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Steps You Can Take to Help Prevent Camera Theft

As you may have read, my gear was stolen in broad daylight as the camera was rolling two weeks ago in a public San Francisco park. It may be getting worse out there: another photographer got hit this week looking at Golden Gate Bridge.

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. 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.

The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from the Marin Headlands

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 those who park there will be hours away from the cars as they hike: they break in while folks are on the trail.

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, the risk is real: please read and take these tips seriously:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 policy.
  3. 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.
  4. 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 broken into while actively on the road because the equipment was visible through the back window. What a fun call to a client!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. If you’re a pro who goes around with a camera bag (as I do) two tips: My friend Mark Comon, who runs Paul’s Photo store 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.
  8. 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!”
  9. 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.
  10. A tip from my 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.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

About the author: Jefferson Graham is a Los Angeles-based writer-photographer and the host of the travel photography TV series Photowalks, which streams on the Tubi TV app. Graham, a former USA TODAY columnist, is also a KelbyOne instructor.

This story was also published here.

Image credits: Header photos by Joe Greer.

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