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Eight Tips for Preventing Camera Theft

Eight Tips for Preventing Camera Theft

The last few years have seen an explosion in violent thefts, especially near San Francisco, and recently, a photographer was killed in Texas. Taking expensive camera gear out on a shoot can be a scary thought nowadays, especially when in some locations, violent thefts are on the rise. In this article, I discuss some ways that can help you minimize the impact of such thefts.

We have all seen the many articles coming out of locations such as San Francisco and Oakland, where photographers are being held up at gunpoint or having their car windows smashed. The thought of going out with my camera to these places frightens me and actually encourages me not to visit some of those locations, which is a shame. However, we can't all hide away and let criminals spoil our fun or work.

Iceland is usually one of the safest countries to visit - Image by Greg Sheard

As someone from the United Kingdom, we do not have an issue with guns here, but it does not mean we are less vulnerable to terrifying thefts. Sadly, these instances happen all over the world and are becoming far too common so I have provided some advice below, which I hope will be valuable to you in the long run.


If you are carrying around thousands of dollars of equipment, you must have insurance! Surprisingly, many photographers do not, which is crazy, but this may be just due to the added expenses insurances can occur, but if it gives you that peace of mind, please get insurance. 

As soon as I purchase a new bit of gear, I go straight on to my insurance company and add it to my policy. Whether it's theft, loss, fire, or damage, it is important to be covered no matter what the scenario. It could save you thousands in the long run. 

Carry Less Gear

If you own 10 lenses, 3 cameras, a drone, and other bits and pieces, do you really need to bring it all with you? Probably not. Carrying a large amount of gear can leave you looking like a big payday to some thieves.

When planning your shoot, work out what gear is really important for that shoot. Scout the location first or research it online, find out safe the area is and then decide what lens/lenses you need to bring along. Less is more and reduces the impact of having all of your beloved items taken from you. 

Choose a Good Bag

Having a quality camera bag has many positives and some bags may have extra features which can help you against theft. Some bags can only be opened by having the bag off of your back, so this eliminates pick pockets. Other bags have features where you can run attachments through the clips to make it less easy for thieves to open.

That being said, one point would be to disguise branding as best possible either on your bag or on the gear itself. I never wear camera straps, as many of them show what make of camera I have and some even say the model name. On this basis, minimize branding as much as possible when shooting in locations which present heightened risk.

Bring a Friend

When I'm out shooting in public, I tend to have my wife or friends around. Having extra people around you makes you less attractive to thieves, as you will have someone watching your back. Think about a shark looking for its next meal. It does not want to attack a group of seals; it wants to find the vulnerable individual. Having your partner, assistant, or friends around offers much more than just security. They can also chip in and help you with carrying items, coming up with ideas, or just entertainment.

Track Your Gear

Many companies such as Apple now have devices such as the Apple AirTag, which you can place in your camera bag. Should the unfortunate happen, hopefully, you can trace your gear and hand that information over to the police. With any luck, you may have the gear returned to you.

Apple Airtags

Don't Leave Your Gear Unattended

It sounds simple, but it is effective. Don't leave your camera bag or items on the front seat of the car while you are grabbing a coffee. Put the bag or gear somewhere completely out of sight or carry it with you. Same can be said when out photographing, keep your belongings as close to you as possible and in your sight if alone.

Always keep an eye on your gear even when photographing models. Ashleigh in Blackpool, UK - Image by Greg Sheard

Make a Note

When you buy new gear, be sure to make a note of all the serial numbers and keep them safe so you can provide them to the police and the insurance companies. Should any of your gear be sold to pawn shops, etc., the police may be able to recover the gear for you. It is also a good idea to keep all of your receipts for insurance purposes too.

It's Not Worth Your Life

I read many comments on news articles saying "If I had a gun, this wouldn't happen." The reality is, thefts will happen no matter what, and if you and the thieves are carrying weapons, it is likely going to exacerbate the situation. You could put your own life in even worse danger, as well as innocent members of the public. If you are insured, it is a bitter pill to swallow, but at least you will still have your life more often than not.


I hope the tips above provide you with good advice on how to prevent thefts and also how to protect yourself should you fall victim to a theft. The advice above should help you make theft more unlikely at the minimum, but also protect yourself should you fall victim to one. The most important tip above is having good insurance. Having peace of mind allows you more creative freedom. If anyone else has any additional tips or has been through situations like this previously, please let us know in the comments.

Greg Sheard's picture

Greg Sheard is a Scottish based photographer, focusing on wildlife, landscape and portrait work. Greg's mission in life is too help those who suffer with mental health issues and be a voice for the millions of people around the world who need that care, attention and awareness.

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I wish someone would make a camera bag/ backpack that contains a hard case for the gear. Basically book bag on the outside and pelican case on the inside.

Beyond that camera makers should create mitigations for theft, e.g., option for a Bluetooth LE connection to a phone where if out of range, the camera remains locked at a low level, e.g., firmware lock flags on expensive active components as well to make it harder to steal a camera and sell the parts when locked.

Another option could be a self destruct style function when stolen, e.g., if out of range of the phone, then have the camera use its WiFi radio to connect to any and all open WiFi APs and attempt to connect to the owner's server that contains a private key that they generated, once a secure connection is established, if the device is set as stolen then the camera should disable its battery protection and trigger a thermal runaway on the battery when the EVF is in use. When a few criminals end up unhappy with their hand and face warmer, than they will be less likely to steal cameras, as the cameras will essentially destroy themselves when stolen.

They are great ideas, like how you can lock phones when they are stolen so they just become bricks

….it’s not beyond the realm of the possible that manufacturers introduce a feature like that and then realise they can charge camera owners a monthly subscription to use/access their cameras. Much like Photoshop subscriptions. £/$10 a month to use your camera and receive firmware updates.

I think the day that a monthly subscription arrives to use my camera is the day I quit haha

Well i do have a good bag, but i also use a chain to attach it to my belt. They have to rip off my pants to get their hands on my bag. And i even can go to the batroom without detaching my camera bag from myself! You may laugh - but the accessory intended to secure bags and possessions around big trees can be used on ourselves too. ;-)
In Europe and especialy my home country (monkey republic Belgium) you cannot even defend your own property. The coward politicians and judges don't even allow us to blame them for this. I don't need to tell you that the anger among normal people (in most due to the Sanda Dia case) is brewing. And i do hope for another 1969 happening as in Leuven - that gives us the opportunity to make TOP images - with fire, protests and cops charging people. ;-)
Even having a tracker won't help you in my country. The cops cannot enter a building unless you can identify the suspect with 100% certainty. I do believe hiring someone to take matters in you own hands becomes an attractive though forbidden alternative...

Laws in europe are soft, in the UK we have a huge lack of police on the streets and weak judges so criminals are not deterred at all.

So how is the crime rate in one of those soft European countries vs any harder country you would like to compare to?

Crime is exacerbated by poor policing, judicial system and all sorts. Governments dont exactly help the matter with lack of funding in education, facilities and more. To answer your question in full, there would be many variables such as population per capita and all sorts but I think we can all agree, that we just want to live in a safe world.

I certainly feel safer in some countries over others, but also depends on where I am in said countries as most countries have areas to avoid.

Well, the good thing about my question is that I let you choose any two countries you wanted to use for your comparison and thus not needing to dig too deep into the topic.

There are also countries I feel safer in than others, especially as a photographer. But feelings are not always based on reality.

When you make statements as you did - it would have been great if you also backed them up with anything real.

I admit, my use of the word soft for European countries was perhaps too simple in regards to the point I wanted to make so I apologise for any offence or confusion caused with that. However I certainly feel that the sentences, judicial system etc is very soft in the UK and the police are underfunded with virtually no police on the streets anymore. The soft comment was also in response to the prior comment regarding laws in Belgium however I generalised it more.

When comparing the UK to Germany for example, the crime rates are quite similar per 100,000, however the fact of the matter and the whole point is, enough is enough and crime is just not acceptable anywhere.

That is fair enough, I was replying from the perspective of coming from one of the famously "soft" countries in that regard - Norway. I feel very safe here, but I virtually never see police in my day-to-day life. Seeing a police car is so rare that I mentally notice.

Last decade or so, when travelling as a photographer - the only place I have genuinely felt unsafe was in the USA - New Orleans.
It is also the only place I have been warned against taking a picture, as that might get me shoot, which adds a bit of context.

The UK got a higher Crime rate than Norway, according to that one random site I checked.
The US got us both beat - even if you combine the UK and Norway`s score...

Sharing the site here, but I make no claims that it is accurate or even the best, just a random site that came up when I was curiously googling it now :)

That's an area that you don't want to touch. There are socio-political forces at play in some countries that cannot be discussed in the open.

I hope people don't find this offensive. But the world is not a pretty place

Don't forget camofluage. Don't carry something that looks like a camera bag. Set up a generic utility bag or day backpack. I have suggested (only half joking) repurposing an unused diaper bag.

One of the best anti-theft things are those trackers, no matter Apple or Samsung/Android. But they will be useless for that soon, as the phones will inform ppl that they have a foreign tracker with them, if they are near them for some time. So, to prevent stalking, those companies will prevent using them as a method to find stolen property also. The moment the thief is warned of the tracker by his smartphone, he will search and remove/destroy it. Another case of a good idea being killed by trying to prevent other bad things.

Hopefully anti theft technology continues to progress but also, the bigger issues is crime needs to come down but that is wishful thinking!

AirCaps have helped some people get their cameras back.

I had my 2 Hasselblads and bag stolen from a wedding reception. While I was shooting with a 35mm . I placed rhe bag against the wall right next to the DJ where I figured it would be safe.
Some jerk came and slid the bag across the back wall floor with his foot and oucked it up. according to a guest. He was dressed in black so the guest thought he was with me. I had insurance.
Never was approached on the street and never left any gear in my car.
After rhat I used two bike locks on my bag to a chair and put a loud motion detector alarm on the bag.
Had it go off a couple of if times when reception staff moved the chair.

Crikey John, that's horrible you went through that. I think I read a similar story about gear stolen at a wedding or maybe it was even about your gear?

I hope the insurance paid out quickly?

Firstly, don't have a camera bag that screams CAMERA BAG!!! Get one that looks like any other rucksack. Also there are Trackers with 4g mobile that will work across the world, I use LightBug trackers. Lastly have photos of all your gear, showing the serial numbers.

Defo great tips there Andrew, absolutely spot on

I always carry a 45 auto or a 380 auto.
They won't get far.

NO! It's called reparations! Just bend the knee and submit. DONT FIGHT! /s

Great - perfect chance to let the thieves steal not only a camera but also a gun.

No camera gear I have ever held is worth making myself a killer.
No camera gear I can imagine is worth becoming a killer for.

No camera gear is worth the risk that comes with escalating the situation in such a way that pulling out a gun would do.

Bonus tip, if you are in dangerous places - wear two wallets. One to surrender to a thief with a little bit of cash and one that's your proper one.
Never keep all your credit cards on your person if you can avoid it.

Not everyone has it in their nature to just submit. This may work for you but it's not a blanket solution.

Agree. When people submit, the theft increases.

You mustn't travel overseas then. Good luck getting a gun into my country and you definitely don't want to get caught carrying one.

No, I don't travel overseas. I lived overseas in various parts of the world including some nasty places that you would last minutes.
Currently retired and generally stay close to home but regardless of where I lived I was always armed.
So yes, I have "Traveled" overseas and did so for several decades.

Somebody seems a little triggered.

Commenting on my presumed capabilities as an insult? It's like you want me to engage in a pissing contest. Why would I want to do something as pointless and empty as that?

Somebody seems a little triggered.

If I don't go out with my camera, they can't steal it!! Or just mug them first, take their wallet and buy new camera gear, so if they steal it later, it's really just them getting their own stuff back. Otherwise, I carry dual deadpool swords! They ain't getting anywhere, maximum effort from max power!

Situational awareness or the lack of it plays a major role in whether or not you become a victim. Think about how someone could steal you gear and take the steps to eliminate that possibility. Some environments have a higher percentage of criminal activity and you need to be prepared if you're working there and what you're willing to do to when confronted.

Spot on, just a bit of research and being street wise goes a long way!

Oh, there's a ninth alright. Maybe more? Mine is Mr. 9....mm. if I go to my usual places overseas I have my 'escort' help. I'm sure many of you have other related methods.

Have insurance, always take my friend with me in foreign countries, have trackers, wear a belt for my gear and...oh, carry my 9mm gun. Check, check and check. Ok, we're good to go.