Being a photographer, whether as a hobbyist or a professional, requires us to have gear. Much of that gear is expensive, be it cameras, lenses, tripods, and even some accessories. Due to the nature of our work, we will oftentimes be out-and-about with our camera equipment, which involves the risk of losing our gear, having it stolen, or even damaged by the elements. These things can innocently happen to the best of us, and if/when they do happen it’s much better to be prepared than to be without a camera, or your savings … or to ask complete strangers to crowd-fund your irresponsibility … (le sigh).
Here are my thoughts for photographers when it comes to the matter of risk, safety, and insurance.
If possible, always keep your gear with you at all times. However I am the first to admit that yes, I have left camera gear in my car. In fact, when I was a teenager I had my first SLR, a Canon Rebel film camera, stolen out of my soft-top Geo Tracker that was parked in the driveway of my parent’s house (I was asking for that one, really). Thankfully, the camera was covered under our homeowner’s insurance, so we were able to recover my loss. The bottom line is that leaving your gear unattended in a car is always a risk. I still do it from time to time, but I weigh each instance on a case-by-case basis. Many times I prefer to bring it along with me to a restaurant, or wherever I happened to be going at the time, than to leave it in the car. But if the worst were to happen and the gear was stolen, I would have no one to blame but myself.
Another occasion to be smart and attentive with is while traveling. My camera bag is always a carry-on; I will never, never, never check my camera gear as luggage for air travel. That heavy, giant bag of equipment is always on my back, by my side, at my feet, or in the overhead compartment. Even if the gear is insured, it can be tricky to actually cash-in on an insurance claim (some insurance companies do not cover loss during air travel, and I’ve read horror-stories about people trying to get their money from insurance purchased through airlines). Honestly, I just don’t trust strangers with my camera gear. I have way too much to lose, and odds are I kind of need that camera when I land on the other side.
The bottom line is to be smart about where your gear is, how it’s stored and who is in control of it. Running into a store for five minutes is all it takes for someone to smash out your window and grab what’s inside. Don’t think no one is watching, either! While I was living in Utah there were a rash of burglaries where thieves would follow wedding photographers after a wedding, and then break into their car as soon as they left it unattended. Many of these photographers not only lost their gear, but also lost photographs for a client that cannot be replaced. Being insured may help cover for some of the lost gear, but not for the irreplaceable photographs. Plus, in situations like these, there is also the possibility of legal action from the client. It’s an awful scenario for everyone involved that could have been avoided by not leaving gear in the car in the first place.
There are always risks involved with many types of photography. Maybe you’re a landscape photographer who likes to get close to the water, or you do aviation photography and your camera sits next to an open door several thousand feet in the air. What are you doing to protect your equipment, not to mention, yourselves? I photograph a lot of waterfalls, and sometimes that requires me to be standing in the water with my camera on a tripod to get a good shot. I’ll be honest, every single time I step into those streams, even if it’s just a few inches of water, I can visualize myself slipping on a mossy rock and tumbling over with my lens going glass-first into a rock in the water (I have a good imagination). Thankfully, that has never happened (knock on wood). When I do take the risk I am extremely careful of my footing, and I also will oftentimes leave my bag on the shoreline (no sense in losing everything, lol). However, a risk is a risk. You don’t need to take these risks to get great photographs, but if you do, be safe with your equipment and yourself! And when the worst case scenario to your gear does happen, take responsibility and don’t beg others for donations (and, at the very least, get insurance before-hand!). (BTW, for supplementary reading on this topic, I recommend a recent article from photographer Mason Marsh titled “Risk Appetite“.)
Some things I do to be safe involve using certain types of equipment to prevent the possibility of something going awry. For example, I use a Really Right Stuff L-Bracket system for my camera and tripod. This is a solid way to ensure that the camera stays put on the tripod. In the past I’ve had a camera fall off of the tripod with a standard tripod plate (thankfully the attached cable-release I was holding on to prevented it from smashing into the pavement). After that, I realized that I needed a better setup, and ever since using the L-Bracket I will never go back to any other system. There are other ways to secure your gear in whatever situations you may be in, so do some research, use common sense and do your best to keep you and your gear safe.
If you’re a photographer, insuring your camera gear is a no-brainer. If you are walking around with a camera and a few lenses, you could easily have $1,000 to $10,000 (or more) worth of equipment with you. If all of that gear disappeared at this very moment, whether it was stolen or damaged, could you afford to replace it? For most of you, the answer is probably “no”. Personally, the last thing I would want to do is spend my savings, or go into debt, in order to replace camera equipment that I already had. The simple solution is to spend a little bit of money every year to buy insurance. The type of insurance you get is up to you, your situation, and your insurance company. If you are a hobbyist, then odds are you can use either renters or home insurance to cover your equipment, but each company runs things a little differently, so you will need to do your research and ask specific questions in order to get the right coverage.
Having a legal business entity makes it a little easier to cover your equipment. For me, my photography equipment is covered under my business (Nicolesy, Inc.), so I have specific business insurance set aside for my gear and any type of business-related venture. Business not only covers my equipment, but it can also cover other things such as liability insurance. That may not sound like much, but if someone does something as innocent as trip over your light-stand or tripod setup and breaks their arm, they could sue you for negligence. Some clients will also require you to have proof insurance, so it’s best to be prepared if you want to do business in the first place. And honestly, it’s not very expensive. For basic coverage I pay less than $400 per year! That’s nothing compared to what I would pay if I lost even one camera or lens.
So if you are reading this article and don’t know if your photography gear is covered, pick up the phone and call your insurance agent. If you are a business entity, ask them about business insurance, too. Seriously … do it right now! Ten minutes on the phone could save you thousands of dollars down the road.
Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on insurance or legal matters involving loss or damage of photography equipment. I highly advise you to seek expert advice through an agent and also do your own research to find out what the best option is for you.
Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.
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