.

“The crux of it all was safety— what happens when the products are accidentally damaged? We offer insurance (at 15% extra per hire), and a dispute button to help solve any issues that crop up,” explains Subramanian. Lenders also have the prerogative to refuse rental, based on the information, and an internal rating system called the Karma Index, that can be found on every users’ dashboard. They’ve also signed on rental agencies, who get an additional revenue stream through the platform.

Buy it right

Earlier this week, KitKarma also launched a certified buy-and-sell section on the site, where lenders can mark the equipment that are for sale. Before the transaction is complete, the product can be dropped off at a certifier’s, who will run tests against a checklist and clear it for quality.

Chennai’s travelling studio

This is meant to give a degree of assurance to the buyer about the authenticity and real condition of what they are purchasing — unlike eBay or any other social platform, where shopping is akin to gambling.

With over 1,300 pieces listed on the site, it is also a place to go for more obscure equipment — when the first two analogue cameras were listed, they were fully booked for 45 days! Subramanian recalls a photographer, who, on the day before he was headed to Ladakh, realised he was missing some key equipment for the kind of long exposure shots he wanted to take. “He needed a 10-stop neutral density filter, which is not even easily available to buy; it can cost over ₹20,000. Then he needed a certain diameter lens to fit the filter, plus a tripod. Suddenly, he had done ₹8,000 to ₹9,000 in rentals within half an hour,” he says.

Next on the agenda is education through a certified course, and creating a network of alumni who will empower and employ newcomers in the field. There are also plans to help photographers and showcase their services on the site, be it tours or specialised shoots. “I’m currently working on setting up in the USA and going international, so that we build something that goes across barriers, much like photography does,” he concludes.

Subscription starts at ₹249 per month. Details: kitkarma.com

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