Of you have decent-to-excellent gear then there’s extra concern regarding photography theft protection, a mid-range zoom lens alone could be a 500$ loss if sticky fingers walk with it. Fortunately if you simply invest some time and care into preparation and caution you should have nothing to worry about.
Before the Day
This is just smart thinking if the equipment matters or at least the value does. While you can generally include photo gear under your travel insurance, you want to make sure to either check the fine print on deductions and photo refund limits or consider dedicated insurance for the gear.
Ditch the supplied camera strap that makes your camera stick out
This already makes sense for a multitude of reasons related to comfort and style, but there’s certainly something to be said for replacing the supplied camera strap for avoiding camera theft. If nothing else it makes sense for the pro and pro-sumer market of cameras which all have their model number showing on the strap. “Hello, I have a 1500$ camera body and probably a lens of equal value” is not the message to express.
Another consideration with camera straps is that the traditional neck strap is FAR from the only option: Take a look at Black Rapid/Jobi/Holdfast systems that clip into the tripod hole and therefore keep the camera tucked in by your hip (and easier to hold safe). Also, there’s the Spider system, belt clips, and even just a basic wrist strap to think about as options.
This FREE public service to photographers everywhere is a spectacular idea: Register all your gear serial numbers on the Lenstag website/database, this is data that’s cooked into every single photo you take via the EXIF data. If the worst happens and your equipment is lost/stolen you can use their FREE service to track where photos are posted online from said gear. It at least gives you a chance at tracking who has your missing lens for recovery/prosecution.
This is one of those “did I make the right choice?” topics of photography that can be impossible to make sense of towards a decision/purchase… There’s just so many choices for so many situations!
In respect to equipment security and theft prevention it gets a bit easier, basically it comes down to a more particular set of factors:
1. Can my gear be safely closed/secured in the bag?
2. Does it look a lot like a camera bag?
3. What features are expressly designed for security (anti-theft zippers, tricky/hidden compartments for more secure limited access)?
Backup and backup some more (it’s not exactly hard)
Gear aside, the photos you take as you’re moving along are the real treasure of the shoot. Don’t let a theft at the end of your adventure make you loose priceless work (the equipment can be replaced after all), so making sure to backup your work is critical to avoid this state of despair.
Make backup DVD/USB/HDD copies that are separate from your wandering (and more exposed) bag of stuff. Use the power of the cloud backup option as much as possible, even if in a poor connectivity area the best RAW or two can be sent via mail or dropbox.
Make the gear look “lesser”
Simply covering (or removing) some of the branding to your gear and camera bag can make a decent difference, less visual markers to catch a trained thief’s interest. I always find black gaffer tape to be extremely effective for covering brand names, gold or red rings on top-level lenses, and even the flashy bits than can give away the quality that’s in my hands.
For the bag, I’d either remove or cover brands (amazing what a thread-puller can remove without damage!) also, but next to that I’d think about roughing up any brand new bags so they don’t look too shiny and desirable. Equally, consider what I did in India by putting patches and other hippy markings to the bag. It all adds up to looking like you don’t have much to you worth grabbing, much less a nice payday of camera gear.
On the Day
Keep your eyes open and your wits about you
This is just base logic: watch out for thieves and practice caution with securing and tracking your gear. ‘Nuff said.
Have your friend/partner be your lookout
If you have someone with you while out shooting (or vice versa), it would be a given that you’re looking out for each other in respect to safety and security. If you’re the photo-obsessed one on this collective wander, ask your friend(s) to just keep an extra eye out when you suddenly get lost in an urban landscape, of course you’re ultimately responsible for yourself but every bit of support helps.
That is also where you better thank/treat that friend/partner afterwards. Part of where I got the idea for all my Photo Tour Brugge guests the option to bring a +1 “non camera” friend is to thank them for all those times they looked out for us or took an extra minute as we catch the shot. #cheekyselfpromotion 😉
Watch your wallet
This is just a little reminder that your caméra gear is not the only target, so keep in mind that the wallet and/or bag could be the real objective of their reach. It’s also something that comes back to the whole “thieves are looking for distracted people” factor already mentioned: You’re taking that priceless photo of a street performer while the thief slips behind you and gently pulls your wallet from the back pocket.
Don’t bring more gear than you need
Worth limiting the gear when out shooting for the hassle or “option overload” alone, but also means that there’s less to grab from your bag if a tricky fella manages to get in there. There’s also the fact that not travelling with a 5 lens/2 body sized bag will make you less noticed in the first place, much less that tripod that you don’t need for another 6 hours until sunset.
This advice applies as long as you make absolutely sure that any gear you left behind in the hotel or such is as secure as possible. It could be worth the extra cost for a place that has a safe, or spending that little bit more for the holiday shack to be upgraded to a proper room so your valuable gear is still there when you get back to base.
Keep your gear close, and close that goddamn bag!
This is one of those base logic tips, but it bears a clear mention: Keep the camera close to your person in strange situations or otherwise.
Don’t let it just hang off the strap that’s barely held in your hand. Don’t leave it on a table where it’s exposed to attention and opportunity. Don’t leave the bag at your feet during dinner without putting the strap under a chair leg.
Don’t be absent-minded basically, keep an eye on your stuff with a small but healthy dose of paranoia!
Oh, and something I see much more than I should: Close that camera bag, it’s like a neon sign saying “Rob me now, please!”.
Bolt it to your body
Do not leave your camera unattended, again another simple no-brainer…
Applies especially for wedding and event photographers, things disappear and the car may not be the safest place. See this trick if that car storage is unavoidably critical to covering the event.
Beware the “Loose Lens” trick
I have shocked and spooked even seasoned professionals with this one:
You know how your camera is at least good enough to be able to change lenses? That move where you click a body button and the lens comes right off so you can change lenses or such?
Yeah… That’s a problem. :/
Watch this video:
As you saw, all a thief has to do is move in and click that lens right off the body, 2 seconds and *boom* there goes your nice new fancy glass. Keep in mind that even a basic “kit” lens can resell for 50-100 bucks on the black market, still well worth the risk to the common thief with the experience to pull this nasty trick off.
After the Day (if Theft Goes Down)
Ok, things went bad, very bad. Someone made a move on your gear and succeeded, you’re now a not very happy photographer at all (hopefully at least with most photos because you followed my backup advice above).
What to do now to minimize the pain?
Contact the authorities, get paperwork(!)
One of the most important things if you have insurance (as mentioned above) is to make sure that if the worst happens, that you have the right paperwork from the authorities for your claim once home. Police station is your main stop in most cases, be ready with ID and as many details to support your case as possible. Remember that many insurance companies have specific terms to claim so be sure you’re in a position to make a claim (or get proper insurance to cover all possibilities).
Lens Tag to the rescue…maybe
Again referring to a tip that you sort out Before the Day (above), that free Lenstag service that lets you register and verify ownership of your equipment COULD help you at least find out who your gear ended up with. It’s worked before and is better than nothing (not to mention useful for the insurance claims), so what do you have to lose beside registration time?
Smartphone involved? Turn on that tracker
Both Apple and Android smartphones/devices have the ability to have their “find me” feature turned on if set up properly. Make sure you do that, perhaps even burying it in your bag so that you can activate it if needed.
Also consider the fancy tech options for finding stuff, like this article discusses.
Come to peace that these things happen
Regardless of if your gear is recovered after a theft or not, you’ll eventually have to come to peace and get the hell over it.
Just that simple when you get down to it, because life goes like that sometimes. Just move on and replace as possible, should it help any some people believe that everything happens for a reason, or at least sometimes.
Learn from the experience
Speaking of learning, that’s what you have to do out of all this, whatever tips of advice you follow or not.
Mistakes happen, at the same time we learn as we go towards improvement. Don’t beat yourself up too much, think. And plan for what went wrong and what you can do to prevent it next time, and don’t let it get you too wound up about the whole thing. These things happen.
Have you had your camera gear disappear under your nose? Was it foiled thanks to a tip that I may have missed? Let me know in the comments!
Articles by others on camera theft
How to Protect yourself Against Camera Gear Theft via Petapixel
Safely Travelling With Photo Gear via Greg Cope