Photographer Has $15k In Gear Stolen, Uses EXIF Data To Nail the Thief

Jul 9, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

Photographer Has $15k In Gear Stolen, Uses EXIF Data To Nail the Thief

Jul 9, 2015

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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A photo taken by Bryce Wilson with stolen camera gear.
A photo taken by the daredevil with stolen camera gear.

Being robbed is like a punch to the stomach.  Seeing someone making money with your stolen possessions and not being able to do anything about it is just a swift kick to the gonads.

That’s exactly what Australian photographer Jon Grundy experienced when a daredevil photographer [name removed] broke into Grundy’s home and stole $15k worth of gear.  The thief then used the gear to shoot photos that he offered for sale online in addition to garnering much media attention from his dangerous exploits.  But, one thing the thief hadn’t counted on was that each of his photos was meta-tagged with the name of the photographer from whom he stole.

It all started a year ago in July 2014 when Grundy posted a couple lenses for sale online.  He was contacted by the thief who showed interest in the gear, but the sale fell through with the thief stating he didn’t “have enough money to buy it tonight.”  However, that was not before Grundy had given his address so they could complete the transaction.

stolen-camera-gear

A few days later, Grundy’s wife came home to find that their house had been burgled and that all of her husband’s camera equipment had been stolen.  Yet, with no proof indisputably linking the “sale call” to the crime, Grundy could only speculate as to who the culprit really was.

Grundy kept a watchful eye on [name removed] online presence.  Shortly after the break-in, he posted an image on Instagram bragging about some recently-acquired camera gear that Grundy thought looked extremely familiar.  But there was still no proof.

It wasn’t until October 2014 that a photographer working with [name removed] began noticing the name “Jon Grundy” in the metadata of his images.  When asked about it, [name removed] joked that the gear was stolen.  (“Many truths are said in jest…”)  Unlike his colleague, the photographer had a conscience and contacted Grundy to inquire as to whether or not he was missing any gear, particularly a Canon 5D Mark III.  This new information led to the thief ‘s arrest on charges of burglary and handling stolen goods, and the equipment was returned to its rightful owner.

In February, the thief unrepentantly pled guilty to the charges, but no conviction is documented as being handed down.  For all of his misdeeds, he only received 100 hours of community service.  (Talk about a deterrent to crime…)

How To Add Copyright Information To Photos

To be honest, before this, I had never even thought about customizing in-camera metadata.  But, on most newer dSLR cameras, it’s rather simple to do through the menu screen.

Canon Cameras

  1. Switch your camera to manual mode (this gives you the greatest selection of menu options).
  2. Open the menu, and scroll over to your yellow settings icons.
  3. Select Copyright Information > Enter author’s name to update your name and Copyright information > Enter copyright details to update any additional details, using the dial or buttons to select the characters one at a time.

(Read more instructions here and here.)

Nikon Cameras

  1. Go into your menu and select Setup Menu > Copyright information.
  2. From here you can set both your name and additional copyright information.
  3. Select Attach Copyright Information to make sure it’s added to your images.

(Read more instruction here.)

Something that seems so trivial, especially when you can mass update EXIF information in Lightroom, can be a game-changer in the long run.  Not only could this be used to track down stolen gear, but careless photo-stealers might overlook this valuable information as well.

How about you?

Have any of you had a similar experience?  Did metadata play a part in helping you recover stolen gear or proving ownership of your images?

[via Reddit]

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Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery

Allen Mowery is a Nationally-published Commercial & Editorial Photographer with over 20 years of experience. He has shot for major brands as well small clients. When not shooting client work or chasing overgrown wildlife from his yard, he loves to capture the stories of the people and culture around him.

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45 responses to “Photographer Has $15k In Gear Stolen, Uses EXIF Data To Nail the Thief”

  1. Richard Lee Avatar
    Richard Lee

    what would be great is if we can set the copyright and owner info and password it, which remains locked unless the rightful owner disables it. just a thought..

    1. David Magee Avatar
      David Magee

      I was thinking the same thing. Good train of thought.

    2. Robert Guimont Avatar
      Robert Guimont

      Fortunately, most thieves are not that bright.

    3. Morgan Glassco Avatar
      Morgan Glassco

      Right? Once a week you have to log in or else it stays locked. Or in the future when they’re fully ‘Smart Cameras’ to have something like Android Device manager that you can lock / reset remotely.

    4. Jim Karczewski Avatar
      Jim Karczewski

      In that case all you’d have to do is reload the firmware and everything is reset

  2. doge Avatar
    doge

    What a piece of shit.

    1. a_eh Avatar
      a_eh

      You guys should check out more of his tweets. This Wilson is an idiot and indeed an a$$hole. He actually feels he’s the victim when this news piece was brought up…

      His photos are also mediocre at best for someone who breaks the law to get to uniquely high places. Meh.

  3. Çağatay Belgen Avatar
    Çağatay Belgen

    Thanks for informing thieves to delete exif data.. idiots.

    1. Nátrium-tioszulfát Avatar
      Nátrium-tioszulfát

      Thanks for informing victims how to track down stolen gears. Idiot.

      1. Çağatay Belgen Avatar
        Çağatay Belgen

        it’s not the victim who found out exif data, it is the honest second hand buyer. idiot.

  4. Steve Solis Avatar
    Steve Solis

    Equipment was stolen from photographers covering USC Football at the LA Colosseum media room the past two years. Sucks to have your gear stolen even if recovered.

  5. Phil Philms Avatar
    Phil Philms

    Jordan Bunce

    1. Jordan Bunce Avatar
      Jordan Bunce

      Soooooo set meta data RIGHT NOW got it hahaha

  6. Hannu Avatar
    Hannu

    The serial number of the camera cannot be changed (might be Nikon factories has something for it). -> http://www.stolencamerafinder.com/

  7. Will Bartels Avatar
    Will Bartels

    This guy acts like a DICK on his Instagram

  8. David Richard Leadingham Avatar
    David Richard Leadingham

    Unfortunately the thieves now know what to do if they steal a camera.

    1. James West Avatar
      James West

      But thanks to several posts here, photographers now know how to put identifying information into their exif files. I also didn’t know about Stolen Camera Finder, lenstag, etc..

  9. Damien Harrison Avatar
    Damien Harrison

    Would also advise all photogs to register all gear on lenstag (its free)

    1. Rod de la Garza Avatar
      Rod de la Garza

      Thank you for this.

  10. andyrays Avatar
    andyrays

    You can register all your gear using Lenstag ( https://www.lenstag.com/ ), which will alert you whenever a photo taken with your gear is found online. They even have apps that let you take photos of the gear for serial number verification.
    Finding photos online relies on an extension you can install in your browser, so the more people use it, the more effective it is.

    1. Art Meripol Avatar
      Art Meripol

      Yes yes! Lenstag does a superb job. Wish everyone was on it.

  11. Matas Avatar
    Matas

    Thank you fot this information, i had no idea about this!!

  12. Ahmet Avatar
    Ahmet

    It would be nice to have a search engine to search the web for data (serial numbers) in exifs only. Would be easy to find not just cameras, but certain type of photos.

  13. Loy Gross Avatar
    Loy Gross

    So, wouldn’t all the pictures Wilson shot be legally copyrighted to Grundy? That would be sweet justice.

    1. bh Avatar
      bh

      My understanding, in the United States at least, is its the act of taking the picture that establishes the copyright. So the stranger you hand your camera to on vacation to so you can get in the shot, nominally has the copyright on your vacation picture.

      1. AimeeCandelaPhoto Avatar
        AimeeCandelaPhoto

        Correct! The monkey and Bradley Cooper are the copyright holders.

        US Copyright info. http://copyright.gov/title17/

  14. Doug Birling Avatar
    Doug Birling

    We moved offices a few years ago and I set up a time-lapse of both the move-out, and in. One of my move-out cameras was stolen, but I had images set to download to my laptop, thankfully a cheap dell. You can see a person keep looking at the camera and then the last few images he gets closer and closer and then the camera is gone!

    Totally sucks.

  15. Dog Star Avatar
    Dog Star

    NO password on settings….waste of time!

  16. Mike Hill Avatar
    Mike Hill

    With camera’s now having GPS in them you can also track where the camera was last used. My big boy camera auto updates when around wifi the GPS locations to the images I shoot on google earth so if the camera gets stolen I can see where it was last used. Saved my butt with a crappy roommate who robed me.

  17. AimeeCandelaPhoto Avatar
    AimeeCandelaPhoto

    100 hrs. of community service?? Don’t know what to say about that. I wasn’t that lucky about 4 yrs.ago when my laptop and only back up hard drives and a camera lens was stolen. Lost a large chunk of my images including irreplaceable photos of my travels and personal portraits.
    I have a older Canon that doesn’t have the © info set up. But at least you can create this info in Photoshop and Lightroom. Live and learn from experience. Cloud services and hard drives are your main forms of back up.

  18. Chris Bounds Avatar
    Chris Bounds

    He actually wrote this shit on his website “Some work, others play, many steal.”

  19. Steven Erat Avatar
    Steven Erat

    Copyright is a kind of IPTC metadata, not EXIF metadata. IPTC is customizable, EXIF is not (although some tools are available to software developers that can edit EXIF, but that is an exception).

  20. Tzvi Avatar
    Tzvi

    Thank you

  21. Vincent Jary Avatar
    Vincent Jary

    Thank you for the return

  22. ocube Avatar
    ocube

    Thanks for sharing this.. I had did this ages ago for my 60D but somehow forgot to do the same on my 5D.

  23. Kandi Klover Avatar
    Kandi Klover

    You can always just use something like MAT to remove all the metadata from everything and scrub it clean. Lots of people have them like this one I see it a lot on reddit. https://mat.boum.org/

  24. Mike Avatar
    Mike

    The greatest thing is you cant change the equipment’s serial number, and it is in the EXIF every photo

  25. JL Garcia Avatar
    JL Garcia

    I had a camera stolen and found out the thief in two days, thanks to surveillance cameras in the coffee shop and Facebook friends. The thing is, the thief changed the copyright info inside my camera to his name. Anyway, one of the things that I did to was to register my serial number in this website http://www.stolencamerafinder.com/ where just uploading a picture taken with your camera registers his serial number, then if the website finds a picture with your serial number it reports to you.

  26. Allen Avatar
    Allen

    I have had my gear stolen in past, it was insured so I am back. I wanted to search the Internet for exif data, does anyone know of a way to search for exif?

  27. Richard Avatar
    Richard

    I don’t know if this has been previously mentioned, but meet at a public place like Starbucks when doing transactions.

  28. Tom Martini Avatar
    Tom Martini

    that is a very nice way of doing it . to bad they dont low-jack them to your Iphone or Ipad ….

  29. Vaughn Bender Avatar
    Vaughn Bender

    Lenstag will track your photos online too https://www.lenstag.com/ If you register your gear you can then through your photos track where your gear is.

  30. Colin Avatar
    Colin

    You said “when daredevil photographer Bryce Wilson broke into Grundy’s home and stole $15k worth of gear. ”

    This is not correct.

    Wilson is not a photographer, he is a felon, a thief, a crook, and a slime, who should spend 10 years behind bars.

  31. Rich Jones Avatar
    Rich Jones

    100 hours… man lucky he wasn’t smoking a joint, he would have seen some serious time

  32. Ima Mused Avatar
    Ima Mused

    No jail time on a $15,000 theft? That’s ridiculous, you’d be looking at a serious felony charge in the US. But this is good information to have.