THIS is Why You Need Insurance - Don't Risk Your Livelihood

THIS is Why You Need Insurance - Don't Risk Your Livelihood

The likelihood of this experience ever happening to you is pretty small, however, while you may never make the same mistakes I made, this story is a reflection of the stupid decisions that tend to tag along with us as people. The same warnings and lessons that I'm about to share apply to everyone.

Over this past year, I began a landscape project out on a local barrier island. I wanted to stretch my experiences as a photographer and get shots that would challenge me in several areas. The primary idea behind most of these shoots was to mix star trails, dawn, and off camera lighting with my scene. This required an overnight trip on a moonless, cloudless night.

After a few successful nights of shooting, I decided I wanted to use the same time lapse/light painting technique on a lighthouse. This lighthouse is different from most. Instead of sitting on a rocky bluff or the the edge of a beach, it currently stands in the middle of the ocean. The beach around it has slowly eroded over time leaving stranded but standing in the sea. Given the unique location of my subject, the shoot would involve an extra complicated step of getting to the lighthouse order to light paint it. Having kayaked several times in the area with no issues, I figured I could easily paddle out and light up the light house.

So at midnight on a moonless night, I took my gear, with one back up lens just in case I wanted a different perspective, and got everything set up at the end of one island. After evaluating the shot, I decided I didn't like the angle very much. The final product would look much better if I were on the adjacent island. The water was very calm in the inlet between the islands, so without much of a thought, I loaded up everything into the boat and set off.

Although I had kayaked in the area several times before, it had never been in the dark. As I approached the adjacent island, I did not realize my course was headed over a sand bar. Although the water was pretty calm and I was still 75 feet from shore, a very small wave crossed over the sand bar right under me and started to rise. As soon as the wave caught my kayak, a feeling of dread hit me. As the wave slowly rose, it caught my kayak like a surf board and began pulling me toward shore. I desperately back paddled to try and keep my course straight but to no avail. After carrying me 50 feet, the wave turned the kayak side ways and slowly flipped me and all my gear into the water.

Immediately my tripod came loose and sunk 3 feet into the murky water. I grabbed my bag and camera and frantically tried to get them out of the water before everything was fried; both had been submerged for only a few seconds. I got to shore, cursed myself in a wave of self disgust for several minutes and finally collected my thoughts. I spent the next 30 minutes wading around in the tidal inlet looking for my sunken tripod to no avail. Not only had my gear gotten wet and lost my tripod, I later realized I had also lost my wallet, phone, shoes, and the rope I had used to tie my kayak to the car. Freezing and exhausted, I managed to get home feeling like I should never take pictures again.

My decisions for this shoot were idiotic, I wont disagree otherwise to any trolls who would like to rub it in through comments. I was passionate about my landscape project. I was even more excited about capturing the perfect picture of the light house that I saw in my head. But I got carried away. Not once did the thought cross my mind that I should water proof my gear before getting it near salt water. Not once did I weigh the possibility that I might lose equipment. I was focused and confident... and ridiculously careless. It's probably not a far reaching statement to say most photographers have felt similarly. It's fun to become passionate about a project, but that passion can blind us to caution. It's important that for any shoot we plan out, we ask ourselves, "is the final product worth the the risks of all the possible outcomes?"

Fortunately, there is a hero to this story that brings a happy ending. When I first started my business a few years ago, I was sure to cover all my bases of the things you should do when starting a business. As well getting all the proper licensing and paperwork, I was strongly advised to look into business and gear insurance. Through my search I came across Hill and Usher, an insurance company which caters specifically to photographers with their "Package Choice" option. I quickly signed up for their very reasonable coverage option.




After having a miserable night on the ocean, dealing with Hill and Usher was a welcome relief. They took my claim and gave me quick easy instructions on how to proceed. I sent all of my gear off to Canon to be evaluated for repair. After a few days of examination, every piece of gear came back with an irreparable status. Salt water had corroded too many parts to make anything recoverable. With just a few extra days to process the claim, Hill and Usher sent me a check for the full original value of everything I lost. I was able to replace all my lost gear with new or updated lenses.

While most of you will have much more common sense and a sense of preservation than I did for this shoot, we as people tend to make poor decisions from time to time. Even in the times when we are thinking clearly, life can bring along circumstances out of control that can interrupt our plans. Without having gear insurance which reimbursed me, my business would have been severely hit this year. Having the insurance has become one of the best business decisions I have made to date. Don't let something similar debilitate your business.

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I'm not in business, but I still have insurance as an add-on through my homeowner's insurance. Business or no, I can't afford to replace my gear. And while I'd love to say that I'd never do THIS, there are plenty of other stupid/accidental/completely-not-my-fault things that can happen.

If you talk to your insurance company they will tell you (and I've been told this by more than one insurance co) that if you're a professional photographer your gear wouldn't be covered. So in your case that works, but in a professional's case, as ridiculous as it is, the same exact gear wouldn't be covered. A rich guy that has a Hassie H ferrari series would be covered while my Nikon D800 wouldn't be. Duh. It's just the way it works. If your career is listed as photographer you need to have the separate hill & usher insurance.

Very true. When I called to insure my gear (about $15,000 worth) my homeowners obviously asked if I was a pro. I said no, just an amateur with a descent budget. They insured it no problem, but told me if I go pro I need to remove it from the policy.

Tony Northrup's picture

My home owner's insurance company has a separate option for businesses. They protect my home studio (in case someone, say, trips and breaks something walking up the stairs) as well as my equipment.

With that said, I wore flip-flips while doing bird photography once, got them covered in mud, slipped and landed on my 5D Mark III and 500mm f/4 lens. The repairs were like $800, and my deductible was $500, and I didn't think the $300 was worth pursuing it (and possibly having my rates raised).

Not ridiculous.

More pro means more use, more use means more exposure (to elements, travels,etc), more exposure means more risk and we all know what more risks means....

That is very true. Of course the counter to that is we tend to take better care of our gear, keep it cleaner, store it better and have experience with how to deal with such risks. But yes, still at more risk, no way to deny that. Note that for extreme risk there will still be no coverage - there are plenty of clauses for at-risk situations (camera stolen in NYC? No problem. Stolen in Haiti? Sorry, that will come under the terrorism clause despite there being no terrorists or war in Haiti - and that came directly from an agent, along with "We'll be happy to insure you when you get back from Haiti"

Now THAT is ridiculous. If they start incrementing coverage like this there is just no end to it.

Going to NYC? no problem! Do you plan to go in bad parts of town after dark? yes? sorry no coverage...


Hey, look on the bright side.. You got an awesome shot of water damaged gear!

To get shots no one else has, you have to find angles that no one else has shot from. Risks have to be taken! I'd rather loose my gear using it than say to thieves breaking into my car or worse, having no portfolio and no interesting shots because the gear was in the closet, not in the field!

That being said, F-Stoppers just had an article about some excellent waterproof camera bags! ;)

Except for the lack of a waterproof bag, I can say that there but by the grace of God go I. I'm glad this story didn't end with you wishing you had insured your gear.

What lighthouse, BTW?

Insurance is for suckers unless it's for something that you can't afford to live without and can't readily get replaced.

You are right... But he's not talking about insuring a Rebel w/ a kit lens...

The "can't readily get replaced" portion of your statement applies to most of us. I'm an amateur with ~$15,000 worth of gear. It has taken me years to accumulate that gear, and while I may be able to replace a single lens, or a single body due to damage, I couldn't replace several pieces at once.

When I go out to shoot, I often have more than half of my gear with me. Sometimes I have it all. If something were to happen I couldn't "readily replace" it. With Insurance I can...

I'm not independently wealthy so insurance is for me! I had my house broken into and everything taken all at once. Camera, lenses, external flash, etc...even my external hard drives! So yes insurance is a must for any one who values their gear. Learned hard way to follow the rule for backing up all images 3x and one of those being an off site location.

There is such thing as over insuring. I know people who buy extended warranties (a sort of insurance) on their $20 toaster and pay 25% of the price for it.

Michael Kormos's picture

I'm totally with ya. We insured our business & gear the day we became an LLC. Just last weekend, while shooting in a Central Park, a lady chasing after her dog walked right over my Nikon D4 that was laying in grass next to me. Luckily, the lens hood took most of her weight and broke in the process (BTW, Nikon charges $35 to replace this small piece of plastic for your 50mm lens). If you think about it objectively, you are walking around with a small fortune, wrapped around your neck, and it doesn't take much to put it out of commission (and in that sense, your income). Thank God D4s are built like tanks :-)


olivier borgognon's picture

However in your case, it should be her liability for breaking your gear... like if someone broke your car whilst backing into you, and not your insurance to cover this.

I carry business insurance but everything you said in the first couple of paragraphs says "poor planning".

QUESTION TO THE PUBLIC: Okay so I insure my gear, there is no reason not to but, I do at times rent gear or use Canon CPS loans here and there to try out new gear. Is there some type of short term insurance I can have on gear I don't own? I mean some rental places like Borrowed Lenses, offer insurance, but things like Canon CPS don't... Anyone help me out or answer this question I would love to hear.... To go deeper lets say I borrow a lens from a friend, does my insurance or is there insurance that can cover that lens though me the borrower?

Not sure about your area, but over here (Malta, Europe) when renting lenses from Canon you can pay extra to cover yourself in case any accident happens.

With my package choice insurance, they have specific coverage options for rental gear added into the full insurance package. So you don't have to buy separate insurance every time you rent, you just make sure you have enough rental coverage for the value of gear you have at any given point.

Another obvious post. Offer some information on types of camera insurance photographers should get.

David Strauss's picture

I suggest package choice through hill and usher in the post

I use Thomas Pickard and love them! The one time I had to file a claim they made it easy and I had a check within a week.

Man, I feel ya! Glad to hear the insurance covered you. Now you can re-prepare and go back and get the shot! I had all my stuff stolen last year, from my house. My Farmers Homeowners covered it all completely... Luckily I had pretty much all the receipts.

Barry Fontaine's picture

I'm not a fan of commercials disguised as editorial content. I call foul to this article and would not deal with the aforementioned insurance company based on the principle I've noted. I highly doubt the story is even real.

Barry - I wrote an article about the risks in the studio on The Phoblographer. I mentioned Hill and Usher. The only way I made money off my writing was off affiliate links - i didn't get paid for the writing itself, and using my links didn't cost my readers any more (and usually not any less). My earnings were generally meager. With that in mind I contacted Hill and Usher and asked if they had an affiliate program. They told me they don't. I still mentioned them and linked to them. My assumption is that is the case here as well so it's not a commercial disguised as editorial. Take it as you will, but in my experience this is not the case.

Patrick Hall's picture

No commercial relationship going on here. David is a writer here in Charleston and I can vouch for the destroyed gear (that's his photo above of some of the destroyed equipment). I've never talked to the guys at Usher Hill but after hearing David's experience I think I'm going to insure the entire Fstoppers catalog through them. I know Lee has made claims through his home owners insurance and there are a lot of problems with them.

1) many times they will drop you after you make a substantial claim like if your bag worth $30,000 got stolen.

2) If you are a home owner, getting dropped by claiming $30,000 worth of stolen gear might not be worth it if it also means losing coverage on your house.

3) In Lee's case, he had bottles of wine blow up on some of his studio lights. Because it was water damage, the insurance company required him to send each piece of gear off and have it appraised and claimed as unrepairable. I think the quotes cost him several hundred dollars each and a few of the companies claimed they could rebuild the entire power pack. Not sure I'd ever want to rely on a refurbed unit I know was submerged in wine but that is what they were claiming would happen.

4) Many times normal insurance companies will not insure photo gear for professional use which is pretty crazy. Another writer, Nick Gore, had his gear stolen out of his car from his driveway. The insurance company googled his name and found his photography website. They declined his claim because it was "professional" and therefore not part of his home owners insurance (he owns a house as well).

Back to your post, I'd love to have Hill and Usher paying us advertising money but the truth is most insurance companies don't think like hip photo companies that understand marketing and branding. Hopefully David's story can help other photographers figure out an insurance solution since it's an issue that gets brought up about as often as "which camera should I buy".

In most (if not all) cases, your home insurance will not cover $30k worth of photography gear. Your homeowners policy covers personal items, for personal use. And if you somehow manage to get reimbursed, they will only pay current value, not replacement value.

Patrick Hall's picture

Interestingly enough, most of the time prices actually go up. I believe David got even more money to replace his gear than what he bought it for. The reason is cameras come and go so fast that they are usually appraised by the replacement camera. No one can quote a current value on a D3 because they aren't offered anymore. There might be a chance the camera is still current but had been discounted by a few hundred dollars which isn't the end of the world. The lenses on the other hand are a different story altogether. Usually they don't depreciate at all. Lenses stay current so long that a 70-200 VRII is still the same price if not more than it was 3 years ago. The 50 1.4s haven't changed price in maybe 10 years. So yes you do get the current value price, but unlike say an iPhone that drops by half once the newer model comes out, cameras are either in stock or completely gone.

If we got paid every time people think we get paid we would be rich. Yes David was that dumb, and yes the story was real (where else did he get the camera gear in the picture). Believe it or not, our gear isn't insured and I just called Hill and Usher myself after reading this post to get insured. We have no affiliation with them. In fact, I had never heard of them until today.