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.


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.

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Previous comments

You mean thousands. Been at it for over 10 years. That's not pennies, unless you're bad at math.

michaeljin's picture

It's pennies compared to what a single lawsuit can cost you. That's the thing about insurance, though. You never need it until you need it and you can't buy it to cover an incident after the fact. It will always seem like a scam if you're fortunate and if will always seem like the end of the world if you're unfortunate and don't have it. There's very little middle-ground to the experience.

I don't ever put myself in any position to be sued. Been at it for 10+ years and doing just fine. I'll save the thousands I have, and keep using common sense and I'll be just fine. Thanks though haha

michaeljin's picture

"I don't ever put myself in any position to be sued."

If you're around other human beings, you're putting yourself in a position to be sued.

Abd rhats a huge risk to take . Do you not have car or home insurance either ? Life insurance ?

Terrible terrible comparison. Both are required. Ones a state law, not sure of the other, but either or. Insurance is nothing but fraud. You pay a premium for months if not years, never needing it. Then the moment you actually need it, you have to fight tooth and nail to actually prove you need it and then they still try to pass the puck to someone else. And if a miracle happens and you get the claim, next thing you know your premium goes up lol. Insurance is the worst thing ever created besides our current tax system.

michaeljin's picture

"You pay a premium for months if not years, never needing it."

Certainly this has been my experience with car insurance, but I think that it serves the public good to require people to have it because if you're a pedestrian that gets struck by a broke driver or a driver that gets hit by a broke driver, you'd be SOL otherwise.

As far as health insurance, I don't think there has been a single year of my life that I haven't filed some sort of insurance claim whether it was for a doctor's visit or surgery so I'm glad that insurance companies exist. And no, it hasn't taken a "miracle" nor have I found myself having to "fight tooth and nail" to get them to accept a claim. I'm sure there are people who have different experiences, but I can't speak for them—only my own experience—and insurance is literally the only reason that I'm still alive, in somewhat decent health, and not bankrupt due to my healthcare expenses.

So no, I don't believe that insurance is "the worst thing ever created besides our current tax system." I think that there are plenty of other things that can go on this list that are far more damaging both on an individual and collective level than insurance will ever be.

And that's your experience. Mine just has been different. I'm glad it works for you and I'm glad you didn't go bankrupt. I haven't been to the doctors office in at least two years. And the only time I can recall in the past 5 years was for the flu or strep throat? But anyways, I'm sure we could both agree taxes are insane, and maybe if they weren't so bad I wouldn't mind paying a smaller premium for insurance lol.

michaeljin's picture

I think most people would agree that taxes are insane for what we actually get in return in the form of government investment in our infrastructure and society.

Rod Kestel's picture

I hope Fstoppers has public liability insurance because I'm traumatised by the lead photo.

Robert K Baggs's picture

Ironic side story: I took the lead photo for the purpose of this article. One photo of me holding the lens, one photo of me without the lens, then Photoshopping the two together so it looks as if I dropped it. After the first photo I actually did drop it, but managed to catch it on my foot unscathed. Calling my insurance company to tell them I broke my lens while taking a picture for an article on how important photography insurance is would have been more painful than the lens break, I think.

Rod Kestel's picture

LOL, I'd assumed you dropping it onto a cushion. I did have my Sigma f2.8 roll off a table onto bricks. Somehow it survived. Then I buried it in sand when my tripod toppled over. Yet it still goes.

Well then sue. Haha .

Derek Johnson's picture

If you're running a business I think it's essential to have insurance no doubt. It's something you can write off anyways... I go with CNA and they are great, affordable and my coverage/deductibles is fantastic.

user-164303's picture

Again an article that is totally USA focused, forgetting that many readers/photographers live in over countries.

Kirk Darling's picture

So submit an article that is relevant to wherever you are.

The writer is American ?

Kirk Darling's picture

Apparently he's not American based on is profile. He even mentions in the article that he's worked a job on an RAF base. Paul G rather jumped the gun without reading the article carefully.

Rod Kestel's picture

A friend dropped nearly his entire kit in his pack into the drink, ruined the lot. Got it back on insurance (Australia)

I had my entire case stolen from a wedding reception containing all of my Hasselblad gear. My insurance policy replaced it all.

Although I don't have to carry personal liability as I am a Getty Staff photographer, I do carry equipment coverage and it's well worth the annual fee. I have never needed it, but you never know when you will and it brings me piece of mind when out traveling in my vehicle. I chase a lot of the bigger news stories in Southern California and there are some pretty shady places you end up being in, and therefor leaving your gear in your car there. I always do my best to have it in the trunk and or hidden, but you never know. I was even robbed at gunpoint a couple years ago, but luckily didn't have on me my gear, or lose much. I highly recommend that anyone who has at least $3k in gear have it, and by the way you don't need it through some special company like this one. Almost every major homeowner or car insurer will have this type of insurance and it's called personals or portables insurance.

Bob Shurtleff's picture

Some studios require that Photographers have liability insurance in effect in order to rent their facilities. Whether you shoot on location or in your home, do weddings or shoot seniors, it makes good sense to have insurance.

I purchased a policy from Fullframe Ins and 5 days later all my gear was stolen. Seriously... 14 cars broken into at my hotel.

So far the claims process has been very smooth and I should be closing my claim out next week.

There is a 20 day window before payout on theft, to see if police recovers the stolen equipment first.

$55 gives you $5,000 coverage
$75 gives you $25,000 coverage

Michael Clark's picture

Are they going to cover the cost of replacement with new gear? Or only for the market value of your used gear at the time of loss?