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.
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.
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.
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.