Martin Gregorian from Butterfly Photography was shooting a wedding ceremony in an outdoor park in Vancouver B.C. last weekend and became the victim of an increasingly common crime. His camera bag was stolen by a thief posing as a tourist right in the middle of the ceremony! Now, don't just brush this off as something that could never happen to you; let's learn something from this so we don't find ourselves scrambling during a wedding as well.
The thief was caught on camera lifting the bag from a back aisle, but has not been identified as of yet. If you recognize the thief in this video, please contact the Vancouver Police and offer your assistance.
I have a great awareness of what Martin is going through right now, because about 5 years ago my studio was broken into and all of my camera gear was stolen. Just as I learned a lot about storing gear, backup equipment, and safe image carrying and backup, I'm sure Martin is going to be ultra aware of bystanders in the future and will be adjusting his equipment setup to make sure that this won't happen again.
So, what can we learn from all of this that can move us forward and away from the risks of theft and loss or damage? Again I stress, this CAN happen to you, and you need to be prepared to prevent it from happening.
Prevent Theft And Damage Of Your Gear
The reason a thief was able to take off with Martin's gear was because it was in a pelican case at the back of the ceremony seating area and nobody was paying particular attention to it at the time. Hands up if you ever leave your camera case or bag somewhere during a ceremony so you're not carrying the full weight of it the whole day. I'm sure we have all done it at one point, and I'm as guilty as most, so let's hold off on the throwing of stones here for a bit.
This was an outdoor wedding in a public park, so there were onlookers all around and nobody really suspected anything of them. Indoor ceremonies are much more secluded from the public than outdoor ceremonies, so special attention should be placed on your gear when there is a chance of bystanders approaching it. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are shooting a wedding at a public location.
Tip #1 - Carry your equipment whenever possible and travel light
I carry my 2 cameras and my UNDFIND One bag almost all day and I have the massage bills to prove it. I have everything I need for the day in that bag, and any extra items that I may want to use at the reception are left in my travel case locked in the trunk of my car or on location in a safe spot. My backup gear is also with that case, ready to go in the case of an emergency like my camera ceasing to function, or if Uncle bob's battery runs out and he needs to use mine so he can continue to cover the ceremony for them (I have seriously been asked this).
Tip #2 - Have your second shooter or assistant carry your bag
It's music to my ears when my second shooter says "Here, let me carry that." For those that have a second shooter or assistant that is willing and able to carry their gear, this will free you up to move about more easily and keep your gear protected.
Tip #3 - If you have to put down your bag, ask a friendly guest if you can put it next to them
This is actually a really good way to build rapport with guests at the wedding, and to show that you are a real person that could actually be their friend. I often move around the perimeter of the seating area of ceremonies while shooting, and when I feel like I don't need to have my camera bag on me for changing lenses, I will often find someone sitting in the aisle seat near the back or the 3rd row on the outside near the front. These two spots are very likely spots that I will be standing at a few points during the ceremony, so I am confident that I'll be able to have quick access to my gear if I need it. It is very important to not disturb the ceremony while talking to the guest, so discreetly ask if it's OK and then thank them later, they'll be happy to have helped.
Tip #4 - Prevent damage of your gear by switching and storing it properly
The whole idea of protecting your gear from theft or damage is so your day is not effected by the loss. Whether someone walks off with your gear, or if your gear all of the sudden stops working because of user error, the same result happens, your clients will think their images will not be as good as they could have been. In some cases they're right, but it's your job to make sure this day is the best day of their lives and that you do nothing to detract from that. It's important to instill confidence in them so they are free to be themselves in their photos and not worrying about you.
In order to prevent your gear from being damaged you need to be very aware of your tools and all of their functions. Here are a few of the ways that camera gear most often gets damaged, and therefore are things that you need to be very comfortable with.
1 - Changing lenses
Learn how to quickly and safely change your lenses so that you're not running the risk of your lenses dropping or jamming because of improper connection to the camera. Keep your camera body facing down and away from wind whenever possible to avoid anything from getting inside of the camera while it's not covered by a lens. Learn how to use your lens bag efficiently so you can quickly access what you need and move on with shooting.
2 - Attaching speedlights to light stands (especially when umbrella's are used)
Always ensure that you've securely fastened your trigger or speedlight to the stand before letting go of it. When screwing a trigger to a light stand, hold the trigger in one hand and turn the light stand pole to screw it in rather than rotating the trigger and risking dropping it. When wind is a factor, use sand bags or other weight to keep the light stand from tipping over. If at all possible, have someone stand by your stand so they can catch it if it starts to tip.
3 - Loose camera straps
At the beginning of the day and throughout, double check that your straps are connected securely to the camera. Rapid Straps and other strap systems that connect to the tripod mount of the camera can often start coming loose if you're not paying attention and your camera can simply drop right from your hip to the ground.
4 - Storing lenses without rear covers in bags
There are a few important things at the rear end of your lenses like the connection pins and the aperture ring lever. These can easily be bent or damaged if you're too rough on them in your bags. If you know you're not going to use your lens for a while and you have time, put the rear cover on it so you're not worried about damaging your lens while it's in the bag. Also, never stack lenses and other items in your bag as the hard surfaces of one item can damage the other item.
There are definitely more ways than these that a camera can get damaged, but I bring these up as they are very common for wedding photographers. I want to also stress the importance of backup gear and quality gear at that. We are professionals, hired to do a job, so we need to make every attempt possible at ensuring that we can fulfill our duties.
What other ways do you protect your gear to get piece of mind during a wedding? Please leave your helpful comments below so we can all learn and grow from this to protect ourselves from similar happenings.