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Did you know that there’s a stolen photography equipment registry? Apparently, it happens often enough that there’s a list of stolen cameras and other gear. So I’m not being overly cautious when I tell you that it happens all the time and you need to be vigilant. I’ll simply tell you what works for me. While some of these suggestions may sound like I’m being paranoid, I’ll just say that in 27 years of taking pictures, I do what’s on this list and have never had any equipment stolen. If only I could apply these easy suggestions to other things I own. (or used to own)

  • Keep your equipment with you at all times. – If you follow just this one suggestion, you don’t have the worry about most of the others. It only takes a second for your equipment to sprout legs and walk away. Just keeping it in your sight is not good enough. Anytime you are doing location shooting, keep your equipment on your body. Always put lenses and accessories back in your bag. If you must leave your camera momentarily (to stage the shoot or move props) have an assistant watch it closely.
  • Never put equipment in checked luggage – This should go without saying, but you simply won’t see it again. I’m not saying that baggage handlers are dishonest, but I certainly don’t want to give them the opportunity. All they need to do is x-ray your bag, keep it from getting on the airplane, and they can rummage through it at their leisure. Keep your equipment with you as carry-on baggage. If you have too much for carry-on, consider using Fedex or UPS with insurance to deliver it to your destination.

  • Make it inconspicuous—don’t advertise what you have. – Don’t carry your equipment around your neck. Unless you’re a photojournalist, there’s no real need to keep your camera in plain view. Put it in a camera bag, preferably a plain backpack, but at least keep it where it won’t be seen. If you keep your camera in a hard case, make the case look less attractive–paint it, put stickers on it, or put a cover over it. Those fancy Zero-Haliburton cases are just screaming to be stolen so don’t waste your money on a fancy case to become a target.
  • Cover up brand logos – Thieves know expensive equipment simply by the logos. The bright red Leica dot on your camera is a dead giveaway that you have pricey gear. That yellow and black Nikon camera strap might as well scream, “Steal ME”! To stay inconspicuous, I have gone as far as putting black electrical tape over the logos on my camera and blacking out logos on my camera bags with a Sharpie. I’ve even removed tags on my camera bag that indicate its contents—anything that says “Photo” is dangerous.
  • Never leave your equipment in a car – Never leave anything you value in the car, especially overseas. Don’t assume that leaving your car in a very public place will prevent a theft–it won’t. The closest I came to getting my camera stolen was in a car in Louisville, KY. A kid opened the passenger door and snatched the camera on the seat while I was napping in the drivers seat in a parking lot. Luckily, I woke up in time to chase him down the street where he dropped it and took off. Don’t put your equipment in the trunk, especially right after you’ve parked the car. Popping the trunk open in a matter of seconds is something an experienced car thief will do after watching you put something in it and walking away. Before bringing each piece of equipment, be sure you need it. That way, you won’t be inclined to leave it in the car.
  • Avoid having stuff snatched – Just like the previous car story, putting your fancy camera or bag on a table at a sidewalk café or next to you on a train or subway is a recipe for trouble. Anyone can just run by and snatch it right out of your hands. This goes for your fancy smartphone, iPod, or purse too. Put it away before you sit down. Keep a strap wrapped around you or your chair. If you foresee being on crowded subways, consider using a Pacsafe bag to avoid having the bottom slit open and contents stolen. If you’re on a train and you might fall asleep, use a cable lock to secure your bags. When walking near a street, keep your bag strapped across your chest to make you less of a target.
  • Don’t give your address to just anyone. – Don’t put your address on your work, when a phone number is sufficient. Use a post office box for your mail and on business cards. Don’t advertise your address when selling or trading equipment. Burglars can use the Internet too, and knowing what you have, they’ll target your house if you give them an address. Avoid flashing your camera or equipment outside your house or around your neighborhood. This may sound paranoid, but you never know who is watching.
  • Keep an inventory of your equipement. – Keep a list of serial numbers, model numbers and copies of the receipts. Keep a set in a safe place separate from your equipment (a safe deposit box is good). Keep another set in your camera bag for proof of purchase when re-entering the country after being abroad. Some countries require that you take out what you bring in, or you’ll pay import taxes on it. Do your research and, if necessary, have a customs official review your inventory sheet, and stamp it. That way, if you have anything stolen, get a police report and be sure to show your stamped list to immigration authorities.
  • Keep it adequately insured. – Most homeowners and renters insurance coverages have limitations on how much is covered. My insurance only covers up to $1,000. Higher coverages cost more but are well worth it. Be sure you have adequate coverage for all your equipment. Better yet, give your agent a copy of your inventory. If you’re traveling and getting travel insurance, it may cover your equipment, just be sure to ask about coverage limits and the terms and conditions of the policy.
  • Think like a thief – Put yourself in the position of someone wanting to steal your equipment. What opportunities would you look for to snatch a bag, or break in to a room. Where would look first if you were looking for stuff to steal; where do you think people would hide valuables. Thinking about how to steal your own equipment may help you better protect it.

 

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