The Biggest Threat to Working Photographers is a Lack of Insurance

The Biggest Threat to Working Photographers is a Lack of Insurance

It isn't fearmongering to say that one mistake, and not even necessarily your own, can bankrupt your photography business if you're uninsured. So Fstoppers have teamed up with Insurance Canopy who have created Full Frame Photography Insurance to go over the issue and offer some insight.

A few years ago I had a shoot arranged at a beautiful and listed manor house in England that was both structurally borderline invaluable, but furnished with high-end, antique artifacts and art works. A week of the shoot, but before I arrived they called me in a bit of a panic; they needed to see my insurance documents. I printed them out and brought them with me, but I had to ask: why were they so worked up? Well, some years prior a photographer shot an event at this old and ornate property. Somebody tripped over an unsecured wire, and not only got hurt, but damaged the property. They weren't keen to divulge any more details, but from the sounds of it, the number of zeros in the quotation to fix everything was several more than any photographer is going to have lying around. What's worse, the photographer was uninsured.

Make of that story what you will, but some Googling can quickly reveal horror stories. It's rare that anything substantial goes wrong on a shoot, and when we think of insurance we usually consider dropping a lens, or a light falling over. However, the risks photographers face run further and deeper than those. In fact, you could argue that those are the kindest risks. I asked Insurance Canopy to give me an overview of the sort of problems that can occur that insurance will help, or even save you from.

Risks Photographers Face

Injury Obtained During the Photoshoot

Photographers often ask clients to pose or move a certain way to capture a great shot. What if someone injured themselves while you were directing their pose? Let’s say, a client follows your instruction and they end up injuring their arm. A suit could be filed against you for directing them to move in such a way.

Injury Obtained During an Offsite Photoshoot.

Family photos that are taken at picture-perfect locations can lead to injuries. For example, a family might be interested in taking a photo near a river in the woods. What if one of their children got too close to the bank and fell in the river while you were taking their picture? Furthermore, what if they sustained a broken arm as the result and a suit was filed against you?

Damage to Studio Property or an Offsite Location

If you’re a photographer who rents studio space to capture a specific look for your client, you run the risk of damaging property that is not your own. A recent claim example includes a young child who was posed on a ladder. The ladder tipped and damaged the studio equipment and a lawsuit was filed against the photographer.Many mistakenly believe that their homeowner's insurance policy will have them covered, but that's not always the case. In fact, Full Frame Insurance told me that if you derive 50% or more of your income from professional photography services, or you use your camera equipment in your business, your homeowner's policy will not cover you.

Image courtesy of Anete Lūsiņa.

What Should Your Photography Insurance Policy Cover?

For me, one of the trickiest parts of complex insurances policies is making sure that no only everything of mine is covered, but that it is covered for the full amount. Then, you need to look at the coverage for liability like discussed in the risks section. This is where you have to treat yourself — a photographer — as a business, or risk damaging not only your career, but your livelihood. 

Equipment Coverage

This is the obvious one and by far the most common and the most discussed. I don't know a single photographer who hasn't had a moment of jet black panic as a piece of equipment gets a call from the void and tried to end itself. I once worked at an abandoned RAF base and needed some powerful lights to photograph in the basement of one of the buildings. I bought one especially for the job and on the first day using it, I opened the door to reveal the dark staircase into the abyss (there was no electricity), and my brand new light decided that if I wasn't going to secure it to the light stand perfectly it'd teach me a lesson. I had to stand there helplessly while this fresh out of the box purchase bounced down a flight of 20 concrete stairs and out of sight in to a damp basement. Luckily my insurance covered this mistake. I know photographers who have had their cameras damaged by rain, lenses fall out of a camera bag and smash on rocks, and so on.

A good equipment policy will cover your cameras, lenses, lights and accessories, on, and off premises, and during transport. Read Full Frame's guide here.

General Liability

I needn't rehash the horror stories here, but general liability insurance is what covers you for causing injuries to yourself or others, property damage, and related accidents. If you thought that shiny new lens would be expensive to replace, don't Google how much some liability settlements end up costing the business owner!

It's important to take note of the policy's cover limits for liability as they will vary depending on what happened. For example, a medical expense includes $5,000 for immediate costs such as ambulance or hospital bills, regardless of fault. However, if you are at fault for bodily injury or property damage there is $1,000,000 of coverage beyond the $5,000. Read more on what these policies cover here.

Event Policies Versus Annual Policies

One deterrent for a lot of photographers on the fence about having a standalone insurance policy for their work is the regularity with which they shoot. A busy fashion photographer might have multiple shoots per week, but a hobbyist or part-time freelancer might have a few per year. For that reason, there is often a separation of policies, which is the case with Full Frame Insurance too, so I got them to break down the difference for me:

Annual Policies

This is for a photographer or business that holds multiple sessions and shoots per year and wants to be fully covered at all times. This will include everything from weddings to landscapes, and even covers you when you travel abroad. It is most certainly the cheaper option if you shoot more than a few shoots per year, and offers options like adding short-term rental equipment on top throughout the policy. You can learn more about it here.

Event Policies

For hobbyists who might only shoot a few events per year, this short-term policy is probably the better option. It offers general liability coverage for 1-3 consecutive days and you can add additional insured people for $5 each too. To read more on event policies, click here.

Conclusion

Although this post is made in conjunction with Full Frame Insurance, the takeaway message is this: go with whichever provider you wish, just make sure you're insured. It's a relatively small expense to offset risks ranging from inconvenient, to life altering. When I started speaking with Insurance Canopy, the creators of Full Frame Insurance, I was and still am already insured elsewhere. I shop around every year so I have a fairly good feel for pricing and Full Frame is very competitive. Their purchasing process is also more streamlined than most, with the application process taking less than 10 minutes and instant coverage once purchased. 

Prices for event insurance start at $59, and annual insurance starts at $99. Don't be put off by the words "starts at", for most photographers, those base prices will be the final amount!

To apply for photographer insurance through Full Frame click here.

Log in or register to post comments

54 Comments

Don't have insurance, been at it for 10+ years. Never needed it either. Insurance is the biggest scam out there.

In many jurisdictions operating a business without public liability insurance is considered a criminal offence

Kirk Darling's picture

Nobody needs insurance until they get sued.

Now, if you have a story about how you got sued and didn't have to pay a lawyer or anything else, then I'd be interested in your story.

michaeljin's picture

I guess this depends on the type of photography you do, but plenty of venues will not allow you to conduct business on premises without proof of a certain level of coverage.

I could understand that, but never once have I been asked for proof or anything of the sort.

Almost every venue I shoot at requires the contractor to have liability insurance here.

That's unfortunate. But as they say, sometimes you gotta pay to play. And if the day came and I couldn't get one job because of it, then I would obviously make the plunge. Until then, I think it's nothing but a scam.

michaeljin's picture

It would only be a scam if the insurance you purchased did not actually provide the coverage that they promised.

More often than not your premium will go up when you actually file a claim. And more often than not your premium rises year after year. So you can keep paying for peace of mind, I choose to keep my hard earned money.

michaeljin's picture

Of course your premium will go up if you file a game because the very nature of insurance as a for-profit business is risk analysis. Someone who files a claim has shown themselves to be a statistically higher risk than someone who doesn't. In the end, we do have to realize that (at least here in the USA), these are private for-profit businesses and not a public service except in the case of Medicaid or something, which has its own significant problems. The most puzzling thing to me regarding the way the current laws are crafted is that t hey are essentially requiring us to pay for-profit entities, which just seems wrong to me (at least without providing some baseline non-profit option).

It isn't unfortunate at all. Its smart for everyone involved. What a strange thing to say.

Then I guess you're the kind of person who likes spending money on senseless things. Which is purely subjective. I refuse to pay $10/month, or $100/month, whatever it is, on something I simply do NOT need. If I've learned anything in the past 10 years doing this, this little occurrences which happen 1 out of 100 million instances, are purely not realistic and using common sense goes a long way. I don't use any power cords or tripods. So no one can trip over anything. I don't leave gear or bags laying around. Everything is hidden either under the DJ's table or left in my car if I don't need it. I travel light and only bring what I use/need. No one has ever got so completely drunk they ran into me and I dropped my gear. I've never tripped and fell. The list goes on and on, but I think I've made my point, and maybe I've just been lucky. But it's definitely not a strange thing to say especially when it's a waste of money and does nothing but lines the pockets of the rich.

Insurance is not "senseless." I'm not the kind of person who "likes" spending money on senseless things, that would be a senseless thing to do.

Its clear that you simply do NOT need insurance. But you are not me. So feel free to rant as much as you like about yourself. But you know nothing about me: so stop acting like you do.

If you NEED insurance, then you are simply careless lol.

That's basically self insurance.
If you calculate your premiums over all those years, you've saved a lot.
But I'm sure there are an equal amount of people who aren't as fortunate.

100% In the 10 years I've never had equipment failure. Never straight up destroyed any gear. I resell after 2-3 years and upgrade to brand new equipment always keeping my gear fresh and it works for me. Definitely not saying it should be the law of the land lol. Because I've heard some extreme horror stories. Gear stolen. Tripods tipping over into water, etc.

michaeljin's picture

A single data point easily countered by a single instance of an opposing data point. That's the issue with anecdotal evidence.

Every case I've heard I could never put myself in that situation. I don't carry cords around. I don't use tripods or leave anything laying around. The list goes on and on. I'll stick to my common sense measures and I'll be just fine. Thanks though.

michaeljin's picture

While there are certainly situations that could have been avoided, I don't think that there's a whole lot of defense against being robbed at gunpoint or having your home burglarized while you're out to dinner. I suppose you can just keep enough cash in the bank to replace every single piece of gear you have, but that still wouldn't account for a freak accident that ends up injuring someone. Of course you're fine to do whatever you want (unless there's a law where you live regarding having insurance to conduct a business) but it seems like a strange thing to risk bankruptcy to save $600 a year or so.

Andy Barnham's picture

Sean; what do you photo? I’ve been a photographer for a similar time and there’s only one industry that insists on seeing insurance. However they insist every time of asking and that’s classic cars. Can’t get anywhere near a car or the track if I don’t prove I’ve got the required insurance.

I do mainly weddings. Some family stuff, maybe a senior portrait or two. But 95% of my jobs come from weddings. I've never been turned away, never been questioned, heck I don't even do "contracts". I have invoices that states how many hours I'll be there, am I editing the photos, what services they get (photo or video, both), etc. So I guess in a sense it's a contract, but it's nothing like a 10 page sign here here and here. I keep things simple, and it works for me. Definitely not claiming it's the way to go, as it could get ugly with one wrong client.

michaeljin's picture

Weddings and working with minors without insurance. You are a brave man.

I wouldn't say brave. I would just say I use common sense.

michaeljin's picture

Yeah.. it would be nice if common sense could stop freak accidents or the occasional person who robs you at gunpoint. Until it does, I'll pay for the peace of mind. Out of curiosity, do you conduct business as a corporation or as a sole proprietor?

I have my license to conceal, I'm not worried about robbery haha...But I am a Sole Proprietor.

michaeljin's picture

Guns scare me. LOL! They're a bit like venomous spiders. It seems so terribly wrong that something so small can kill a person. It's just flat out unfair.

Bob Shurtleff's picture

Schools, ad agencies, Hollywood studios likewise require insurance, as do quality photography studios.

Tony Northrup's picture

If you're an amateur and it would be painful to replace all your gear in the event of loss, get insurance. Some people, like Sean in the comments here, are comfortable absorbing the risk. This can be a reasonable proposition if you have enough money that replacing your gear isn't a big deal.

Insurance is VERY important for professionals - especially the liability part. Photographs do get sued and it can be very costly. If someone trips over your tripod leg and injures themselves, that could be VERY expensive. Your existing car/renter/home insurance provider can usually handle it.

"It isn't fearmongering to say that one mistake, and not even necessarily your own, can bankrupt your photography business if you're uninsured. "

But it is fearmongering to write an advertorial framed around "the biggest threat to photographers" when that "threat" is something that is statistically unlikely to happen.

I'm insured. And I would hope that every photographer gets insurance. But there are bigger threats to my business. This sponsored post would do better to change its alarmist framing.

Why would anyone operate any busuness without insurance protection. To save a few pennies ?

More comments