How Your Photography Gear Gets Stolen

Lenstag infographic Infographic from PetaPixel

Lenstag is a free service that lets photographers register their camera bodies and lenses into an online database of serial numbers while maintaining some privacy. The goal of their project is to help prevent resale of stolen photo and video equipment and deter theft. They recently shared an infographic they created that illustrates where photography gear gets stolen, and other related statistics.

Obviously, one must not pay too much attention to the actual numbers, but keep in mind the various ways. Some of the numbers would obviously be stats from general break-ins and robberies that just happened to take the photo gear with other things. We can’t be sure which were actual targets of the photo gear, except by deduction from some of the obvious categores. With an opportunity to learn from the infographic, let’s discuss a little on each of the eight ways shown:

Analyzing the Lenstag data…

  1. Vehicle Theft: 29%

    Leaving your photography gear, or anything of value, visible in your car is obviously asking for trouble. Remember to lock away your goods or gear either in the trunk or in your glove compartment. If that’s not an option, at the very least try to cover your equipment with an old blanket or other non-conspicuous cover. This is usually the only option in SUV’s with no trunk. Keeping things out of sight is the name of the game. Needless to say, if you carrying expensive things in your car, you should have an alarm system installed to help deter thieves. Many times, thieves will wait in parking areas, watching for oblivious people get in and out of their cars giving up inadvertant clues as to what’s inside. Put away and hide your gear before leaving the house.

  2. Home Robberies: 25%

    When your home gets burglarized, all the most expensive items are generally taken and your shiny camera and lenses are prime pickings. Home alarm systems should be installed in every home. Times are bad and we must be proactive. Try not to carry your expensive equipment in plain sight into or out of your home. Use bags, and maybe even double bag. Instead of just carrying your camera bag that yells out its brand, how about putting that camera bag into a paper grocery bag and making it look like you’re only carrying a sack of potatoes? Every little thing helps. Remember, thieves love to rely on the ignorance and naivety of the victim.

  3. Vacationing: 11%

    Traveling is very much exciting for most of us, and it is very easy to get caught up in all the new sights and sounds while ignoring or forgetting about the little things. Your wallet getting pick-pocketed, your credit card getting run behind the counter, or giving your camera to an onlooker to have them take your photo for you as they run away with it are all familiar scenarios. Always keep your camera in your grip and not just hanging by a camera strap. Many thieves will walk up from behind you and slice your standard thin camera straps with a razor or blade and quickly break away with it. Even better, keep it in non-marked backpacks in FRONT of your body, not on your back. Don’t ever leave anything expensive, especially your camera gear in your hotel rooms under any circumstances. Do not allow the swarm of bag porters or other eager locals to take your bags from out of your sight, usually in exchange for a “tip.”

  4. Weddings and Events: 10%

    No matter how auspicious the weddings we shoot are, no one there is your friend. People attend weddings to have a good time, celebrate, and leave their problems behind. Others might be by-standers or crashers. As everyone there is trying to forget everything and have a good time, no one else is going to bother noticing someone else lifting your photo bag, and every piece of camera equipment you have. It’s not their responsibility. It’s yours. Hire an equipment assistant or volunteer a friend to help you carry your gear, light for you, and watch over your bags. Carrying photography equipment insurance is a no-brainer. Keep the caveats from the vehicle theft tips in mind here as well. Every thief knows that weddings will generally have a photographer. They will watch and wait to see which car is theirs and usually pounce during the ceremony when everyone is inside and all attention is on the couple. Weddings and events are generally photographic equipment targeted thefts.

  5. Airports and Baggage Claims: 10%

    Never pack camera gear into your check-in bags unless you absolutely have zero choice. Always keep it with you in carry-ons and within sight at all times. If you must check-in your equipment, it might be better to send it overnight via FedEx or UPS to your destination, with insurance. Much more expensive, but much safer. With the new rules that you cannot lock your bags, you are playing Russian Roulette with your photo and video equipment. If you did check-in, upon arrival make it to the baggage claim as quickly as possible and stand as close to the drop chute as possible and claim your bags right as they come off. Other travelers may accidentally pick up your bag if it looks similar to theirs.

  6. Mugging: 6%

    As we discussed in vacationing, there are things you can do to lessen the chances of being targeted by thieves when out. Not carrying equipment out in the open and not simply hanging your gear by straps which can be cut quickly. Be wary of walking through a large crowd, try to walk around, or cross the street. If having to take the bus, do not open your bag to gaze at your beautiful collection of photos you just took, others could be watching and drooling over your shiny camera. Wait until you get home to gloat over your fabulous work.

  7. Online Auction Fraud: 5%

    This is where Lenstag will come in so useful. Before you buy equipment, you can cross check the serial numbers of the gear you are attempting to buy to make sure it hasn’t been registered as stolen, and then report to authorities if that is the case. Requesting the seller send you photographs of the all serial numbers is prudent, and make sure the photographs don’t look altered to disguise or change the serial numbers.

  8. Bars and Restaurants: 4%

    When partying at your local bar or covering club events, you generally wouldn’t carry all your equipment, but what you do carry should not be left at your table or on your seat while you go up to get a drink or go to the restroom. And when you take it to the restroom, don’t put it on the sink counter. As difficult as it might be, take it with you and creatively handle your business, no pun intended.

Preventing theft of your photography gear is not rocket science, it’s common sense for the most part. Always keep your equipment with you. Most professional photographers treat their cameras like their babies anyways and always keep one eye on it. Don’t show your stuff off in the wrong places, and take care to cover and hide your equipment when the situation warrants it.

Lensbaby is a great tool to aid in the fight against the black market. Register your equipment with them and with your manufacturers. Other key tactics for on-site prevention and recovery include various solutions such as portable GPS and alarm units that work in and around your bags and equipment in the event your gear is lifted.

When it comes to your professional livelihood, there is no solution too much. It’s always better to do everything possible to subvert theft. Better to be safe than sorry. However, in the event of an actual hold-up or other dangerous situation or confrontation when your life actually depends on it, always be smarter and give up your stuff; your life and safety is worth more than any amount of photography gear. You can always buy more. You only have one life, live to shoot another day.

AJ Patell

AJ Patell is President of AJ Patell LLC, based out of San Francisco, California. AJ specializes in media production and publishing, artistic photography, modeling career workshops and fashion photography. He also serves as a wedding photographer and videographer in South San Francisco.…

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