How To Safely Travel With Your Camera Gear
Traveling safely with your camera gear, especially for commercial work, is never an easy feat. Essentially you’re taking a number of valuable pieces of equipment to far off locations and using it among complete strangers in an endeavor to capture amazing moments and get both the content and the gear back without any of it going missing.
YOU HAVE INSURANCE, BUT ARE YOU REALLY COVERED?
Before dealing with the issues involved in keeping your equipment secure, it’s important to first look at your insurance coverage. You should really be checking your coverage a few weeks before heading out to allow time for changes to take affect. There is a massive difference in home policies in comparison to commercial policies regarding equipment coverage and numerous articles written about the subject. However, regardless of the policy type you have, you want to check that the policy covers your equipment in the country (or countries) you are traveling to. For example, our commercial equipment policy covers us anywhere in the US and in Canada, but not in any other countries. You can see about getting special riders from your regular insurance company, but they take time to research and read the fine print.
There are also a number of insurance companies that do offer insurance specifically for stills/filming such as Hill & Usher or Taylor & Taylor. However you may find that the premiums are equal to or more than the value of the equipment you’re going to travel with, which means you need to possibly figure this amount into your travel budget as well, or risk going without coverage at all.
Regardless of whether your gear is insured or not, taking every precaution to keep it from being stolen is really what you want to try and accomplish. This sounds simple, but after days or weeks of traveling, it can be a struggle to maintain consistent security of your equipment. Here are some tips to hopefully make the process simple and fluid for you.
LIST YOUR CAMERA GEAR – PRINT IT OUT
Listing out all of your equipment that you are taking with you is essential. Have this printed out and with you (but not in your gear). It’s great to have a digital copy stored remotely, but if you loose your phone and computer, you might not have access to the list or remember the passwords needed to get to it online.
Any police reports in any country will require a list of all missing items along with serial numbers and it’s also useful for you to be able to prove to customs that all of the equipment you brought into the country is going back out with you. If you can’t provide this list to local authorities, there is little to nothing they or anyone else can do to help you locate your stolen equipment.
A PHOTO IS WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS (IN ANY LANGUAGE)
How would you describe your camera bag? What happens if your at a train station and suddenly one of your bags goes missing? Black, zippers, pouches, about yeah big? How would you convey this if you didn’t speak the local language?
Having photos of your gear and the bags that you are using is also essential. A good location for these photos is on your phone as you’re more likely to carry this on your person.
Being able to show people around you a photo of the bag that’s missing is a good start to them helping you find out what happened to it. You might even be lucky enough to be able to use this photo to prove that the bag is yours if it’s recovered.
KEEPING YOUR GEAR SAFE IN HOTELS
There are a number of ways to keep your gear secure while staying at a hotel. Your room might have a safe (that hopefully works) which can sometimes be good security solution, though you should be cautious of the various ways these safes can be rigged to open for someone else besides yourself.
Chances are you don’t want to take all of your equipment with you on your daily shoots once you’ve gotten to your location. A good way of securing things like laptops and HD”s is to use a product like Pack Safe (http://pacsafe.com). Find a good securing point in your hotel room like anchored furniture or the sink drain in the bathroom.
Make sure the excess cable is well wrapped around the bag and that any small objects are moved into the main compartment which should also be locked separately.
This is a preventative option, and isn’t 100% fool proof, but it certainly makes steeling anything a much more labor and time consuming endeavor for thieves.
Other theft deterrents are to leave the TV on and put the Do Not Disturb Sign on the door. It leaves the impression that someone is in the room. If you’re on the ground floor with windows, then definitely leave the TV and a bedside light on while closing the drapes. Anything you can do to deter someone who wants to enter your hotel room and see what they can get ahold of, is a good thing.
MAKE BACK UPS – AND DISPERSE THEM
Having a back up plan in place prior to heading out is essential. When we travel, we always take at least three hard drives with us. One for video, one for photos, and one for backing up both. These hard drives are never left together unless we are with them. When we go out during the day, we take the back up drive with us. (The other’s are in a locked bag, in a Pac Safe mesh in the room.)
It’s common sense to back up your work to two different drives at least, but making sure those drives are not left together is vital. When we go from one location to another, we also make sure the drives are distributed among our carry on bags, so that again if one is stolen or lost, we have a duplicate of all the files on another drive. We sometimes also incorporate either backing up key material to the cloud (DropBox) or using our own FTP to log into our home serve and storing the material there if the Internet connection is solid.
KEEPING YOUR EQUIPMENT SAFE ON DAY TO DAY SHOOTS
Obviously you’ve spent a fair amount of time and a good deal of money getting to your destination and once there, it’s enticing to get out and start shooting. Once we get onsite, we usually try to go through all our gear and verifying everything is still charged and backed up before heading out. (This is more for traveling from one place to another after making the initial long haul.)
We usually will carry a smaller, less recognizable bag with our equipment in it. We try to go for a bag brand that is international (forget NorthFace or REI) and one that looks a bit more like a day bag. We’ve used padding and dividers from our camera bags to make these non-descript bags more camera friendly as well. The benefit of these bags is that they’re easily overlooked and are less likely to be targeted by thieves, especially in more touristy areas like central squares or open markets. Throw a scarf or light jacket over the top easily hides what is inside when you open it up as well.
Additionally we keep our tripod in a bag as well. This helps transport it, as well as, not draw unwanted attention to the fact that we’re probably carrying cameras and lenses with us. From time to time, it’s also come in very handy as we’ve been able to take our tripod into locations where they are not normally allowed.
THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Whether you are traveling with your camera equipment just for vacation or for commercial work, there is always a need to ensure both you and your equipment are safe. Having a plan in place prior to heading out, testing it before you go, and maintaining it while you’re abroad are all key parts to ensuring that you return with great material, inspiring stories, and of course, all the gear you hauled along the way.
Hope you find some of these tips helpful. Feel free to share some of your own.