Follow these steps to prevent camera theft

Jun 7, 2021

Jefferson Graham

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Follow these steps to prevent camera theft

Jun 7, 2021

Jefferson Graham

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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As you know, my gear was stolen in broad daylight as the camera was rolling two weeks ago in a public San Francisco park.

Another photographer got hit this week near San Francisco and way worse than I did. He was parked near Battery Spencer Park in Sausalito, in the Marin Headlands, which offers one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and thieves bashed in his SUV windows and fled with multiple cameras, computers, hard drives, and more.

What happened to Joe Greer has unfortunately been happening to lots of folks lately. So much so that where he was parked, there are signs everywhere urging us not to leave valuables in the car. Yeah, it’s that bad.

And I’ve since heard from many people in Washington State and elsewhere that the parking lots for trails have recently become open season for thieves, who know we’ll be hours away from the cars as we hike. They break in while we’re on the trail.

YouTube video

This week I guested with Scott Kelby and Erik Kuna on their YouTube show, The Grid, talking about steps photographers and people who love them could take to help curb camera thefts when we’re out on the road. So I thought it would be a good idea to share these tips here as well.

Many are common sense, but as summer travel kicks off, and hoodlums are coming out of the closet after a long year in somewhat hibernation, please read and take seriously.

  • First of all, if you’re a pro photographer, please make sure you get a business insurance policy. I made the switch a decade ago after I lived through a smash and grab from my car. Farmer’s wouldn’t reimburse me. Fast forward a decade, and State Farm, thanks to my better policy did. Thank you State Farm, the greatest insurance company in the world!
  • Before you hit the road, write down serial numbers of all your gear, take photos of them, and while you’re at it, make or locate a copy of sales receipts for insurance. (Mine are stored with e-commerce sites I frequent, like Amazon, B&H and Paul’s Photo so they’re easy to access.) You’ll be able to give the serial number to law enforcement and for sites like eBay, which claims to have a stolen goods
  • If you’re shooting on a camera, take the memory cards out of the camera from a shoot the minute you get home, even if you don’t clear them right away. When on the road, don’t leave cards from a shoot sitting in the camera when parked! If you shoot on a smartphone, make sure you’ve backed up the photos and videos from your hotel room or car. (This is easy: members of Amazon’s Prime entertainment and shipping service get free unlimited uploads. Others use or pay for similar services from Apple, Google and Dropbox. At the very least, e-mail the best photos to yourself from the phone, and that will create a second copy.)
  • Duh! Get the bags out of your car. We’ve heard from too many people who arrived home late, after a gig, left the bags in overnight, and awakened to find no cameras in their car the next morning. Or worse, the car was stolen with the camera bag still sitting in the trunk, chock full of photos. What a fun call to a client!
YouTube video
  • Cover up your bags! Earlier this year, a photography team was waiting for the light to go green when thieves jumped out of their car, smashed in their window, stole their camera bag and made off with the loot. It turns out they had been on a shoot earlier, and the thieves were following them, waiting for the right moment to pounce. So if you do shoot in a public place and drive a hatchback, when you re-pack the car, put the bag under the seat, cover it up, and lock the doors. Don’t make it easy for the thieves to smash the back window and easily grab it.
  • Never drive a hatchback or a vehicle (like a van) with a window that’s easy to peer in on. If you’re renting a car this summer, demand a car with a non-see-through trunk.
  • If you’re a pro who goes around with a camera bag (as I do) two tips: My friend Mark Comon, who runs the Paul’s Photostore in Torrance, California, recommends to never open the bag in public, so that people won’t be able to see what you have. Take the camera out and have by your side when you leave the house. When you park at the location, obviously remove the bag from the vehicle, but be connected to it in some way.
Professional Pelican camera case
  • Secondly, and I think this is more important, don’t buy a bag that looks like a camera bag. Hardshell Pelican bags may protect your gear really well, but they’re a dead giveaway. (Sorry Joe Greer.) There are many bags that look like suitcases and don’t scream “I’ve got $20,000 worth of gear in here!”

Think Tank Photo has an expensive, $400 bag that could double as a suitcase, and it has another bonus: “high-strength coated cable” that can be tied to your tripod or a nearby pole.

  • On a shoot in a public place: Tie yourself to a tripod. Have something that connects you, like the Think Tank cable, so if the tripod gets grabbed, as happened with me, they won’t be able to haul it away so easily.
  • Once the tripod is in place, attach a bike lock with an alarm to the legs, so if they do steal it, an ear-piercing noise will go off. This is just a random idea. Could it work?
  • What about Apple AirTags? The tracker for keys and such are a good idea, but thieves are too savvy for this. They’ll just rip it off once they’ve taken possession.
  • A tip from pal Steve Brazill: “Position the gear to minimize escape routes, for example, have a wall or something solid between the gear and any road or path. Cable multiple things together, tripod to bag, to something else, making carrying more difficult and awkward.

What are your ideas? I’d love to hear from you. Please chime in. And be careful out there!

About the Author

Jefferson Graham is a photographer, videomaker, former USA TODAYcolumnist, and guitar player. He also hosts “Photowalks with Jefferson Graham” on Tubi. For more of his work, make sure to check out Jefferson’s websiteInstagramYouTube channelTwitter, and sign up for his newsletter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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10 responses to “Follow these steps to prevent camera theft”

  1. Michael Stevens Avatar
    Michael Stevens

    One would wonder if they inadvertently made a big production of pulling the right gear out before heading to the location to shoot?

    I always get mad a the wife when we stop somewhere to hike and she gets out, opens the back door, puts her purse on the floor boards, then covers it up. “Great job letting anyone watching know your valuables are there for the taking…”

    Sad we have to consider this stuff.

  2. Rocky Avatar
    Rocky

    Have a crew of 2 3 even 4 people, that is usually a deterrent.
    I do not go out and shoot alone. Simply not worth it.

  3. The Moeller Avatar
    The Moeller

    I wouldn’t expect anything else from a state filled with liberals

    1. Janksta Joe Avatar
      Janksta Joe

      They were trumptards that stole that gear and are ruining our country, even after orange mussolini lost. GET OVER IT LOSERS.

    2. Randall C. Page Avatar
      Randall C. Page

      You are suffering from a mental illness known as “Trump’s Deranged Sycophants” syndrome aka TDS…call you local helpline to find a good mental health professional.

    3. Saiyaken才野犬PHOENIX Avatar
      Saiyaken才野犬PHOENIX

      Way to be that guy that puts their politics into anything. Good job.

  4. Mark Doiron Avatar
    Mark Doiron

    Stay at a hotel where you can park outside your door. Then keep your gear with you. Don’t leave unattended when avoidable. Back up your shots daily, one to your laptop, one to a portable drive. Then never keep the primary drive and the back up together unless you’re with them.

  5. TestShoot Avatar
    TestShoot

    As a photographer and son of a cop it doesn’t surprise me to see it yet another story about an oblivious tourist getting robbed. A pro tip here is to get a dash cam front and rear that has a parking mode. Similar to what Tesla has for their sentry mode. All of my vehicles and I mean all of them have dash cams with front and rear parking mode so anytime someone walks near my car I’ve got them on camera and they get sent to the cloud.

  6. Etheridge James Avatar
    Etheridge James

    If you can, they’re becoming rare, get a minivan with in floor storage. My wife has a ’15 Grand Caravan and can store plenty in the stow and go spaces.

  7. Don White Avatar
    Don White

    I put some faith into using a “pack safe” steel mesh bag to lock down equipment during travel, (but a pain to use). I have a steel lock box bolted into my SUV, (bolted down from inside the box). nothing will be perfect to a determined thief with time but I am sure it will reduce smash and grab situations.