Secure Your Gear

Combination padlocks are extremely practical. Attached to a Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise shoulder bag. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Photography equipment is expensive; everything from cameras to lenses to computers, is expensive. We often spend months or even years saving to get a particular piece of equipment and once we have it, we stop looking after our investment once at work, instead focusing on the assignment. Thankfully there are certain products and practices to help us safeguard our equipment whilst working. After all, we need to concentrate on our assignments and not on the safety of our gear. Most theft is opportunistic; these measures will stop the opportunist thief.

Out On The Street

I have known of press photographers having their backpacks containing laptops and spare camera equipment swiped off the street whilst they concentrate whilst working long doorstep type jobs (at courts, hospitals, politicians homes and so on).
It’s easy to put our bags down as fatigue sets in. A very simple precaution is to make sure that all the zips have padlocks on them. I personally use combination locks which means that there is no need for keys. This is good practice as it will stop a thief from opening your bag in crowded places like the tube.
To stop the bag from being stolen fully, I also make sure that my bags have cables with combination padlocks on them. These are available from most good outdoor shops, luggage shops or bicycle shops. All that remains is to find street furniture (fencing, posts and so on) or a tree to lock the bag too. Worse case scenario, you can also lock several bags together, making it impossible for someone to do a runner with them.

Hotels

Showing my travel set-up for an assignment in Canada using ThinkTank Photo's Airport International 2, padlocked to a bath tub handle in my hotel. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Whilst on foreign assignments, it’s often the way that equipment is transported using roller type cases and then use either pouches or a shoulder bag to work from whilst on the ground. The roller bag then being left behind in the hotel room. We also leave the roller bag fully kitted out when popping out to eat. Again, we are taking huge risks, leaving essential gear at the mercy of anyone who has or gains access to the room.
Thankfully Think Tank Photo roller bags have built in security measures with padlock zips and importantly a security cable attached to the bag’s chassis. It’s then a matter of finding something solid in the room to padlock our cable to. My personal favourite are bathtub handles.
These same security precautions should be carried out at press conferences, fashion weeks and so on.

Cafes

Cafes have turned out to be favourite wiring places for photographers; they provide essential coffee and broadband. I was in a situation where a colleague sat in front of me in a Starbucks had his Canon 1D MkII with 70-200mm f2.8L stolen from under his chair. The thief was so gentle and swift that neither of us noticed until long afterwards. My general precaution is to make sure that I put my leg through camera and bag straps when placing items on the floor.

The Car

PacSafe Exomesh secures two bags to luggage hooks in the boot of a car. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Our cars are another place where we leave lots of kit. Firstly, make sure that your doors are locked; this will stop the opportunist if they see a bag or camera on your seat when stopped at a red light or parked up in a street. Naturally, never leave any of your equipment in view, making sure that everything is in the boot, if you are parking the car and away from it. This also ensures that your insurance company will pay out if there’s a theft from an unattended vehicle.

One of the ways we are targeted by thieves is if someone observes us taking equipment from our boot; if possible, it’s always better to take away gear in a shoulder bag, or make sure no one is watching if you’re just grabbing a couple of cameras. The other is purely opportunists hoping to find a laptop; estate cars are especially at risk as the rear covers are easily ripped open after the rear window is smashed.

The cheapest way to secure your gear, especially if you have a Think Tank Photo bag is to lock it’s security cable to a luggage hook; this will stop the opportunist especially if they set off your car alarm. The next best and more secure way is to use a PacSafe Exomesh which covers your bag and allows you to attach it’s cable to a luggage hook in the car. The advantage with system is that it’s mobile so you can take a PacSafe Exomesh with you when abroad and use it in hire cars. They are also useful for hotel rooms.

ATHAG Guardsman custom made security cage. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Next comes the more secure metal cage approach. These are custom made for your needs and for your car. Anything from small hatchbacks to large estate cars and 4x4s are catered for. These are then secured to luggage hooks or even to the car’s chassis making them extremely secure. To top things off, they have multi point locks making the opening solid and secure. The two leaders in this field are Athag (my personal choice) with their Guardsman range and Barjo.

Look after your gear so you can get the job done.

8 responses to “Secure Your Gear

  1. As a freelancer who’s had to pay for all his own gear, I’d never leave it anywhere that wasn’t attached to me. I’ve had to cover music events that lasted for 16 hours and believe me, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave my gear anywhere: you just get used to carrying it.

    Like many people, I don’t have the option of contacting my employer and getting reissued with a replacement, but my gear is insured so at most it would be inconvenient if it was stolen.

  2. Great blog, very good advice for anyone. Having my entire Nikon kit stolen in Brighton 20 odd years ago still makes me angry. It’s not the kit so much as the images and the inconvenience of not being able to work.

  3. Great advice.. I’ve also long been a fan of the ThinkTank gear and Pacsafe too. But also worthy of mention is using Pelican cases (or one of the similar ones from HPRC or Storm) as a portable car safe. They’re easy to chain into your car and are very quick to access. You can either use padded dividers or just get a big one and put your whole camera bag in there. I wrote about this sort of thing in my bag blog here: http://manbagaholic.blogspot.com/2008/01/pelican-1510.html . Keep up the great work blogging, your posts on backup are also un-missable.

  4. Great post! Really good advice too.
    One thing you have left out though is that it is really very easy to break in to a bag with a zip, even if you do have a padlock (and it’s very much an opportunist thief thing) by just jamming a pen though any point in the zip and ripping it open. The thief can also close it again by forcing the zip back closed so as to cover their tracks. There isn’t really any way to protect against this if all you have is a zip bag. The only real way is either a pacsafe or a solid briefcase without a zip.

    • Thanks for the feedback. Indeed zips aren’t completely safe, but a padlock is definitely better than nothing. The aim of this article is to slow down and hopefully deter theft. A thief with the right tools, knowledge and determination will succeed but we should take every step possible to stop the more opportunistic.

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