You don’t have to think about it very long before you realize that snuggled tightly inside your camera bag is quite an investment. And after one good trade show, you can add quite a bit of weight to that little plastic card in your wallet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or an enthusiast, you need to take care of your equipment.
As a photographer you face many risks - even if you never leave your home, your equipment may be in peril. It could be accidental such as dropping a camera or it could be theft, fire or flood. You need to protect your equipment for all risks.
Label Your Gear
For years Tony and I have taught workshops, seminars and classes and for the most part, our camera bags are open to students who want to try out a new lens, flash or some other piece of gear. Thankfully we never had any equipment stolen during a program but it’s easy for equipment to get mixed up. After all, one Canon 600 EX-RT flash looks just like every other Canon 600 EX-RT flash in the room.
Make sure you label all your equipment - from the most expensive lens in your bag, to the charger cord for your phone. For inexpensive items such as adapters and power cords, I’ve simply taken a colorful roll of electricians tape and wrapped the ends. I’ve had several cords returned to me after they were left in classrooms. It’s worth it.
As the value of an item increases, I add tags that include my name. I’ve found that Key Tags from Master Lock work great. They are solid plastic and hold up very well. You can even write your name on them with a sharpie. I also use a very small zip tie to attach the tag.
For the higher dollar equipment, I use asset tracker tags. Many years ago I bought a few sheets of these tags printed with my name and contact information and a unique serial number. Every piece of higher value equipment I own has been labeled with one of these tags. When I buy something new, I put the label on it and record the label number and the equipment make, model, serial number and cost on a sheet that I keep filed in my office. This inventory is valuable for tax preparation and filing any insurance claims.
I bought my labels from Maverick Label but you can also find them at MyAssetTag.com. You don’t need anything fancy. The set I bought didn’t include any protective coatings (although I would recommend it) or special materials and they’ve functioned pretty well for years. Next time I order a set, I will have them add the protective coating as some of the labels on heavily used equipment like my tripod wear down and become unreadable.
Facing a Loss
Things go wrong. Stuff gets lost and there will always be thieves in this world. So what do you do when you’ve suffered a loss. If you’re prepared, you file an insurance claim, replace the equipment and move on. But you’ve got to be prepared.
Whether you’re a professional or enthusiast, your camera equipment should be protected by insurance. If you have a home owners policy, you may find that your equipment is already covered. But be careful. These policies don’t usually cover any equipment used by a professional and there may be many limitations.
The insurance industry is regulated by individual states so there is little continuity in policies. You just have to ask lots of questions to ensure that your policy fits your needs.
What is consistent is that filing a claim is much easier with proper documentation. This includes receipt, serial numbers, police reports etc.
If you’re a professional you have a lot of options. Look at the benefits from professional organizations such as ASMP, PPA and WPPI. PPA members can opt into free equipment insurance called PhotoCare. It gives you $15,000 of coverage with a $250 deductible for your first loss. But, items are replaced at their depreciated value and photo equipment depreciates very quickly.
PPA also offers a PhotoCare Plus option that provides full replacement cost on scheduled equipment and up to $100,000 in coverage. It even covers theft of equipment in unlocked vehicles - but think about it. If you’re leaving all your gear in an unlocked car you need some serious therapy.
There’s another resource for the pros that’s not really insurance but if you’re a working pro it can be a life saver. Both Canon and Nikon offer special professional support services - some at no charge and others for a nominal fee. They don’t replace your equipment but you may be eligible for special loaner equipment and expedited repairs.
Several years ago author Gary Miller wrote a piece in Popular Photography magazine that is some of the best advice - “Don’t sweat the small stuff”. Miller wrote “a speed light that you paid $300 for three years ago has already [fully depreciated]. Forget about it if it’s stolen and don’t lose any sleep over it. Sad, but true.”