A little over a year ago, I got to live out one of my worst nightmares. I had a day where the personification of my anxiety sprouted legs and ambled right into the middle of a wedding ceremony that I was photographing. Mr. Anxiety-Incarnate snuck into a church, and like a biblical plague, snuck right back out and took something precious with him. Never to be seen again was $12,000 worth of gear that was stored in my roller bag. That’s right, I lived out the photographer’s terrifying dream equivalent to showing up to a high school class naked.
It wasn’t all bad news. I learned a whole lot about what I was doing wrong and what I was doing right when it came to keeping my gear safe and secure while shooting an event or on location. At least for the duration of this article, let my pain be to your benefit. Here are few things I learned about keeping your gear safe from those that would take it from you.
Buy a Secure Bag
First and foremost, you need to have a bag with some sort of security. Think Tank’s line of roller bags is a great place to start. They have built-in TSA-friendly locks that will shutter the main compartment, as well as act like a bicycle chain. I like to travel light so I use a Think Tank Roller Derby. I’ve considered a big Pelican case in the past, but decided it was too much for me.
Use the Anti-Theft Features — Every Time
Whatever bag you decide on, don’t forget that you have to be diligent in using the included anti-theft mechanisms. I was using a Think Tank Airport Security roller bag the day I was ripped off. Had I chained the bag to a table or closet rod in the church, I might not have lost it. Don’t compromise your gear over being too lazy to spend 30 seconds entering a 3-number combination a few times over the course of a day.
Don’t Lose Sight of Your Gear
A locked bag is great, but it can’t always be secured to something stationary, nor is that a flawless deterrent if the bag is out of your sight.
Keep your bag within your periphery. The major thing that I let slip when I got ripped off was letting the church suggest we store extra gear in a cloak room. I’m generally not a big fan of this, but things were moving fast and I didn’t want to waste any time protesting. Bad move, because having the gear where we couldn’t see it was just what the thief needed.
Ever since, my gear is either tucked under a pew or somewhere within eye’s gaze. I’ve told a few venues that if it’s a problem, I’d like to see that my bag is locked in the office. No one has taken me up on it thus far and my bag has remained nearby.
What’s better than one set of eyes is two. Don’t work alone if you can help it. My assistant does a good job of helping me stay on top of what we are using and where it is at.
An important part of keeping yourself in order and more secure is card management. Assuming that you’re shooting digital, get yourself a tough CF or SD card case. Pelican makes an awesome one. If you fill up a card, flip it over and stash it in the hard case. I keep the case in my back pocket at all times. I’ve done this for years out of paranoia and it proved to be a logical ritual the day that I lost that $12,000 worth of gear.
No matter how difficult it was to have all that gear stolen, it would have been a thousand times worse if I had lost photos too. Luckily, my cards were in my back pocket the whole time. This is perhaps the single most worthwhile takeaway from that day. It might seem obvious, but don’t ever let your cards leave your sight.
It should also go without saying that my gear was all insured. If you’re a working professional, full-time or part-time, you need coverage. It’s a hassle to lose it, but a good policy will keep your business afloat.
Finally, karate. Learn some kung fu.
Have you ever had gear stolen? What are you methods of prevention? Tell us in the comments.