When It's All Stolen: How Photographer David Talley Has Coped with Losing Everything

When It's All Stolen: How Photographer David Talley Has Coped with Losing Everything

David Talley is a photographer from Los Angeles who recently had the one experience no photographer ever wants to have happen: all of his gear was stolen. Fstoppers, together with InMyBag.net, are helping David recount what happened, tell the story of how he internalized the emotions and explain how he plans to move forward after the tools he uses to make his living were taken from him.

The following was written by David Talley and all text and images have been published with permission.




Picture the scene...Sunny San Francisco. A nice, cool breeze. The district of Haight and Ashbury rolling down your line of vision and a car packed full of friends filled door to door with music. You stop for the best thai food you’ll ever have, and head up to the top of the street near Buena Vista Park, overlooking the bay. A friend says “take a Polaroid!” and you oblige, running back to the trunk of the car to grab the camera, throwing it wide open, and realizing, in disbelief, that your Polaroid, along with your laptop, camera gear, journals, and books are nowhere to be found.




Hey guys, my name is David Talley. I’m a photographer, director, and proud beard-wearer living in Los Angeles, California. The scene you just visualized above was my reality, one month ago, during a week-long shooting adventure in San Francisco.

While my initial reaction was that I had just misplaced the bag during the adventures of the day, I knew in the back of my mind that the reality of the situation wasn’t so light. After speaking with a few San Francisco locals, a large portion of the homeless community surrounding Haight and Ashbury and the San Francisco Police Department (who told us they were unable to help, as they sped off in their squad car yelling out the window, “can’t help —coffee run!”), I began to internalize the loss of my gear - gear that I had worked for, built up, and molded in to tools of creation to help spread a message of positive change to the world.




While the loss of my gear was disheartening if only for the fact that I no longer had a tool of creation, I saw the theft as an opportunity to show how ANYONE can turn even the most difficult of tragedies in to the most positive experiences for oneself and others alike.

One, Self_LoRes


So, here’s my guide on how to replace your beloved gear:

1) Internalize and Forgive - Although I had hoped for the safe return of my gear, I realized that the gear was likely out of my reach. Unfortunately, there are those who make a living as thieves. While there is nothing we can do about this, I can only hope that they see the gear, journals, and images, and by some work of destiny are inspired to reach their full potential. The course of both of our lives are forever affected in some way due to this situation, and I hope theirs is as positive a change as mine has been.

2) Share – Make aware your circle of influence, family, and friends of the situation. The action that I saw my friends take, which included over 100 shares on social media, craigslist-hunters, and phone calls from friends of friends of friends to anyone living in the San Francisco area was incredible. They also raised enough money for me to purchase a new laptop, from which I’m currently typing.

3) Mindset Shift – I quickly transformed all the negative energy surrounding the situation in to a positive outlet for creation, laying groundwork for a new project I’ll be releasing in June. A true creator will be able to create regardless of his or her circumstances, and at the core of my being, that’s who I am. I create. I create my life and my circumstances. I create my destiny, and one thief isn’t going to stop me from doing that

4) Re-evaluate & Enjoy the Freedom – I realized that this situation is nothing more than a blank slate and motivator for me to work even harder to achieve every goal I have laid out for myself. While I lost client work and other valuable, irreplaceable items in the theft, I’ve been given the opportunity to start fresh in creating the things I truly want to create. I’ve been given the motivation for a new project, and although I lost a camera, I’ve come away with a deeper understanding of who I want to be as an artist.

5) Compare and Contrast - Running with the idea of a blank slate, the theft has given me the opportunity to reevaluate my gear list, and what I'll be adding to it in the coming months to replace my original gear. InMyBag.net offers a huge variety of different gear setups, and browsing through the list has given me some fantastic starting points for how to construct my next kit. It's great - you can even specify by genre or select a brand and see where that gear is being used in the industry. It's a great tool for myself and others alike.





David is now planning on how he is going to start over and what he would like to replace his gear with. This and the rest of his story can be read at InMyBag.net.

Has your gear ever been stolen? How did you react? How did you move forward? Let us know in the comments below.

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I'll keep an eye out for the gear, live right by the park.

This is sad. I wish camera had sim cards in them so we could track them and shut them down like cellphones. But I never have all my gear out on a shoot at once. I always leave enough stuff at home so if I get ripped off my business can continue.

Paul Bryant's picture

I hate this for David, it's every photographer's worst nightmare. I sincerely hope his gear is returned to him soon!

That said, if you're a pro there just isn't any excuse not to have insurance. Your clients are paying you for your expertise certainly, but also for your ability to execute on a contract. We had an expensive camera break a few days before a shoot, and our insurance covered a new replacement in time for the gig. Best money you can spend.

Similar thing happened to me, lost about 40k worth of camera & lighting equipment - my insurance (former insurance) company found a loophole in the policy and decided not to honor the contract. (i have an insurance lawyer going over the policy to see if I have any course of action but insurance isn't a guarentee

Agreed, Paul. I had one theft (EOS-1n plus some lenses, etc.) many years ago.
After reporting it, I turned it into my insurance, which carried a
special rider for it. They replaced it all. Yes, it's still a hassle
to get it taken care of, but it sure takes a lot of the sting out of the experience.

Joe Schmitt's picture

I agree...as a pro, there is absolutely NO excuse not to have insurance. That should be part of your overhead costs. I'm not at a pro level yet (but hope to be someday) and I have my gear covered. I understand it's much cheaper when you're not a full-fledged professional, but I was able to get $16,000 worth of coverage for less then $200 per year. $200 PER YEAR. No deductible either. That is ridiculously cheap. So even as a prosumer, there's no reason not to have your gear covered as well.

what company?

Joe Schmitt's picture

State Farm. It's not a rider to the homeowners policy, it's a separate policy.

I also have State Farm, also a similar dollar value of equipment. Honestly I can't imagine NOT having insurance. Warm & fuzzy thoughts are nice, but a big box from B&H courtesy of my insurance company would feel a whole lot better in such circumstances.

Devorah, any links to share about which policy to go with with State Farm?

Sorry no, I went in to my friend who is a State Farm agent.

Joe Schmitt's picture

Same here...I just went to my agent and got insured.

Scott Mosley's picture

We had all of our gear stolen from our home early last year. It was a devastating experience but one from which we grew tremendously. (and learned that we needed a different type of insurance). We had 5 camera bodies and many lenses stolen, along with our 2 editing computers.

We FOUND one of the items listed on eBay, one of our beloved D700's with an unmistakable home-modified lens hood selling form our hometown! His user name was, get this, "jesse_gone_in_60_secs" We contacted the investigating police officer (he told us to contact him if we did find anything) and he made contact with eBay to collect the personal data of the thief. I asked them to please purchase the item (i even offered to supply the $1k he was asking "buy-it-now", so the police could verify the Serial# and an arrest (or search) could be made.
What did they do? They called the suspect. Announced they would be coming over to see the items he had listed on eBay?! When they went to his home, he told them he had simply listed it for a friend out of state, and the posting had already been removed. My ray of hope vanished.

So, outside of not expecting the police to be of any help, there isn't much of a lesson here... Get great business issuance I guess? Homeowners covered almost none of it!

All of my gear was *ALMOST* stolen on the first day of a three month trip to Sweden, Norway and Jordan. I tossed my Kiboko in the bottom of the bus and lined up on the other side to get on board. I looked through the undercarriage (luckily both sides were open) and saw someone pick up my bag and start walking away with it. No way in hell was he getting my gear, so I ran up behind him and pretty much tackled him. It was pure luck that I wasn't yet on the bus and happened to look under the bus. At first I thought it was my colleague moving my bag until he casually walked away. Be careful out there!

I hate this happened and must say he appears to be coping well, better than I would. Forgiveness is fine, but i do hope he filed a formal complaint with the Police Department concerning the way the officers treated the situation. The world is full of good hard working cops and those bad apples are spoiling the barrel.

An airline recently "lost" my urban reporter complete with Nikon 610, 85m 1.4 and 24-70 2.8 mm lenses as well as my big lee urban filter set. I have a police report filed and the officer seems to be more compassionate than the airline itself. This was my livelihood, my life and represented my professional career (or at least my attempt in to) in photography after an accident on the job cost me my trade and the use of my left hand. This is a horrible story to read and I weep for those who have to see so much of their hard work ripped from their lives. Almost easier to lose ones own hands in this instance. I am lucky enough I still have a few older prime lenses and a refurbished D5100 but still...

Not stolen, but I had one of those once in a lifetime trips to Italy for 2 weeks. 11 days into the journey, my girlfriend and I were hoping from train to train. Our last train departed Naples to head for a fairy that was to take us to the island of Capri. About 10 minutes into that final train of the night my heart stopped. I had left roughly $6k worth of gear in a bag on a train that was now gone. I had no one to yell at, no one to be mad at. It was my own fault. We spent days trying to track it down with no luck. All the hours that I sat for the perfect light, the perfect scene, the perfect person in a suit on a bike. Gone. All of it. That is the most disheartening aspect of it. Nearly 2 weeks of images gone. The moments that can't be replaced. I have since replaced what I have been able to and am still dreaming of the one lens that I haven't been able to replace, Nikon 135mm f/2. I have gone back to Italy since to try to recreate my visions. It has been bittersweet.

In 2012 a guy had stolen my Canon 5d mk2.
Police... Guy arrested (had some more stuff on his list) ... Camera is gone forever...
btw: serial number is 2531511566 ;-)

No PPA insurance? No business insurance? All your gear in an unattended car on the streets of San Francisco? Are you fricking kidding me? The list of "tips" about how to deal with the emotional trauma doesn't include a single "what was I thinking"? The number one tip I'd offer after losing everything would be CARRY INSURANCE, not some list of lame emotional exercises to deal with the aftermath of my own mistakes. I feel for you, but seriously, your lessons learned are a joke.

leaving your car unattended is often what you have to do... but I agree about not having insurance!

If you have to leave your car in a strange city, you take your camera bag...

Lojack for your laptop? Find the laptop, find the gear. Good luck my friend!

Don't kid yourself, the person who stole the gear doesn't give a good goddamn about anyone but themselves. The only "full potential" the thief might find is from the person who pays top dollar for their fenced goods.

I've been ripped off my whole life (cameras, cars, bikes, you name it) and my loathing for thieves knows no bounds. Spent my whole life "turning the other cheek," forgiving the people who wronged me and guess what? It only enabled them to do it more.

My hat's off to the author for having such a good attitude but I don't think there's anything wrong with harboring "negativity" to certain individuals, especially those who so richly earned it.

I feel your pain but as already said by many INSURANCE, decent cover and you would have been up and running in a few days. You must be a very forgiving person to react the way you have, i would want to hunt them down and rip their thieving fucking heads off, but hey thats just me

My two cents aside from having insurance, is go to https://www.lenstag.com and signup and tag all of your gear(I'm a user not affiliate) it's free it will make it a lot harder for thieves,

Sorry, but I feel it extremely difficult to have any empathy for a supposed professional who doesn't even bother to carry insurance on his gear. It's not even a year $500 to cover all my gear AND a great liability component (which EVERY photographer accepting paid work should have anyway.)

Nice write-up of how to deal with loss. That said, the whole thing could easily have been avoided.

I was robbed, actually my house was broken into and everything taken.
2 x Canon 5DmkIII
Canon 70-200/2.8, 16-35/2.8, 100/2.8, 15/2.8
Sigma 85/1.4, 50/1.4
4 x Canon 580ex, 4 x White Lightning 1600's
Pocket Wizards, light stands, and a mess load of accessories
On top of all that, My laptop, and hyperdrive were also taken.

Here's the kicker, it was around 11am on Easter Sunday while I was at church that I was robbed and I had just shot a wedding the day before. So if you do the math and realize that all my gear and backups were taken, you may be able to figure out all the images from the wedding were stolen as well. I had them in three places, laptop, hyperdrive, and on the cards still.......and all three things were stolen. I was definitely targeted because very little of anything else in my house was taken.

You know what though, I was insured and got my stuff replaced. My policy also states that my clients are fully refunded their entire package. Althought they could not get their images back, I obviously offered to reshoot anything we could. All the vendors were on board too and offered everything they could (importance of having good client/vendor relationship). Nothing personal to Mr. Talley, but dude the first thing you should buy when you start a business is insurance. I think you learned a lesson here, and really if you were a true professional the first thing you would buy after purchasing new gear, is insurance.

All due respect and sympathy, and also nothing personal, but you didn't have your images in three places, you had them in one (your house). You have no business shooting irreplaceable images like weddings if you can't be bothered to keep at least one backup completely off-site. Studio, office, friend's/relative's house, heck even your car if you have to, plus a cloud service for good measure... you owe that security to your clients as a responsibility. If it's all under one roof it's not backed up, no matter how many copies you have.

Insurance is great, but they have a lot of loopholes. I have one photographer friend who accidentally didn't lock his cars doors and the insurance wouldn't cover him, and another who had the front door to his house locked but left the patio door in the back unlocked (in a fenced yard with a tall fence) and they wouldn't cover him either. yeesh

Those aren't loopholes, they're modifiers that change the risk assessment of or even invalidate your policy. Most life insurance companies don't pay out when the cause of death is suicide, for example. By the same token, in a lot of cases you can get a cheaper rate if you have a monitored security system installed in your house, or a LoJack in your car, so it works both ways.