Top 10 things you need to do NOW to protect your camera while travelling

on August 29, 2014

I inherited photography from my father.

It was a latent gene until recently- it just didn’t take when I was a kid.
I started off with what my dad called a “no-brainer” camera.
It was all automatic- you just popped the film in and it automatically fed. Just keep your finger on the button and it would wind the film after each exposure- and autorewind at the end. Everything was automatic- and I just couldn’t get the hang of it. None of my pictures did anything for me, and my father said “Just keep taking pictures. You have to take ten thousand bad pictures before you get to any of the good ones.”
So I started taking pictures of everything.
No- I don’t mean that in some “Billy Elliot” way. I mean, I set out to DOCUMENT everything. SOMETHING had to be good in there.
Then I learned about film- or rather “Moving Pictures”, and how they are just a sequence of 24 frames moving in succession to produce the feeling of movement.
I heard these words and my brain went on fire- but because of some Poetic Calling or Grand Design.
I heard those words and it was like I just figured it out- how I was going to be a Genius photographer: You can get to 10,000 a lot faster if you are going at 24 every second.
I had found the loophole to greatness! Why wasn’t everyone doing this???

I burned through several weeks of allowance in stockpiled film- just to create what amounted to a stop-motion portrayal of an afternoon.

I lost interest shortly after I realized that I could never afford enough film, and would only end up hoarding pictures of walking to and from the front door.

I was 7.

When I was a teenager, I decided to try it again- in earnest.
I was going to Europe with a girl who was more beautiful than I could handle, and I wanted to make sure I captured every moment and impressed her with skills.
I learned about exposure and shutter speed and film stock and how to handle an old Nikon that my father had bought at the BX while doing a tour in Vietnam. I had it packed in a camera bag INSIDE another bag and hidden so it wouldn’t get stolen.
In the end, I spent so much time getting the camera out, composing and getting the exposure right on the manual camera that she became annoyed with me and refused to pose for any pictures.
I re-found my underwhelming amusement when the photos came back each time.
I followed the directions and exposed properly. The pictures came out correct. But I was bored with them.
“Yes- that’s me in Venice. Yes- there at the Louvre. Why am I looking at these photos? I remember- I was just there. ”
The interesting photos were the ones where I didn’t do something “correct”. I didn’t read the meter right, or my shutter speed was too slow. I wanted to recreate these.

I experimented, but soon I became frustrated with the intensely long feedback loop between experimenting with an adjustment in camera and seeing how it affected the image. I tried keeping a record, but the tracking and referencing all the adjustments became a hassle I couldn’t keep up with while I was chasing girls. It felt like a choice between photographing life or living life.

Then digital cameras came out.
My mom bought my father a Nikon D90 when it first came out- it was truly a beautiful camera. He loved it. The IMAGE WAS RIGHT ON THE BACK.
It was mind blowing.
So my father took some pictures of the house, and the dog, and some things of that sort.
By this time, my father was no longer in the military- he flew for the airlines.
I thought of all the places he would go and take pictures with his new camera.

It was only recently that I found out that my father never took his camera on trips.

As an ex-military man, and a PhD in Homeland Security, my father has written books about “Layover Security”. Having an expensive camera makes you a target. Walking around a strange city with an expensive camera around your neck is asking for it to get stolen.

All of this is correct.

But really- the result of the camera getting stolen is that he wouldn’t have it anymore- or more precisely- he wouldn’t be able to take pictures with it anymore.

By not taking the camera on trips, his use of the camera has already been stolen.

Even today- when the D90 no longer commands the price it once did, he won’t tale it around.
This breaks my heart.
It’s summertime.
Vacation time.
Holiday time.
Or even back to school time.
USE YOUR CAMERA. It is a tool- not a possession. It is only as good as the use that you put it to.
But be safe and smart about it. Here’s a few rules that will keep you in good stead to travel around with your camera.

1) Don’t get a camera bag.
A big ol’ camera bag with camera markings is asking to get stolen.
Your walking around bag should be a non-descript messenger or backpack with a camera insert to protect it.

2)Get rid of your stupid Canon/Nikon strap.
It just screams “take me”, they’re not ergonomically balanced and they’re ugly as sin. Stop bragging that you got the 1D.
No one cares except the guy who wants to steal it from you.
I use a Rapid strap that goes across my body and I put that on at the same time as my messenger strap. THe straps are on top of each other while in the bag, and when i want to shoot something, i just grab the camera and swing the bag around to my back and i am already strapped up and read to shoot.
When I’m done, it goes back into the bag- limiting my exposure to people eyeing my gear.

3)You don’t need ALL your lenses.
Take an extra- if you must- but truly, if you use the trip to get to know an understand a new focal length, you will be much happier with your shots. It’s not about the versatility of being able to take EVERY shot. It’s about being able to take GREAT shots. Take one body and one lens, and your back will thank you for it.

4)Gaff tape and Duct tape.
This is a great tip. Put a little gaff tape over your grip and some of the branding- don’t worry, Gaffer’s tape doesn’t leave residue. It can still look a little “too neat” at this point, so I put some silver duct tape over the gaffer’s tape to make it look like it’s had many repairs. I wouldn’t put the duct tape straight onto your camera though- that stuff can leave residue that gets pretty sticky.

5)Don’t change lenses in public.
This lets thieves know that there is a lens that you aren’t keeping your eye on. Thieves know that the big money items are the lenses, and these can be much easier to free from their owners than the camera. THere are bands of thieves that are adept at “bumping into” their mark and removing the lens from the camera body in one fell swoop before the victim takes five steps and realizes his camera has been lightened.

6)Go mirrorless
DSLRs will always have a home in my heart, but if I am in a city where I am worried about theft, a mirrorless camera like a Canon Eos-M or a Sony NEX looks very similar to a point & shoot, and thieves would rather steal a phone than a point & shoot.

8) Take pictures of your serials and keep in Evernote
Use evernote to track all your serial numbers.
Just take a picture with your cell phone and keep it in a folder.
Now it’s in the cloud and you can forget about it. It takes three minutes and then you can forget about it. If it ever gets stolen, you will be thankful you have this little bit of info.

9)Put your name IN your camera.
In your Camera Menu is a place for copyright info. It burns EXIF data into every picture that the camera takes. If you have a particularly clever thief- perhaps someone else at a conference- they may delete all your photos and take pictures of their own- with hem in them. This must be “proof” to any officer who checks to see if he indeed owns the camera.
You must just “have the same camera”, he says.
Chances are, in his haste, he has neglected to change the copyright information buried within the menu system. Put your name and your email here. This will settle disputes in a hurry.

Canon Copyright Menu Canon Copyright menu 2


9) Use protection
My first DSLR was a Nikon D40, and I didn’t want a bag- I wanted to be able to use it all the time. So I did what people did to their iPhones at the time- I put it in a big silicone rubber housing. It protects against bumps and scrapes and I can take it out for a night of shooting at a bar without worrying that it will get knocked up too much. It’s a little harder to feel the knobs and dials- but you knew that. This ain’t your first rodeo.

10. Get a cheap camera
The best lesson defense I learned was from a story I heard:
Two guys are in the woods, when they hear something. They both turn around and there’s a bear coming at them in the distance.
One of them starts to panic, while the other, takes his running shoes out of his bag and laces up.
“What are you doing, you idiot?! You can’t outrun a bear!”
The other hiker finishes his laces and says, “No, but I can outrun you.”
The lesson here is don’t be a target. If someone ever tries to mug you for your camera, give it to them. Forget your pride, your ego, your sense of machismo.
It’s just a THING. It’s not worth even a black eye or broken arm for, or even worse.
I get that they’re cool THINGS, but don’t get attached to what it is- but rather what it does.
Get a cheap camera- an OLD DSLR. It won’t have all the bells and whistles of your A-cam, nor all the megapixels and low-light sensitivity- but it STILL TAKES PICTURES. The difference between an OLD DSLR and your smartphone