I love to travel. It’s one of several passions a I have in this life, and if you’re familiar with me, you know about some of my travel exploits from my just revived blog, PartTimeVagabond.com. While I don’t always spend my entire trip taking photos or shotting video (I’m like to enjoy my trip outside the lens), I always have a camera with me. Most often it’s my smartphone, but many times it’s a little point & shoot I keep in my pocket, or even my DSLR (which shoots both stills and video). Whatever I choose to bring, i’m always mindful about the safety of my gear. Sadly, I’m a mistrustful person, with a very cynical view of people when it comes to my gear, but from my time living in the New York City metro area, I’ve learned some good tips for keeping my personal–and expensive–photography gear safe.
Perhaps the best tip I can give you, one that I learned from shooting weddings, is never leave your gear unattended. You may think your stuff is fine, even in a semi-private setting like a wedding, but it’s not. Several years ago, I was an assistant shooter at a wedding in the Hudson Valley in New York state. We were just unpacking our gear at the reception venue, when I heard some small commotion among the photographer’s crew. We came to learn that while they were unloading their gear into the venue, they left their truck unattended, and someone had lifted all their cameras! All the photos from the day and all their main camera bodies were gone. No one saw anything. That was a disaster. Don’t let that happen to you: never leave your gear unattended.
Let’s take a look at some other tips that will help to keep your gear, and your images, safe.
Professional thieves know what to look for in their targets: new, expensive looking, unattended bags (remember, your bag can be “unattended” even when you’re carrying it). Camera bags are especially tempting for the would-be thief. The easy way around this is to not carry a camera bag. Instead, use something like a messenger bag to carry your camera gear. My Timbuk2 messenger bag is perfect for this. I use some camera case dividers from an old backpack and tuck it right inside the bag. It fits perfectly inside, with a little room for a water bottle or small accessories. The added benefit of the messenger bag is that it’s a sling, so I can easily swing the bag in front of me to access the camera or keep it from meddling hands. The bag also velcros almost completely shut, and has two buckle snaps to keep things locked up tight. You’ll know if someone is trying to get in. Timbuk2 also makes a messenger style bag specifically for carrying cameras, or if you already have a standard messenger bag, they make a camera insert as well. The key here is to make it look like you’re not actually carrying a camera. Make your bag look well used and worn in so it’s not such a tempting target.
Camera manufacturers are not helping the situation for you either. They give you a nice carrying strap with your brand new camera, most likely emblazoned with the company’s logo and the type of camera you’re carrying. Why not just put a sign on your back saying, “I have a really expensive camera you should steal!” While it’s great advertising for the manufacturer, it makes you a target. Ditch the supplied strap and get yourself a nice, comfortable, low profile strap that, again, looks worn in and old. I personally bought a nice Black Rapid sling for my camera (I have yet to “wear” it in. Oops.) which is much more comfortable than the supplied strap, and since it wraps across my chest and connects directly to the camera, makes it that much more difficult for someone to snatch it off my shoulder.
Another good preventative measure is to take a bit of black gaffer’s tape (or black electrical tape, or whatever tape you have that will blend into your camera’s body) and cover up the make and model engravings on your camera. No one needs to know what type of camera you’re shooting, and it keeps thieves guessing as to it’s value.
DON’T PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET
It’s easy to get caught up in your trip and want to bring everything with you everywhere you go…you know, just in case. In my mind, that just makes it easier for a thief to get at all your stuff in one easy swipe. Instead, try breaking up your gear. Most hotels have some kind of safe for you to secure valuables, so use it. How many lenses are you really going to need that day? Can you save a couple memory cards in the safe? Is your backup drive something you need to take with you? Break up your gear into smaller packages and take only what you need with you on any particular day.
Speaking of backups, a good idea is to back up your photos each day to a separate hard drive. And since we’re talking storage, carry several memory cards and swap them out often. That way if one gets lost or stolen, you haven’t lost your entire trip.
Traveling is an adventure, and you want to take in as much as you can while you’re there, so it’s very easy to get caught up in the moment. But if you want to hold on to all your gear, it pays to always be aware of your surroundings. My mother used to tell me she had eyes in the back of her head (mostly when I was getting into trouble). It’s a good idea to apply that principle to your travels.
Should the worst happen and some or all of your gear is stolen, you’ll be in bad place. So before going anywhere, it’s a good idea to insure and document your gear. Those registration cards that come with your cameras, lenses, and flashes are a great way to ensure that you are documented as the owner. I would take it one step further and take individual pictures with each of your items, including serial numbers, and store those on a separate hard drive that you keep at home. Next, purchase some insurance (many times you can include these items in homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, or you can try travel insurance. Professionals tend to have business insurance that covers their gear) so that in the event your gear does get stolen, at least you won’t be out the thousands of dollars it took to acquire it.
ENJOY YOUR TRIP
By taking these simple precautions, you increase your odds of having an enjoyable trip. The world is a scary, wonderful place, full of both good and bad people. While the good far outnumber the bad, it’s always a good idea to be prepared for whatever happens.