If you’ve ever experienced gear theft, then you know the range of feelings you go through when it happens.  Panic, anger, frustration, helplessness, disbelief and sadness are just a few words that describe the gut-wrenching experience.  To help prevent camera theft from happening to you and to help you minimize its impact if it happens, here are 11 tips to follow for all photographers, whether you’re full time or just getting started.  We’ll cover the following areas:

  1. Tips for Preventing Camera Theft
  2. Tips for Recovering a Lost Camera
  3. Tips to Minimize the Impact of Camera Theft or Loss

Tips for Preventing Camera Theft

The first set of tips will seem obvious, but they are worth reviewing.  The old adage of “better safe than sorry” applies in full when it comes to camera theft.  You’ve invested plenty of money in your gear, so it’s worth investing a little time to take every precaution possible. You’ll be glad that you did.

Tip 1: Research Your Shooting Locations

Before you head out, research your shooting location(s) to identify areas with high theft rates.  Consider relocating your shoot or taking extra precautions when shooting in (or even driving through) these higher risk areas.

camera theft
Google Search for “San Francisco” Camera Theft

[Related Reading: $15,000 Worth of Gear Stolen From NYC Photogs… By a Fellow Photographer!]

Tip 2: Minimize Your Gear

If you don’t need it, then why bring it?  Do you really need to take every lens in your kit?  Or should you leave a few of the overlapping focal lengths behind?  The more gear you bring, the more exposure you have to loss.  In addition, carrying around a ton of gear will make you stand out to professional thieves looking for a big payday.  This leads to our next point.

Tip 3: Make Your Camera Gear Look Inconspicuous

Some camera bags are obviously camera bags.  These include Pelicans, backpacks with major camera brand names on them, and more.  Others look like every day backpacks.  If you plan to shoot in a higher risk area, be sure to opt for the latter!

Tip 4: Bring a Friend or Assistant

advanced portrait lighting

Find strength in numbers. Consider shooting with a friend or an assistant to help ward off potential thieves.  In addition, your companion can serve as your lighting assistant and help you carry gear to manage your energy throughout the shoot. Just be sure to compensate them fairly.

Tips for Recovering a Lost Camera

In the event that your camera gear still goes missing, despite following the tips above, there are other steps you can take in advance to help identify your gear and increase your chances of recovering it.

Tip 5: Tag Your Camera Gear Digitally or Physically

One way to ensure that your lost camera be recognized as stolen is to tag it, either by registering your gear with a tracking app or placing an anti-theft asset tag directly on your gear. You can find free gear tracking apps or sites like Lenstag that allow you to enter and track your model and serial number, which camera and lens rental companies often check before purchasing used (or potentially stolen) gear. Other companies, like MyAssetTag, make trackable stickers that are difficult to remove. You’d want to pursue one of these methods soon after you purchase your camera.

Tip 6: Address the Situation

Another thing that you can do to increase the likelihood you’ll be reunited with stolen gear is to annotate your address or other contact information into your gear. For example, you can easily customize your file names to include a basic street address or phone number. It may be a long shot, but anything you can do to help increase your chances of recovering stolen gear is worth it.

You can also provide rewards in online posts for locating and directing your lost equipment to the right address. After all, the incentive theory of motivation has been shown to be strong enough for folks to return your equipment right back to your residence.

Tip 7: Contact Information as Image

There is a fair chance that tags go missing. There is also a good chance that your camera has the means to be powered, right after it is procured. For this, be sure to have some default images of your contact information.

You can click your photo and save it as a default image in your local storage, too. That way, whoever finds your camera will be made aware that it has been stolen and they’ll know where to return it.

Tips to Minimize the Impact of Camera Theft or Loss

No matter how careful we are, sometimes bad things can still happen.  Here are some tips for minimizing the impact of camera theft or loss.

Tip 8: Get Insurance

Many photographers avoid getting insurance because it’s an added expense, but it will prove more than worth the investment if your gear gets lost or stolen. In fact, I recommend looking into insurance for another piece of camera gear that we all use (and many of us lose) frequently: smartphones. Mobile phone insurance is often overlooked and definitely underrated. We never expect to lose or have our gear stolen, but it happens, and insurance can make the best of an otherwise worst case scenario.

Tip 9: Contingency Plans—Keep a Backup

2 iphone photography tutorial

If you happen to lose your camera while you are out, you most definitely need a backup or contingency plan. In this case, investing in a phone with a good camera makes for a solid course of action. It’s cheaper than purchasing a second DSLR or mirrorless camera, and it’s also more portable. Modern smartphones allow more creative control than ever before and they also produce high-quality image files. Think about it, if your main camera is lost or stolen, you can’t do much in the immediate frame of reference. What you can do, however, is reach for your smartphone to document the remainder of your session or trip.

Tip 10: Upload Old Images on Appropriate Sites

You can also look to specialized sites like ‘Stolen Camera Finder,’ wherein metadata from old photos can prove helpful. What these sites do is collect metadata from old photos and check if there are any photos of similar status on the internet. You can then use it to see if any new image data correlates with ones you have uploaded. With this, you might get good leads as to where the image was taken.

Tip 11: Trace Your Gear with a GPS Tagging Device

In order to ensure that your device is always tracked, you can consider placing a GPS tagging device or a proximity sensor on it. In case your gear disappears, at least your electronic tags will alert you to the geographical whereabouts of your gear.


I hope you found the tips for minimizing the impact of camera theft helpful. While we may not have absolute control over keeping ourselves and our gear safe while we’re out in the world, there are precautions we can take to minimize risks and help get through our sessions without incident. Most of the time, in fact, we and our gear will be fine. But, to bring back the cliche once more, it’s better to be safe than sorry for those times when things don’t go our way.