Steps to help prevent camera theft

It's getting worse out there. Another photog got hit this week looking at Golden Gate Bridge

As you know, my gear was stolen in broad daylight as the camera was rolling two weeks ago in a public San Francisco park.

Another photographer got hit this week near San Francisco and way worse than I did. He was parked near Battery Spencer Park in Sausalito, in the Marin Headlands, which offers one of the best views of the Golden Gate Bridge, and thieves bashed in his SUV windows and fled with multiple cameras, computers, hard drives and more.

What happened to Joe Greer has unfortunately been happening to lots of folks lately. So much so that where he was parked, there are signs everywhere urging us not to leave valuables in the car. Yeah, it’s that bad.

And I’ve since heard from many people in Washington State and elsewhere that the parking lots for trails have recently become open season for thieves, who know we’ll be hours away from the cars as we hike. They break in while we’re on the trail.

This week I guested with Scott Kelby and Erik Kuna on their YouTube show, The Grid, talking about steps photographers and people who love them could take to help curb camera thefts when we’re out on the road. So I thought it would be a good idea to share these tips here as well.

Many are common sense, but as summer travel kicks off, and hoodlums are coming out of the closet after a long year in somewhat hibernation, please read and take seriously.

  • First of all, if you’re a pro photographer, please make sure you get a business insurance policy. I made the switch a decade ago after I lived through a smash and grab from my car. Farmer’s wouldn’t reimburse me. Fast forward a decade, and State Farm, thanks to my better policy did. Thank you State Farm, the greatest insurance company in the world!

  • Before you hit the road, write down serial numbers of all your gear, take photos of them, and while you’re at it, make or locate a copy of sales receipts for insurance. (Mine are stored with e-commerce sites I frequent, like Amazon, B&H and Paul’s Photo so they’re easy to access.) You’ll be able to give the serial number to law enforcement and for sites like eBay, which claims to have a stolen goods policy.

  • If you’re shooting on a camera, take the memory cards out of the camera from a shoot the minute you get home, even if you don’t clear them right away. When on the road, don’t leave cards from a shoot sitting in the camera when parked! If you shoot on a smartphone, make sure you’ve backed up the photos and videos from your hotel room or car. (This is easy: members of Amazon’s Prime entertainment and shipping service get free unlimited uploads. Others use or pay for similar services from Apple, Google and Dropbox. At the very least, e-mail the best photos to yourself from the phone, and that will create a second copy.)

  • Duh! Get the bags out of your car. We’ve heard from too many people who arrived home late, after a gig, left the bags in overnight, and awakened to find no cameras in their car the next morning. Or worse, the car was stolen with the camera bag still sitting in the trunk, chock full of photos. What a fun call to a client!

  • Cover up your bags! Earlier this year, a photography team was waiting for the light to go green when thieves jumped out of their car, smashed in their window, stole their camera bag and made off with the loot. It turns out they had been on a shoot earlier, and the thieves were following them, waiting for the right moment to pounce. So if you do shoot in a public place and drive a hatchback, when you re-pack the car, put the bag under the seat, cover it up, and lock the doors. Don’t make it easy for the thieves to smash the back window and easily grab it.

  • Never drive a hatchback or a vehicle (like a van) with a window that’s easy to peer in on. If you’re renting a car this summer, demand a car with a non-see through trunk.

  • If you’re a pro who goes around with a camera bag (as I do) two tips: My friend Mark Comon, who runs the Paul’s Photo store in Torrance, California, recommends to never open the bag in public, so that people won’t be able to see what you have. Take the camera out and have by your side when you leave the house. When you park at the location, obviously remove the bag from the vehicle, but be connected to it in some way.

  • Secondly, and I think this is more important, don’t buy a bag that looks like a camera bag. Hardshell Pelican bags may protect your gear really well, but they’re a dead giveaway. (Sorry Joe Greer.) There are many bags that look like suitcases and don’t scream “I’ve got $20,000 worth of gear in here!”

Think Tank Photo has an expensive, $400 bag that could double as a suitcase, and it has another bonus: “high-strength coated cable” that can be tied to your tripod or a nearby pole.   

  • On a shoot in a public place: Tie yourself to a tripod. Have something that connects you, like the Think Tank cable, so if the tripod gets grabbed, as happened with me, they won’t be able to haul it away so easily. 

  • Once the tripod is in place, attach a bike lock with an alarm to the legs, so if they do steal it, an ear piercing noise will go off. This is just a random idea. Could it work?

  • What about Apple AirTags? The tracker for keys and such are a good idea, but thieves are too savvy for this. They’ll just rip it off once they’ve taken possession. 

  • A tip from pal Steve Brazill: “Position the gear to minimize escape routes, for example, have a wall or something solid between the gear and any road or path. Cable multiple things together, tripod to bag, to something else, making carrying more difficult and awkward.

What are your ideas? I’d love to hear from you. Please chime in. And be careful out there!

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Facebook Misinformation Update

If I told you that President Joe Biden was pushing a ban on all Dr. Seuss books, due to cultural insensitivity, his wife Dr. Jill Biden wants “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” out of all public libraries, due to its use of the N word, and that Biden and his VP have been lobbying governors to erase the names of all schools named after people, whether racist or not, you’d surely believe me. Why not? What I just wrote is in print, and therefore, the truth, right?

No!

Which is why it sucks that Facebook has allowed so much misinformation to run rampant on its pages. Now, after all these years, Facebook wants us to pat it on the back for a new policy of not allowing politicians to lie anymore on the Social Network. Sorry Facebook, I’m not patting. It never should have allowed it in the first place. Facebook also said its ban on former president Donald Trump would remain in effect until 2023, and that he could petition to get back on if he agrees to abide by its policies. An odd announcement, as Trump continues to peddle conspiracy theories and falsehoods daily in his e-mail statements. Like something’s going to change?

WWDC iPhone Sneak Peek:

If it’s June and the first full week of the month, it’s time Monday for WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. On the face of it, you’re probably saying so what, but WWDC is always chock full of consumer news. This is when Apple sneak peeks the new operating system for the iPhones and iPads, and gives clues about what the new iPhone will look like in the fall. Last year, Apple announced a re-designed iPhone home screen and a new Siri interface, among other things. The bigger news was the introduction of the faster M1 processing chip for computers, which resulted in all those incredibly fast new Macs released in December. I bought one, and I’m still in love. I’ll be back with you Monday with highlights.

Ransomware: please update passwords

There’s an epidemic happening all over the world of companies being held up with ransomware. And we make it easy with lax security, weak passwords and the like. So do yourself a favor this weekend. Change each and every one of your passwords into something hackers wouldn’t be able to easily crack. Have a different, unique password for every website you go to. Because as we noted with car thefts, you can never be too safe.

Jeff updates

DIY Photography.net re-posted my piece on the theft and my rant on Google Photos from the other day, as did PetaPixel. Thanks for the exposure!

June 19: I’ll be playing guitar with Paul Ellis at the re-opening of the Manhattan Beach Roundhouse Aquarium from 3:30-6 p.m. Please come!

June 20: On the longest night of the year, I’ll be leading a free Summer Solstice Photowalk in Manhattan Beach. Please sign up here.

June 30: I’ll be speaking at KelbyOne’s new iPhone Photography online conference, talking about how to best use the iPhone (and other smartphones) for street photography. Sign up to register here: https://kelbyonelive.com/iphone-conference

Thanks as always for reading, listening and watching! Let me know what you thought of today’s edition by clicking the HEART tab or just hit reply. And welcome to the nearly 50 new subscribers since last time! Now that’s a real birthday treat! Hi Stacey, Carol, Sharon, Dunja, Doug, Donna and….well, you get the idea!

Have a great weekend!

Jeff