Safety while out on photowalks, professional photoshoots and when we’re out, is on our minds. Over the last several years there have been more and more stories of photographers being targeted by thieves. It’s unnerving and has us wondering how it’s affected photographers getting out and creating images.

We asked a few photographers from the industry and the Photofocus Community how or if they have been affected by this personally, their thoughts, what happened and how it changed what they do. They’ve also generously shared tips with us for doing what we can to stay safe.

In the news

Back in February, this news story from San Francisco showed how this happened right on the freeway.

In November of 2020 Chris Hau, a filmmaker, photographer and creative director from Toronto, shared his own story where he had his camera equipment stolen while working on a video shoot.

During protests in Chicago in May 2020, a photographer for the Chicago Tribune had her cameras stolen while covering the event. She said she overheard a woman yell, “Get that bitch’s cameras!” Suddenly, two men shoved her to the sidewalk, grabbed the cameras she had strung around her neck and shoulder, and ran off. Hooley said she was bruised but otherwise uninjured in the attack. 

These are just a few of the stories that have been recorded and published. 

How crime has affected the safety of photographers

These are a few of the responses we received to the question: Do the stories of crime in the cities, in general, make you hesitate to go out on your own?

Our own Lauri Novak says, “I’ve become much more hesitant to head into Chicago on my own. It’s a big change for me as I traveled to many cities in my life without even knowing the language, on my own and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe. Even the areas we used to consider very safe seem to be at risk now as well.”

Jim K. – “When I go to a place that might be sketchy, I take the camera and gear I am going to use out before I leave the house. I put the other gear on the back floor of the car; my camera bag is black so it blends in with the car mat.”

Brent J. – “It’s been on my mind as I’ve contemplated shooting around San Francisco where I live. Stories of people being robbed of their gear have been in the news and on social media. I did just purchase some mace and have a flashlight/stun gun, but shooting alone with a tripod can be a bit concerning as they tend to pull up in a car and are on you quickly. Generally, I do not live in fear but shooting out on the street with gear is something that I have to think about.”

Michael R. – “When photographing at night I look around to see if it ‘looks safe’ before taking the camera and tripod out. I try to set up and shoot quickly snd then put them back in the briefcase. I realize that I am still vulnerable.”


Pam H. – ” I am even hesitant to join meet-ups if I am not familiar with the other participants. If I do go, I usually have pepper spray. I have also seen some of the other females in my area state they carry a hand gun when going on shoots.”

Peter M. – “Hotels are famous for having thieves at the ready to grab and go. They are watching you load in or walk away from gear cases. Now, I always bring gear in locking hard cases (I have five rolling hard Porter cases) and use 3/8 inch flexy steel cable and padlocks to cable cases together and to something solid.”

Herb B. – “Living in Manhattan, I have never felt in danger or worried about my camera being stolen from me. Even when riding the very crowded subway. However, I am aware that I might tempt someone to try and take my camera. I use a hand strap as opposed to one around my neck. I keep it to make it difficult for someone to grab it out of my hand.
New York City is where I was born and raised, so this is my home and I feel very safe here.”

Wade B. – “When I’m out with my gear, I make sure to be aware of my surroundings and not leave anything unattended. My biggest worry is getting stuff stolen from my car.”

There were also quite a few who said that the crime happening in the cities or areas where they photograph has not caused them to change anything. They do not feel threatened or ill at ease. Others stated they carry less or smaller gear when they head out to locations they feel may be unsafe or just carry only what they need.


Safety tips

Here are some of the tips our Community members and others who were asked shared with us:

  • Go out with another person or group, there is safety in numbers
  • Buy insurance for your gear
  • Be aware of your surroundings, watch to see if you’re being watched or followed
  • Cover brand names/logos with tape
  • Never leave gear laying around
  • Keep money, phone, ID and keys on your person in a pocket
  • Stay out of areas that are known to be unsafe
  • Stay near the tripod set up when using it
    Keep your gear on you at all times, not just when using it
  • Keep a smaller camera for venturing out into cities
  • Travel light — only take what you need
  • Keep mace or some other deterrent on you
  • Lock gear/cases together to make it harder to grab and go
  • Get a tracking device like Tile
  • Use a hand strap instead of a shoulder strap
  • Use a discreet looking bag — not one that screams expensive camera gear inside
  • Research the areas you intend to photograph and check the safety of those locations

Has safety been an issue for your and your photography?

While we sincerely hope the answer to this question is no, we’d like to hear from you. Have you ever had gear stolen? What happened? How has that affected you? Are you venturing out less, carrying less? What tips do you have that may have prevented the incident? And lastly, do the stories of these crimes make you hesitate to head out on your own? Share your experiences in the comments here.

Sharing our own experiences can help others not make the same mistakes we may have made. We are here to learn from each other and hopefully, by sharing this we can take the precautions we need and be a little safer out there.