The Ultimate Backup: Insurance for Photographers

The Ultimate Backup: Insurance for Photographers

The Oxford English Dictionary defines accident as “an unpleasant event that happens unexpectedly and causes injury or damage.” Accidents happen. It doesn’t matter how careful you are or how much common sense you have. That’s why they’re called accidents.

Disclaimer: this is not legal advice.  Although I am called to the bar, this article is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Neither Fstoppers, MiBroker, GTA Imaging, nor I accept responsibility for any errors or omissions and expressly disclaims any such responsibility. 

If you’re a professional photographer, you deliver on time, you have contracts that set out clear obligations, you have backups, and you pay taxes. Also, because you have the forethought to realize that, regardless of what precautions you take, by their very nature, accidents are unexpected, you have insurance. As a professional, you want to protect against risk. 

I recently attended a photographers’ seminar about insurance with John McClelland of MiBroker at GTA Imaging. GTA has been in business since 1979. Aside from professional printing, GTA has invested in being a good member of the photographic community by hosting a variety of seminars. GTA’s seminars typically focus on helping photographers to develop the commercial side of their craft.

McClelland’s goal was twofold: 

  1. To help photographers understand the legalese of insurance, and 
  2. To outline what types of insurance are available for photographers and what these different types of coverage can insure photographers against.

Insurance can be intimidating. Contracts can be long and dense. Photographers, at least at the beginning of their careers, are stereotypically more creative than business oriented. This means that the commercial side of small businesses can be dangerously unattended.

Anyone who’s being paid for their work should at a minimum have Commercial General Liability insurance. People think ‘it will never happen to me,’ but business insurance policies are a lot like parachutes; if you don’t have one the first time you need it, there won’t be a second time.  

- McClelland

Perhaps the most important thing that McClelland pointed out was that a lot of photographers assume that their personal home or auto insurance will cover them if they have clients into their house or live/work space. However, as soon as an insurance company finds out that you were running a business, they are unlikely to cover you for any damages related to business use.

Liability Coverage

As a professional, it’s important that you think about securing General Commercial Liability insurance (“GCL”). McClelland explained that GCL is considered comprehensive insurance. GCL coverage is designed to protect you if you’re found liable for property damage or bodily injury due to the operation of your business. Think slips and falls. A loose cable, a light falling. Perhaps a romantic wedding with candles sees you knock over a candle and burn down the entire chapel.

It’s very important that you consider whether or not you want your GCL to cover you for damage that results from your at-fault actions. No insurance is going to cover you for damage you cause intentionally, but at-fault accidents can happen. 

Business use of a car, especially a personal vehicle, is treated differently in each jurisdiction. Make sure you talk to your broker or agent about how you want your car use to be covered.

Real Property and Contents (Chattles) Coverage

In addition to damage caused by the operation of your business, McClelland noted that damage could be caused by other events. Think fire, theft, wind, or flood. Here, you’d want to ensure that both the premises themselves and the contents are covered. 

Actual Versus Replacement Value

Make sure that when you insure your gear, you consider whether you want to insure it for actual cash value versus replacement value. If you’re shooting with an older 5d MkIII and it’s stolen, do you want to get $750 or do you want a new camera? Certainly replacement value will come with higher premiums, but, it will protect you and your clients from unexpected expenditures and delays.


If you rent equipment, you’re also going to want to consider whether you’d like to insure against damage to this gear. I know that when we rent the long lenses to go to Africa, we give our insurer a quick call to make sure we get a temporary rider to cover the absurd cost of the equipment we bring.

Deconstructed lens. Oops.

Miscellaneous Coverage


McClelland pointed out that lost data coverage is often excluded from basic GCL policies. Considering that image files are typically in a photographer’s possession between the shoot and the ultimate delivery, some kind of insurance would be prudent. It’s not good enough for your insurance to cover you for a few new hard drives if your drives happened to be full of undelivered images when you were robbed.

Likewise, some policies will cover the cost to recover data if the loss is caused by an insured peril. For example, if your hard drive is smoke damaged from a fire, the data may be recoverable by an expert, it’d be nice to have that cost covered.

Media Liability

More and more frequently, photographers are finding themselves on the wrong side of libel, slander, and copyright infringement suits. Coverage can be purchased to cover these perils.

It’s also important to understand how far your GCL will protect you for all types of potential legal expenses. Most GCL policies won’t cover you for criminal charges, contract disputes, a police investigation, an occupational health and safety investigation, or other regulatory proceedings and fines. Make sure you consider if this is something that you might need in your particular niche.

Cyber Liability

Newer policies can cover a range of potential cyber-related perils. Given the prevalence of computer data and the internet in photography businesses, it’s important to consider coverage for privacy breaches and resulting notifications. There is the potential legal and IT services related to breaches, PR responses, hacking and cyber extortion, including ransom payments, and upstream network liability. All of sudden, without insurance, you could find yourself in a very deep hole. 

If this is something you’re interested in, ask your insurer to explain the premiums costs and coverage. As always, the key is to understand what you’re getting.

Professional Liability Insurance

Professional liability insurance often comes up more in the corporate world as directors and officers insurance. But, if you’re working on big projects or very expensive weddings, you’ll want to consider whether you need insurance for a failure of craft. 

Just try paying out of your pocket to reshoot a three-day campaign set in Grand Central Station because you accidentally erased your memory cards. Can you imagine the cost of paying to reshoot a wedding that used hot air balloons and elephants because you didn’t notice that you camera had started to back focus by 6 inches just before the ceremony?

Claims Made Versus Occurrence Basis / Run-Off Insurance

Last, when deciding on coverage, consider if you’d rather a claims-made versus occurrence-basis policy.

Most liability policies are occurrence based. For the policy to cover you, the damage must occur during the policy period. Critically, if you cancel the policy and then something happens, you’re not covered. If, however, you get sued for something that happened within the policy term, even if you had canceled the policy, you would be covered as long as it’s promptly reported.

Some policies, more often for legal expenses, are on a claims-made basis. This means that as long as the claim is made during the policy term, it will be covered. 

If you want to cover yourself from exposure after you’re finished your photography career, you’ll want to confirm what the limitation periods are in your jurisdiction and then consider maintaining your insurance or securing run-off insurance for this tail period. 

McClelland works for MiBroker. I realize that McClelland’s presentation was designed to drum up business for his brokerage. But, because of his honest and communicative approach, I got the feeling his intention was to raise all boats, not just his own. To make photography businesses more secure from accident, I’d suggest that if you work in a jurisdiction that they service that you take a look at their real-time quotes. MiBroker is Canada’s first on demand business insurance app for photographers. Their policies start as low as $15/day or $400 (CAD). 

Lead image provided by @letusgophoto We're sure that the Zeila's owners wished they had more comprehensive insurance.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

Mark is a Toronto based commercial photographer and world traveller who gave up the glamorous life of big law to take pictures for a living.

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"... but business insurance policies are a lot like parachutes; if you don’t have one the first time you need it, there won’t be a second time." This is an excellent analogy I'll be borrowing!

The room had a good, but, scared laugh at that one!