It’s every photographer’s nightmare. You park your car at the bank, or the dry cleaners for just 10 minutes. You come back and all your gear has been stolen from your car in a smash and grab.

You’ll certainly have that sick feeling in your stomach, followed by panic, rage and ultimately resolve.

But how will you be made whole again?
A friend recently lost more than $30,000 worth of gear from his studio in a burglary. Unfortunately, he didn’t have insurance. That means, unless the police find his gear, it’s gone, and he’s out the money he paid for it with no recourse whatsoever.

Guess what – this caused me to recently update my insurance policy.

If you’re NOT a professional, and have less than $10,000 worth of camera gear, MOST homeowners and/or renters policies will cover theft of your precious cameras. Note that you can’t insure your images under such a policy for their replacement value, i.e., if you shot them on film and paid $4.00 to have print made, you’ll get the cost of the film and the print, but not the cost of making the image, or the lost potential income it represents.

These policies will cover your gear, but not at face value. Instead, they’ll give you “market value” for your lost gear. This means that your nearly new Nikon D3, once stolen, is probably going to bring you a check for $3000 (or less.) You’ll have to come up with the rest out of pocket or buy used and hope you can find one that cheaply. Good luck.

If you want full coverage, i.e, replacement cost coverage, you need a special separate policy. Some companies call this an “inland marine” policy. This sort of policy will cover the cost of replacing your used D3 with a new one. Make sure you ask for this type of policy (you will usually have to pay extra for it) or you won’t be covered.

If you’re a professional, or if you have more than $10,000 worth of gear, you should consider buying separate gear insurance. Most homeowners/renters policies won’t cover you. This can come in the form of simple business insurance or something more specific like gear insurance offered from/through one of the photo associations, such as the program offered by NANPA – the North American Nature Photography Association. They have partnered with Rand Insurance to underwrite photographer’s gear.

I purchased a policy from them this week for about $1000. It covers all loss (except unexplained absence) for around $40,000 worth of gear. I didn’t cover everything I own. Instead, I covered the typical amount of gear that I would put at risk while in the field. There is a $250 deductible and after that, Rand pays for replacing any lost gear.

Most professional photographic associations offer a similar program. The NANPA program through Rand has a good reputation of quickly and even cheerfully paying claims in the event of a loss. If you do buy insurance for your gear, be sure to check out the reputation of the underwriting company. Your state insurance commissioner should have publicly-available records that detail complaints and resolution thereof regarding insurance companies in your area.