We like to think we’re safe. I know I take all of the right precautions to make sure my camera equipment never gets stolen. Even so, we’re still human. We’ve got busy lives, and that means we’re prone to leaving ourselves vulnerable every now and again. How many times have you left your camera equipment in your hotel room while going out for a quick meal? Did you really think you were safe? Here are a few things you can do to prepare yourself for the unthinkable.
I’d first like to put this into perspective for you. I had a really close call just a few years ago, back when I was traveling with some friends. I accidentally left my photography bag at the restaurant, and by the time I realized what I did, it was too late. Someone took the gear for a few days, got a guilty conscience, and eventually returned it (thank god!) During that time, my entire life as a photographer flashed before my eyes.
I’ve had friends with far worse stories than my own. One of them had an apartment that got broken into, and the thieves decided to steal the external hard drives containing all of my friend’s photography for the past 3 years. He never got those images back. It was a strong reminder that I needed to step up my own security, and make sure my images are backed up. Yet another pro photographer friend had his car broken into while at a party and all their expensive equipment was stolen.
I didn’t mean to totally scare you there. Chances are your camera won’t get stolen, but do you really want to risk losing all of your work for the past few years? Can you imagine how you’d feel if that were to happen? I’ve worked too hard (and so have you) to just allow my stuff sit there and get stolen.
Protect what’s most vital: your images
Priority number one is the images you’ve already taken. Nothing can replace them if some thief steals your computer or your backup hard drive. That’s why a lot of photographers have gone so far as to purchase a safe that’s bolted to the ground for storing backed up photos. If you're making money off your photography, I actually don’t think that’s such a crazy idea. Your camera is replaceable, but nothing will replace your greatest work. When some thief steals your hard drive, it’s game over.
Even if you don't go to the extremes of a safe, EVERYONE should backup their images online. Yes, that includes you! There are some great backup services available at some pretty competitive rates. Dropbox is one of them. I like Dropbox because it allows me to share certain folders with my friends. We’ve practically developed an online photography community around it. Sure, it takes some time and effort to do all of the backups, but it’s worth it if you can avoid a devastating scenario like losing all of your work. It's free to sign up, and comes with 2GB of free storage, or use this link to get an extra 500mb storage for free.
Next in line: your camera
You’re not going to be perfect. Let’s just face that fact right now. Even the most careful of us end up doing stupid things like leaving a camera at a restaurant. Still, there are some things you can do to avoid becoming a target for would-be thieves. The trick is to look like any ordinary tourist when you’re in dense urban areas.
I generally avoid carrying all of my lenses and flashes with me when I’m walking the city streets. Instead, I just pick one small fixed length lens and shoot with it all day long. Those big fancy zooms stick out like a sore thumb. People know you’ve got a lot extra cash lying around when you’ve got one of those attached to your camera.
There’s a nice thing about picking a fixed length lens. It gives you a focus for the day. I’ll tell you this. My life changed the moment I purchased my first 50mm F1.8 lens. It was a “normal” lens according to most people, but it did so much more for my photography than I could have guessed. It forced me to find a daily focus and run with it.
I also tend not to carry a big bulky camera backpack. I usually go for a more minimalist shoulderbag, something that doesn’t advertise the fact that I’m a pro photographer. Thieves know which bags have the treasure. Walk around with an old backpack, and they won’t think you’re worth robbing.
As a final note, always be aware of your surroundings. There are more reasons to avoid a dangerous situation than the mere prospect of getting your camera stolen. Some urban areas might be appealing to photograph because of their danger. Don’t allow your judgment to be clouded by the chance of getting a once-in-a-lifetime picture. There are plenty of great photos to be had in places that are far less dangerous. Your safety is way more important.
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