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Photographer Attacked, Beaten, and Robbed During Wedding | 5 Tips To Stay Safe

By Hanssie on September 25th 2014

A wedding photographer is in the hospital following a robbery and beating in downtown Baltimore this weekend. 22 year-old Eric Suydam was running a photo booth at a wedding at the 1840s Ballroom venue when he ran outside to get something from his car. Police found him on the sidewalk, unconscious later that evening. According to the Baltimore Sun, he had no identification on him and had been beaten and robbed.

Suydam, a part time DJ and wedding photographer, suffered a severe head injury and is stable, but “cannot communicate much.” A witness said they saw Suydam walking outside when three men assaulted him. Reports said that no one at the wedding noticed he was missing until the next morning when his equipment was discovered still set up in the building.

Baltimore police is asking for help in identifying the suspects. Any tips can be called into 410-396-2422.

5 Safety Tips For Photographers

Safety is something we all take for granted. The above situation could happen to anyone, of course, but we photographers can quickly be caught up in our little world of creating images that we sometimes ignore some common sense practices that we should do to keep ourselves safe when working at an event or photo shoot.

1. Never Walk Alone to Your Car

Most of the time, wedding photographers are one of the last vendors to leave the event. We carry our thousands of dollars of equipment with us through dark parking lots on the other side of the building and think nothing of it. We know that this is an unwise practice, but we justify it by saying it is just easier not to try to find someone to walk with us or ensure our own safety in these situations.

In Eric Suydam’s case, he was just running to his car to grab something and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. It could happen to anyone, but it is still wise to try and take every precaution to not put yourself in a situation where you are alone on a dark street while working an event.

2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

After a long day of shooting, the only thing I want to do is get home, kick my feet up and back up my images with a glass of wine. I’m mentally shot, exhausted and making a beeline for my car. I’m not really looking around, noticing anything, usually my mind is reviewing the day and images that I captured. The best idea is to have an assistant or second shooter walk with you to your car (and one of you drive the other to their car). If that isn’t possible, make sure you are aware of your surrounds, looking around and noting any people that may be suspicious. Not just after the event, but even during.

At one wedding I was second shooting at, there was a suspicious person who was hanging around while we were photographing the couple. That man ended up trying to steal our camera bags. Thankfully, security was able to stop him before he left the venue and our equipment was recovered.

3. Make Sure Your Gear Is With You Or Locked Away During the Event

Cameras and lenses are heavy and we carry a lot of items to a shoot/event/wedding. We can’t be expected to carry all of our gear for a 10 hour wedding day – we wouldn’t be in business very long (but our chiropractors would!) When you set your gear down, make sure that it is near you at all times, in your line of vision or your assistant’s line of sight. Most of the time, we are distracted, eyeball on the viewfinder, always looking out for the next moment to capture, so our equipment is left off to the side as we chase after the bride and groom, open for someone to just walk by and take it when we are unaware.

Do not leave your gear in another room while you are shooting. Many times, there is a vendor room, where the wedding planners are setting up. The room is supposedly secure. But is it really? If the room is locked with very few key holders, then maybe, you could consider leaving it. I always set my equipment down beside me when I shoot, and at the reception, I ask the DJ if I can stow my bag under his DJ booth. I DO NOT advise leaving any equipment in the car ever, not even in the trunk.

[REWIND: WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHER’S LAPTOP STOLEN, LOSES OVER 2,000 CLIENT IMAGES]

Most importantly, make sure your gear is insured. If anything were to happen, at least your equipment is covered. I pay about $50 a month for my policy and it’s worth every penny.

4. Make Sure People Know Where You Are/Who You Are With

This probably applies more for photo shoots than weddings. I’ve been to very remote areas looking for just that perfect spot to shoot at. Every single time, I have brought an assistant with me, not only to help me schlep my gear, but there is safety in numbers. If bringing someone along isn’t feasible, then let someone know the approximate area you are going to be shooting at, when you expect to return, etc. This might save you a night spent lost in the woods somewhere or worse.

I always carry my cell phone with me. On my phone, I have a first aid app which has come in handy a time or two. I’ve also used my phone to Google what to do when you encounter a rattlesnake, as I was standing with my model listening to the telltale shaking of a rattle. The maps feature has helped me navigate my way through new neighborhoods and cities (and gotten me lost a time or two!)

5. Use Your Weapons

I’m not suggesting that you pack a piece to your shoot, but should you encounter someone who is trying to rob you, my first suggestion is to just give up your gear. Nothing is worth your life, not even that shiny new expensive camera of yours. (Plus, it is insured, right? If not, see tip #3)

If absolutely necessary, a tripod or camera slider are heavy and could double as a good weapon should you need to defend yourself in a scary situation. I also recommend carrying a can of mace on your keychain, just in case.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you never find yourself in a situation like Eric Suydam. Make sure you are extra cautious and use common sense so that you might be able to avoid a dangerous situation while on a shoot or at a wedding.

What are some precautions you take to protect yourself while shooting? Leave a comment below.

About

Hanssie is a Southern California-based writer and sometimes portrait and wedding photographer. In her free time, she homeschools, works out, rescues dogs and works in marketing for SLR Lounge. She also blogs about her adventures and about fitness when she’s not sick of writing so much. Check out her work and her blog at www.hanssie.com and www.fittedmagazine.com. Follow her on Instagram. Email her at:
[email protected]

Q&A Discussions

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  1. William Emmett

    I’ve been watching the input on this thread since I made my original post. There has been a number of photographers who realize the threat they are under and take steps to protect themselves from real harm. Others seem to be living in a hopeful protective state. People, thugs, robbers, and other criminals are experienced in their way of doing business. One person suggested he carries a mono pod for his protection. He pulls out the mono pod to hit the crook, the crook takes one step back and shoots you. Another person has a call button around his neck, great, you make the call and the cop shows up to call an ambulance to take you to the hospital. Someone is going to pull a Rambo Knife, do you know how close you have to get to a experienced robber to be effective with a knife. Keep in mind your planning on defending yourself from a thug, who surprises you while carrying a bags of camera equipment to or from your car. Even after you give up your equipment, the thug will want your money, keys, or whatever. You are totally helpless against a armed crook, even with a black belt, big knife, or a bat. The crook just shoots you. They have guns, but they give away their intentions, you can only read the by what may happen, or may not. It is you who is responsible for your protection, deadly force trumps all. It is not the thought of “hopeful” but be ready, and be ready for the worse.

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  2. Arnold Ziffel

    One of my camera’s attachment’s is a Sig Sauer.

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  3. Luann De Biase

    First real estate agents, now this. It’s so sad. Spread the word to ANYONE that works one-on-one with clients or if you are someone who does an in home party business. If you are going into somewhere unknown to you, ( a residence or business ), where there is no one personally known to you, be aware and never let your guard down. Don’t let yourself be the helpless victim. Learn self defense and carry personal protection such as the Get-A-Grip.

    To view the Get-A-Grip go to http://www.SmartSassy.com

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  4. Donald Hamilton

    I carry a Zomm a Bluetooth around my neck I can push and an alarm will go off and it will call the police and they could figure out where I am. On Sunday I was shooting a baby christening and it miss and went off and the police call me and they could tell the address that I was at and a police was on the way. It cost about $80.00 but you can get for less on sale now I got it when it just came out. I walk the street of New York every day and I always have it.

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  5. Ant Motton

    Thankfully I live and photograph in the UK…taking guns on a photo shoot or to wedding…..crazy crazy world we’re living in….what started out as a report on a poor guy who got mugged has ended up with us all getting a lesson in how to use a firearm…!!

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  6. nic reno

    i decided to carry a hemerless 38 –with a tactical shirt that hold the pistol under ur left or right arm
    i am not giving up my d800 I always retreat and have escape plans when i shoot in abandon buildings
    its not a perfect feeling ,but it taken 2 years to feel comfortable with it
    now i never leave home with out it
    it is always best to retreat to a safe area and be observant and quiet. listening to ur environment
    makes it almost sure u will never have to use it.
    I hope everyday i never have to use deadly force
    always shoot center mass until the threat is neutralized

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    • Rhys Ladhani

      be careful drawing. ive heard lots of horror stories of people accidentally shooting themselves in the arm while drawing from shoulder holsters

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  7. Brian Drumm

    I’m a 911 Dispatcher and unfortunately takes calls like this on a nightly basis NOT too far away from where this took place. This is why I carry.

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  8. Kurk Rouse

    One of the reasons why I travel with a group or why I’m reluctant to even go to remote places alone. I spend twice as much on gear because of the conversion rate plus the tax rate will kill you. I literately cant afford for some thing to happen to my stuff right now . #foodphotography #ftw

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  9. Jeff Morrison

    Thanks for sharing, I haven’t had any problems in the 10 years that i have been doing this.

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  10. Rhys Ladhani

    Living in Chicago, these types of incidents are the reason I carry a gun.

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    • William Emmett

      I hope you practice often, and have a CC permit. Also, keep up with the changing laws regarding concealed carry.

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    • Rhys Ladhani

      I do have CCW and try to hit the range at least twice a month, more if my schedule and wallet (mostly my wallet) allow.

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    • Brian Drumm

      Same here.

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  11. Nicholas Walker

    My primary genre of photography is shooting concerts. I’ve been closely followed, chased, and even surrounded by a few thugs while going from the venue to my vehicle. Most concerts are always in the evening and end late at night so I always have that certain degree of danger that lurks upon me every time I leave certain venues. It’s also a big reason why I refuse to go to certain venues because one can’t always park in front of a venue downtown but rather a few blocks away in a parking garage. Most venues require passing through metal detectors to gain entry so I really can’t have any sort of personal defense on me while walking back to where I parked. Mostly, all I have are my keys, my running legs, and the most important thing–my gut feeling that I always tend to trust. If I need to use my camera as a weapon then I will. It’s replaceable but my life is not.

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    • William Emmett

      You camera does not make for a very effective weapon. One you can use, that with very little training, is a cane. I carry a cane when I know I cannot get in with my gun. It is light, strong, and effective. Don’t use it like a bat, but use it to jab. You can even buy what is called a fighting cane. These are used for self defense, just Google Fighting canes and you’ll find many listed.

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    • Nicholas Walker

      Ever been hit with a camera? I have. It broke my nose and it immediately disabled me with pain. The venues I go to don’t allow canes (nor monopods or tripods) unless medically necessary. I’ve had a kubaton on my keys since the police academy gave it to me back in the 90s and it’s already been proven effective when needed.

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    • Steven Pellegrino

      Using a camera as a weapon happened about 6 weeks ago here in Ferguson,Mo during the first night of riots and looting. A photojournalist from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, David Carson went into the QuickTrip station that the looters ultimately burned down and was photographing the looting from inside the store. Obviously he was spotted and they started in on him. He got a few kicks in, but did the most damage to them with the long lens on his Canon.

      My dilemma in shooting the protests in Ferguson is where to park. You want to park close, but if the protesting gets out of hand, the police block the street and you’re stuck there. Or if they get violent, they may take it out on your car. Earlier this week I parked a couple of lots over from where they were protesting and got back to the car to find the driver’s door punched, just under the lock. That allowed them access to the lock mechanism so they got into the car and were able to see if there was anything to steal. Fortunately we don’t keep anything in the car. All my gear comes with me. I was just lucky they didn’t steal the car. Now I have a hole to repair.

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  12. Matthew Saville

    This is one reason why I hate having to stop to get gas, or for any other reason, during / after a wedding. Walk straight to your car, preferably with 2nd photographer at your side, and go straight home. Done. I have a huge amount of respect for street photographers who find themselves in William Emmett who find themselves in hairy situations often, let alone the journalists who visit 3rd-world / un-safe foreign countries!

    =Matt=

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  13. Eric Sharpe

    You really have to pay attention to who’s paying attention to you. That’s a good deterrent. Robberies and such happen when people have the advantage of getting the jump on you. They’re less inclined to target you, if they know that you see it coming, and have time to prepare. I’m in Baltimore all the time, and it’s what I do when I’m working in any area where the possibility for this to happen exists.

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  14. James Matthews

    I always carry my monopod, even when I know I’m not going to be using it

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    • Hanssie

      Good plan! All those years of batting practice could come in handy :) (just kidding, I’ve never been to batting practice, but may start now!)

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  15. William Emmett

    I could say that all my shot are on the streets of New Orleans. I’m usually carrying either a 6D, or 7D on a sling strap, with a Canon white lens. Sometimes, I’m with a group of people shooting the sights of the city, other times alone. New Orleans has a large amount of street crime, and usually the victims are severely beaten, robbed and likely killed. So, I carry a Walther PPK, .380 in my pocket. I’ve been trained how and when to use it, and have a concealed carry permit. I’ve had to draw my pistol twice, once as I was stabbed, and the other severely threatened. In both cases, the crook did not reveal his intentions until he was upon me. Mace, you have to ID the threat and respond to quickly, hit with a tripod, again to close and no real time to react. Gun, you can have it out of your pocket, wrapped in a hankie ready to go when in that neighborhood facing a crook. Never think you can fight or flee from a criminal. They plot and plan their attack before they encounter you. In every event they have done this before, and are ready for your every trick, except you being armed. Now a little street smarts, walk in the middle of the sidewalk, keep your head on a spindle, cross the street when you see a possible predator, don’t walk against buildings, carry a flash light at night, shine it in the eyes of approaching persons, (gives you the jump, if they can’t see you) Never stop, or slow down, keep walking, and watching. Be sure to look behind you, watch for a threat. Look at passers by hands for a weapon, club, knife, or even gun, quick movements are a giveaway. Remember, you’ll not be able to talk your way out of a violent robbery, every robbery will threaten you with harm. Keep one hand free of gear, on your weapon side. As a photographer, you will walk into that shadow, be prepared.

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    • Hanssie

      Wow! As a sheltered girl from a small town, these are things I’ve never seen or encountered (thankfully!) But some good tips and advice, William! You can never be too careful these days, so many random acts of violence everywhere :(

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    • Rhys Ladhani

      I keep a Ruger SR9c in my waistband. Only had to reach for it once. So far no draw, no fire. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

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    • cherestes janos

      Interesting story and tips but you are lucky that in your country anybody can have a weapon. I’m ex-military and in my country the law is not so permissive like yours and if you really want to buy one is very expensive and you have to know someone powerful to make the cards, to be legal. For us the law permits the self-defense Taser guns X26C with 2000000 Jules, is the best buy at the moment.
      The world/ people are getting greedy every day. Keep shooting and be aware of your surrounding dear fellow photographers.

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    • Rhys Ladhani

      Cherestes, what country? I’m in Illinois in the US and they make it painfully expensive for us to be able to carry firearms, but we at least have the option. A taser is a decent option but what if you encounter more than 1 attacker?

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  16. Kevin Nguyen

    A pepper spray, a strong monopod stick, a rambo knife and hiring a body guard just got on my to do list. Thanks for sharing!! Please shoot safely Friends!

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    • Chuck Eggen

      I agree Kevin. I also want to add a Thank you to Hanssie for mentioning self defense. While I agree it’s best to try to walk away it’s also important to be of a mindset that you may have to fight your way out of a situation. Not advocating violence but you should never be a willing victim.

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    • Hanssie

      Exactly…going back to those MMA lessons!

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  17. Steven Pellegrino

    I do a lot of street photography and over the past six weeks have been covering the protests in Ferguson, MO and a lot of the advice you give here is exactly right. I think the biggest thing is to be aware of your surroundings. Know who is behind you, ahead of you and next to you and learn to pay attention to your gut. Sometimes you just know when something (or someone) isn’t right.

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  18. Kate Hailey

    Yea awareness is key. Having someone watch your back is great too.

    I never put my gear in my car and walk away from it. If I have multiple locations or things I’m doing, I will put the gear in the car when I leave a location and keep it in the trunk area of my car. Concept being, at the new location, no one knows what’s in there. At least that’s the hope. Unless someone followed me from A to B.

    Safety first friends!

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    • Hanssie

      That is wise…though with random break ins these days, you can never be too safe unfortunately :(

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    • Mary Hurlbut

      Living in So Cal, I’ve been warned not to ever leave my camera gear in the car or trunk because the heat will harm my lens and digital gear. I’d like to hear more about this

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  19. Chuck Eggen

    Good food for thought Hanssie. Being retired military I’m always aware of my surroundings however, it’s easy to lose focus when in the middle of shooting an event. If possible, can you post updates on Eric. Hoping he mends quickly.

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    • Hanssie

      I do, too. Poor guy!

      I’m never aware of my surroundings, but will be making more of an effort to do so.

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