When you return from vacation with your travel photos, make sure your memories are all happy ones by keeping your camera equipment secure.
Last year, my friend George was traveling in Europe with his Canon camera and several nice lenses. While standing in line to buy a bus ticket, he put his camera bag down between his legs and reached for his wallet. Someone brushed by him and he exchanged apologies with the stranger. Maybe 30 seconds passed before he realized that his pack with all his camera gear had disappeared.
A travel photographer was walking along in Quito, Ecuador with his backpack and camera around his neck when suddenly a bucket of human excrement was poured on him from out of a window. As he stood stunned and disgusted, two men jumped out, stripped him of his camera, and ran off with it.
Of course, you don’t have to travel to exotic foreign climes to have your camera stolen, it can happen anywhere. But, walking around expecting that you will be robbed at any minute will only make your life miserable and in most situations it is pretty unlikely. A little preparation and a healthy awareness of your surroundings is usually all you need to mitigate the risk of theft.
In this article, I hope to provide you with a few tips to help secure your camera gear and to aid in its recovery if it is lost or stolen.
Register your camera
Your camera serial number is the key to tying ownership of the camera to you. Make a note of all the serial numbers of your camera bodies and lenses and keep them in a safe place.
When you first purchase the camera, it is always a good idea to return the warranty card or register it online with the manufacturer, because then there is an off-site record of the numbers, should you lose your record. As a Nikon shooter, I have all my gear registered at the Nikon USA support website. The “My Camera Bag” section allows me to list the details of all my equipment. Check to see if your camera manufacturer has a similar service.
Every picture you take has the serial number of your camera embedded into the picture files. For $10 you can register your camera with CameraTrace. The company maintains database searches of leading online photo-sharing sites and can tell you if images were uploaded from your camera. They also provide an online system for filing a police report and will send you a tag for your camera, as many cameras are simply lost rather than stolen and the tag helps recovery. Other tracing schemes exist, so Google “lost camera tracking.”
Secure your equipment
Walking around with your camera swinging freely from your neck opens you up to a number of opportunities for thieves and pickpockets. Thieves can spot the red band on that luxury Canon lens you have and know what it is worth. They can have it off your camera and leave you with the body, not realizing for minutes that you have been relieved of your lens. I have yet to find a reliable way of securing lenses on DSLRs, so the best way is probably to keep a hand on your lens as you walk around.
The camera strap supplied with your camera is not adequate and can even advertise you as a target. Nikon have a habit of emblazoning the camera model number of their high end cameras in bright yellow on the camera strap. You might think it is cool to show off that you have the latest professional model, but it also an invitation to thieves. Replace the strap with one that cannot be cut, such as the Carrysafe 100 or 300 from Pacsafe.
Many camera thefts occur when you place your bag down next to you in a public place. As happened to my friend George, someone will distract you while someone else takes the bag. Whenever you put your bag down, use a locking device to lock your camera bag to the chair. Pacsafe makes a number of bag protectors that prevent people getting access to your camera bag.
If you want to go really “James Bond” the Cloak Bag costing $69 might be for you. This shoot-through camera bag allows you to use your DSLR from inside the bag. While not really giving much room for accessories, it is a way to keep your camera dry while shooting.
Leaving valuables in rooms
It’s never a good idea to leave valuables in your hotel room when traveling, but sometimes you just don’t want to take your DSLR to dinner with you. If it won’t fit in the hotel room safe, I would be tempted to use one of the security bags mentioned earlier with cable locks and secure the bag to something solid, such as a radiator pipe. Although a determined thief could still take it, most thieves are opportunists and want to be in and out as quickly as possible. They might be deterred by your secured bag.
Speaking with a regular traveler recently, she advised me to scatter any non-valuable items about the room and not to place them in a camera backpack or suitcase. Souvenirs etc. are of little interest to a thief, but if they are placed with your valuables then chances are the whole bag of items is leaving the room whether valuable or not.
Check your household insurance and make sure your equipment is covered. If not, take out separate insurance for your camera. Many insurance companies won’t cover your equipment if it is used professionally and will query why an amateur would have $15,000 worth of camera gear. I know many amateurs who carry equipment of this value, so take some time to check with your insurance agent.
It’s gone – now what?
If your camera is stolen, make sure you make a police report and get a case record number for the report. Carry copies of your equipment serial numbers and give them to the police. The police are not going to mobilize all units to look for your camera, we all know that, but often stolen property turns up in unrelated cases. They need your information or they can’t return it. Also, insurance companies require that you made a report.
If you lost your camera equipment in the US, be sure to check Craigslist in the area where your camera went missing. I know for a fact one person who had a very expensive lens and camera stolen from her car and was able to see the description of it on Craigslist. The police went along to do the deal and arrested the criminal by checking the serial number.
Remember, your camera is just stuff. You might have worked long and hard for it, but it can be replaced. It is not worth losing your life to defend it. In some countries you might visit, your camera represents several years’ salary to the people around you, so use your discretion and try not to flaunt your wealth.
If you use a little forethought, you will be much more secure and free to enjoy your photography without having to worry too much about losing your camera.