Stop Everything You're Doing and Insure Your Photography Gear

Stop Everything You're Doing and Insure Your Photography Gear

One minute you're in the middle of photographing one of the most beautiful landscapes you've ever seen. The next minute your camera is on the ground, broken. 

A gust of wind lifted your tripod off its feet and sent the camera to its death. You don't have a second body (because let's face it, gear is expensive) and you have no money to buy another right away. The closest thing you've ever had to a child just died, and now you're screwed. What do you do besides immediately break down into a swimming pool filled with your own tears? 

You should have insured your gear. 

Unfortunately, this story isn't fiction. Just two years ago this happened to me. I was photographing winter's transition to spring from New York's eleventh tallest mountain. The air was relatively calm, and it was even slightly warm for a mid-march Adirondack day. I had just set up my tripod and was about to capture a new composition when a group of hikers reached the summit after completing one of the gnarlier routes up Mt. Colden. They were stoked and I was stoked for them. 

"Hey, would you mind taking our picture with my phone?" one of the men asked nicely while staring wide-eyed at my "big fancy camera." 

"Yea, you look like you know what you're doing!" another exclaimed. 

Hah, I thought I did! 

I had turned my back on my tripod for just one second in order to take a picture of the hiking group with different scenery behind them. As soon as I started walking toward them to give the phone back, their eyes darted beyond me and looked startled. 

"OHHHHH NOOOO!" was all they yelled. 

I didn't know what was happening until hearing a small crash as I turned around to see my camera smash into the rocky summit while the lens flew off in the other direction. 


Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash.

I had just purchased my new (and first professional full frame camera and lens) Nikon D750 and Nikon 24-70 only a few months back, and now they were dead. Toast. Zilch. The battery-side of the camera was completely wrecked; the lens was mangled. The camera wouldn't even turn on. My baby showed no sign of life. 

I hiked the entire eight miles back to my car while recounting every second leading up to the moment of my camera's death. Normally I would've weighted the tripod or set it down on a flat surface before walking away. I honestly would've done literally anything to reverse what ended up being reality. 

I even shed a tear or two. I was a nearly-broke college student. I just spent almost all of my savings on the gear (probably not the smartest decision but... priorities) and had no money to buy a new camera. 

And then I remembered my gear was insured! The day was saved! My insurance company reimbursed me for the broken camera and lens, and a new baby was purchased (Because kids, that's how babies are made). 

I learned from my mistake and can now confidently say I never have or never will again turn my back on my mounted tripod. 

Moral of the story: It's not fun watching your camera - possibly your most prized-possession and money-maker - shatter and become inoperable. Insure your gear. 

Lead photo by Arno Body on Unsplash.

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Tony Clark's picture

It's a tough lesson to learn for some. How many times do we read about someone that had their vehicle broken into and their gear stolen or something happened on set? Most of these could have been prevented by locking a case in the trunk, out of sight or before they arrived at the destination rather than when they parked it. For less than $30 a month, I have sufficient coverage and hope to never use it. I'd rather pay a $500 deductible that the price of replacement.

yea, it's great to have piece of mind.

Toru Yamamoto's picture

Something I worry about too. What insurance do you recommend for the hobbyist photographer that's trying to save as much money?

We use State Farm. They have a separate camera policy. We had to use it once and they paid no problems.

I suggest checking out MyGearVault We built it for people just like you.

Tim Behuniak's picture

I also use State Farm.

For us non-US (no pun) readers, does anyone know a EU insurer that might have that kind of service? Looked for that two years ago, but my insurer doesn’t have a specific camera insurance...

I know things happen but I'm struggling to figure out how the event, you recount, did. You must have left something out of your description.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Nope. Thought I mentioned it pretty clearly: put my tripod standing up with my camera mounted. Turned my back on it and as I did a gust of wind swept the tripod off its legs which led my camera to crash into the rock on the ground.

Well, it's not that important. Just curious.

Ya! Went to Vegas for a weekend to go shooting with some people in this camera club, was sitting in Belagio's Starbucks when the people said hey look out and I heard a slap and my camera backpack was heading out the door of the place. No insurance and no replacement, no money to get another set up .... worst feeling in the world.
Sorry for your loss!

I have a personal articles policy through State Farm. Covers anything I want to schedule. Wedding rings, photography gear. No deductible. I'd say it's around $8k coverage for ~$10/month.

Be careful though if you're on a job working and something happens they may not cover it because you need professional coverage.

The best insurance is caution. Don't waste your money.
If the unexpected does happen despite all your precautions. You'll have enough (and more) saved up from not paying insurance to buy the things you need.

Eric Salas's picture

I normally don’t ever respond to comments like this but...

This, by far, is the more idiotic thing I’ve read today and I’m only 52 minutes into my Sunday.

Idiotic is a bit rude. If you pay 10$/month like "Tim Phillips", it doesn't worth taking any risk for sure. If like Einar, you seem to pay 1k$ by year, I am OK with Kieran... I have never watched price for that kind of insurance as a simple amateur that I am.

Einar is paying $1K to insure covering an amount "that I could buy 3 cars for my photography gear." Add to that that it's likely commercial coverage. $10 a month is likely personal coverage only and likely will stop covering as soon as you get paid the first $1.

I pay approximately 1/20th the value of my covered gear policy annually and that covers emergency rentals as well as replacement. On top of that it also comes with a liability policy should someone get injured at my shoot (either a $100k or $1M I forget.) For the amount it's really not bad.

Eric. I save thousands of dollars a year by not paying insurance companies for anything, I could cover any eventuality myself as a result. I save even more money by making interest on that saved money. You can live in the fear of "what if" if you want, but don't be so stupid as to call my method idiotic. I'm responsible for my own actions and I only have myself to depend on, this makes me consider risks more and not be so complacent.

As long as its only you who are touching the equipment. I work mainly as a photo assistant and i refuse to work with photographers that aren't insured.

I will say I have public liability insurance as it is a legal requirement. And I'm a landscape photographer that is responsible for myself and my own gear. Which is what this article was referring to anyway.

Color Thief's picture

From a technical point of view, Kieran is absolute correct IF you can afford to cover your loss from the beginning. Insurance allows you to amortize your risk over time. So if you buy $20k of gear and can't afford to replace it, you need insurance. If you CAN afford to replace it, you're better off in the end putting the money you would pay an insurance company into your own annuity. After all the insurance company has assessed the risk, figured out how much it's worth, and then added their overhead and profit. So if you're less clumsy (or as clumsy) as an average person with your gear, the math works out better if you're self insured. Then you're not paying the insurance company's overhead and you're not subsidizing clumsier people than you. This is especially true when insurance companies can drop you after the first claim even if you've paid premiums for decades.

"subsidizing clumsier people"

and dishonest.

I know of people who have 'clumsily' dropped a cigarette because they fancied having their old furniture suite replaced with new.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Kieran you should seriously consider insuring your gear. What if your gear is lost or stolen? Having a peace of mind over thousands of dollars of gear is priceless. It's like insuring your car, home, and even your life. In the end, do what's best for you. I just really hope you don't regret not insuring your camera gear one day....!

I don't insure anything. Insurance companies prey on the "what if" fear of everyone. If all my gear was stolen, I wouldn't have a problem replacing it. Because over the years of not paying insurance I have saved enough to "insure" it myself. What if I have a car accident and need to fix my car (or even someone else's)? Again, not going to be a problem.
It may seem like a lot at the time but if you manage your money properly then insurance isn't necessary.
A cup of coffee a day isn't much, but over a year it's $1000. Imagine paying for a cup of coffee a day but never getting one, for 20 years! What could you have done with that $20,000 instead?
Seriously, think about how much insurance you pay for your car, home, gear, health per year. Then work out the likelihood of something happening over 30-40 years.
This is my reasoning and I don't need "peace of mind" because I have faith in myself. Have a think about the attitude most people have towards me. They are either shocked, feel sorry for me, or are even angry at me and think I'm stupid. This is a brainwashed attitude because it is a reflex. Seriously consider all options and what you are doing with your money. If you still need peace of mind then just label me an anomaly and move on.

Tim Behuniak's picture

Definitely understand your point. If you have the resources and the trust in yourself to do so, then I truly applaud you. I don't have the money to do that and won't be able to take the risk, personally. Do what works for you. Sounds like your insurance policy is your savings!

I will disagree here. I've had insurance on my gear since I was 20 years old. I've gone from 10k in gear to 100k in gear and gladly though not happily fork over the money every year to protect my lively hood.

If I had 10k in gear stolen or 20k or 5k it's a hell of a lot easier to pay the 250-500 deductible then attempt to replace 5,10 or 20k worth of gear.

I use my own app to get coverage as well.

Einar Gudmann's picture

For the past 12 years photographing I have never damaged gear until a few days ago I destroyed a Nikon 14-24 lens in Grimsey, Iceland. Very strong wind blew over the Gitzo. The lens was destroyed, but the D850 was fine. The lens took all the shock. I have been insured with a quite expensive insurance in Iceland for years ($1000 a year) and this is the first time something happens. Two days later the insurance company replaced the lens with a new one. It is not an option for peace of mind not to be insured.

Wow 1k$ by year is the price of a car insurance, it's just for your photography gear ? If yes, in a certain way you have paid 12k$ of insurance for a 1800$ lens...

Einar Gudmann's picture

This is insurance policy in Iceland in a nutshell. It is the same I pay for my car. The fact is that I could buy 3 cars for my photography gear. Keep in mind that you are not insuring one lens. You are insuring everything you have painfully invested in for the past years. Paying $1000 a year is also painful but that´s what we are used to in Iceland. You know if you have been there and bought a sandwich. At any given time the camera bag contains more gear than I would be willing to buy again.That´s what I am insuring.

I have had insurance for years and have never had to use it. Knock on wood. I am in the same camp as many of you. There is no way I could replace 20 plus thousand dollars of gear. All of this I accumulated over a large chunk of time and could be gone in an instant. It's my livelihood. So it's a no-brainer it's insured. This article is a great reminder that misfortune can find any of us. No amount of caution can save you from the unexpected. If I saved my hypothetical ten dollars a month over the last seven years, It wouldn't get me even close to replacing my gear. My business would be nonexistent for a while if not forever. Insurance is the way to go unless you are independently wealthy and money is no object. Peace of mind is priceless.

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